(1905 – 1979) – (Maharashtra)
Maniben Kara (Aged 74) born in 1905, was an Indian social worker and trade unionist. She co-founded the Hind Mazdoor Sabha and served as its president. In 1970, the Government of India honoured her with the Padma Shri, the fourth highest Indian civilian award. Kara completed her schooling at St. Columba High School in Gamdevi, Mumbai and earned a diploma in Social Science from the University of Birmingham.
Upon returning to India in 1929, she became involved with the Independence movement, founded Seva Mandir, a printing press, and published Independent India, a nationalist publication for the Indian revolutionary, M. N. Roy. Later, she was influenced by Narayan Malhar Joshi, one of the early leaders of the All India Trade Union Congress, and began participating in trade union activism.
Kara focused on the slums of Mumbai, home to many of the conservancy workers of the Bombay Improvement Trust. She established a Mothers’ Club, a Healthcare Centre, and spread the message of hygiene and literacy among the slum dwellers. Later, she started a social organization called Seva Mandir, which merged with the NGO Bhangini Samaj.
Kara’s work continued with the organization of workers’ unions at the Mumbai port and dockyard, which later expanded to cover tailors and textile workers. She joined the All India Trade Union Congress, the trade union arm of the Communist Party of India, and led several labor strikes that resulted in her arrest and solitary confinement in 1932.
She continued her activities during the Indian freedom struggle and was nominated to the Central Legislative Assembly in 1946, where she was entrusted with the responsibility of the labor ministry. Although she never contested in a political election, the Government of India honoured Kara with the civilian award of Padma Shri in 1970. She passed away in 1979.
Hind Mazdoor Sabha established an institute in her name, the Maniben Kara Institute (MKI), in 1980. The Western Railways Union started a trust in her honour, the Maniben Kara Foundation, and maintains the Maniben Kara Foundation Hall in the Grant Road area of Mumbai.