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Helen Lepcha

(1902 – 1980) – (Sikkim)

Helen Lepcha (Aged 78) was born on January 14, 1902, in Sangmu Village (South Sikkim), India. Despite dropping out of school, she joined the Charkha and Khaddar movements in the hills in 1917. In 1918, she went to Calcutta and learned the art of spinning under the guidance of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s granddaughter at her charkha training centre.

In 1920, Bihar was devastated by floods, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Helen selflessly assisted the flood-ravaged people and toured famine-stricken areas with determination. During her volunteering efforts, she met Mahatma Gandhi. He invited her to the Ashram and renamed her Savitri Devi since the name “Helen” gave the impression that she was a foreigner.

In 1921, after a meeting at Muhammad Ali Park in Calcutta, Helen joined Gandhi ji in the Non-cooperation Movement. She led a procession of over 10,000 mine workers from the Jharia coal fields (now in Jharkhand) to protest against the exploitation of tribal laborers and their replacement. This led to her arrest on January 29, 1922. Along with 12 others, Helen was imprisoned at the Darjeeling Sadar Jail for three months. Later, she was put under house arrest in Kurseong for three years.

In 1939-40, when Netaji Subash Chandra Bose was held captive at his house in Kurseong, Helen helped him escape. In 1942, she actively participated in the Quit India Movement. On August 15, 1972, Helen’s contributions were recognized with the Tamra Patra and a pension for freedom fighters. She passed away on August 18, 1980, in Uttar Pradesh, India.