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  • Writer's pictureVidisha Rao

Aruna Asaf Ali


The Indian independence movement was a series of historic events with the ultimate aim of ending British rule in India.This would not have been possible without the great freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.But there are also others who contributed to the independence movement but their names faded into the darkness. Aruna Asaf Ali also known as the 'Grand Old Lady' of the Independence Movement, is one of those lesser-known political activists and freedom fighters. She is known for hoisting the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Mumbai during the Quit India Movement. She was married to Asaf Ali, who was a prominent member of the Indian National Congress (INC).She followed the footsteps of her husband and became an increasingly active member of the Congress party.




Her first endeavor into politics started with an active participation in the Salt Satyagraha in 1930. It was then that she was arrested for the first time, on the charges of being a nomad. Her release was secured only when Mahatma Gandhi intervened after public protests. Other women prisoners refused to leave until she was also released. In 1932, she was arrested yet again for participating in the freedom movement. While in jail, she organised protests by launching a hunger strike.After being released from the jail,she was then moved to a solitary confinement in Ambala and was politically inactive for ten years until the Quit India Movement. In 1942, when all major leaders had been arrested by the British as a precautionary measure against the Quit-India movement, she gave the much needed push to the Quit India Movement by hoisting the Indian Flag at the Gowalia Tank ground. Since the British police were looking for her, she went into hiding to escape being arrested.While she was underground,she wrote about her struggle in the Congress’s monthly magazine ‘Inquilab’ with Ram Manohar Lohia.




In 1948,Aruna quit the Congress and became a member of the Communist Party of India though she quit the party in 1956. She rejoined the Congress in 1964,but she stepped back from active politics. Post-independence, she worked towards the upliftment of the status of women by encouraging women's education. In 1958, she served as the first elected Mayor of Delhi. Aruna was honoured both by the nationalists and the Left. Though she avoided accepting awards publicly, she was given the Order of Lenin and the Lenin Peace Prize in 1965. . She was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1992.One year after her death, she was honoured with the Bharat Ratna in the year 1997.


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