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  • Shivali Yadav

Dr Usha Mehta: The Radio Rebel

The freedom movement was a vast uprising, buoyed by the efforts of many people from all walks of life. Unfortunately, many of these names and personalities are lost to history, and we are often unable to pay them the homage and respect that they all deserve. Keeping this in mind, let’s talk about the fierce radio rebel of the freedom movement, Dr Usha Mehta.


Usha Mehta was born in a small village called Saras, in present-day West Gujarat, on March 25, 1920. The idea of resistance had been imbibed in her from a very young age - at a mere eight years old, she had taken part in the Simon Go Back march. Later, as a teenager, she heeded Gandhiji’s call to defy the salt tax. In interviews, she has recalled being very satisfied to be doing her part for the nation even as a young child.


After her father retired from his position as a judge, they moved to Bombay, which was a crucial step for her as it was there that she heard Gandhiji’s iconic ‘Do or Die’ speech. On the historic day of August 8th, 1942, Usha Mehta listened to her idol, Gandhiji, with rapt attention and heeded his words. After the arrest of prominent leaders of the Congress by the British, it fell to heroes like Usha Mehta to bear the brunt of the movement.


She had been a master’s student in political science at the Wilson College at the time, which was where she had first read about radio stations aiding the movements of the past. Under the guidance of various other leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and Achytu Patwardhan, she undertook the mission of spreading Gandhiji’s message to the public and communicating with revolutionaries, as well as other tasks, with the help of a ghost transmitter. They raised their resources and formally began their endeavour on August 14th, 1942.


“This is the Congress Radio, calling on 42.34 meters from somewhere in India.” This line signalled the beginning of all of their transmissions, for which Usha Mehta was the voice. It broadcasted information that was often censored on official radio and newspapers, such as the news of messages from leaders, police atrocities, reports of mass protests and major strikes. The announcements were made in English and Hindi, in the morning and evening.


Usha Mehta later revealed that all the broadcasts took place in Mumbai, however for the sake of not being caught, they had to keep moving around. They often shifted flats in the middle of the night. Special messengers, along with the All India Congress Committee provided them with the news.


Unfortunately, this brave venture could only go on for three months. On November 12, 1942, the British raided the shop of Nariman Printer, an accomplice of Usha’s. He is believed to have tipped them off on the location of the recording station. When the British arrived, Usha had just wrapped up her last broadcast and was playing Vande Mataram with a fierce sense of patriotism. She was arrested and jailed for four years.


After her release, she went on to pursue her PhD in Gandhian Thought at the University of Bombay and later taught at the Wilson College for 30 years. She was the proud president of the Gandhian Peace Foundation. She was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1998, one of India’s highest civilian honours. She was a true hero, and her name deserves recognition for her valiant efforts.


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