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Satyavati Devi

(1905 – 2010) – (Punjab)

Satyavati Devi (Aged 105) born on 28 February 1905 in a Punjabi Hindu family in the Tarn Taran district. She was the granddaughter of Swami Shraddhanand, daughter of advocate Dhani Ram and Ved Kumari, and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Satyavati Devi was an active participant in the Indian independence movement and was considered to be the Joan of Arc of India. In 1925, she married Lala Achint Ram, and their marriage was dowry-less, and she did not wear a veil, as per Achint Ram’s condition.

In Delhi, Satyavati took a leadership role among nationalist women, and Aruna Asaf Ali credited Satyavati with motivating her to join the nationalist movement. Satyavati undertook social work among mill workers at textile mills in Gwalior and Delhi. She founded the Congress Mahila Samaj and Congress Desh Sevika Dal and co-founded the Congress Socialist Party.

The revolutionary leader Chandrashekhar Azad stayed at her house for three days before escaping to Lahore, and she had fed Bhagat Singh with her own hands. At the time of her daughter Subhadra’s arrest, she was only 13 years old and became the youngest freedom fighter to be arrested.

She played an active part in the Civil Disobedience Movement and became the leader of the women’s wing of the Congress in Delhi during the movement. She organized the breaking of the Salt Law in Delhi, where she and a group of volunteers manufactured and distributed packets of illegal salt to people gathered there.

She was popularly known as Bijji or Mataji. In August 1942, she was arrested along with her children for participating in the Indian freedom movement. While in Lahore Jail, she and other women prisoners hoisted the Indian tricolor. She protested against the conditions of the political prisoners’ barracks and went on a Satyagraha.

In prison despite being ill with pleurisy and tuberculosis, Satyavati Devi refused to give a bond of good behavior and stop political activity, which could have secured her release and hope for treatment while imprisoned. Along with other jailed women freedom fighters, she wrote nationalist tracts and poems, including “Bahin Satyavati Ka Jail Sandesh,” aimed at motivating and mobilizing women to join the Indian independence movement.

After India gained independence, she actively participated in Vinoba Bhave’s bhoodan movement, along with her husband Lala Achint Ram, who was popularly known as the “Gandhi of Punjab” and served twice as a member of Lok Sabha. They both urged landowners to donate their land to landless laborers.

In 1965, she donated all her jewels to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. Everyone who visited her home respected her. Although she is believed to be an unsung hero of India’s freedom struggle, Satyawati College (Delhi University) was established by the government of Delhi in 1972 and is named after her. A fiery freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi affectionately labeled her Toofani Behan (sister like a whirlwind/tempestuous).

She passed away on 26 October 2010 in Delhi, India. A year before her death on 9 August 2009, she was honored by the then President Pratibha Patil as a part of the 67th-anniversary commemoration celebrations of the Quit India Movement. Her son, Krishna Kant, became the Governor of Andhra Pradesh in 1989 and continued to serve in that position until 1997, when he was elevated to the post of Vice President.