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Durgabai Deshmukh

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Early Life and Education

Durgabai Deshmukh was born on 15 July 1909 in Kakinada.She belonged to a middle class Andhra family. From an early life Durgabai was associated with Indian politics. At age 12, she left school to protest against the imposition of English language education. She started the Balika Hindi Paathshala in Rajamundry to promote Hindi Education for girls. Durgabai Deshmukh protested against English-teaching school and participated Hindi Rashtra Bhasha Prachar Movement. She also joined the campaign against foreign goods and started spinning charkha.

 

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Career and Role in Freedom Fighting

When the Indian National Congress had its conference in her hometown of Kakinada in 1923, she was a volunteer and placed in charge of the Khadi exhibition that was running side by side. Her responsibility was to ensure that visitors to were not allowed without tickets. She fulfilled the responsibility given to her honestly and even forbade Jawaharlal Nehru from entering. When the organisers of the exhibition saw what she did and angrily chided her, she replied that she was only following instructions. She allowed Nehru in only after the organisers bought a ticket for him. Nehru praised the girl for the courage with which she did her duty.

She was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi in India's struggle for freedom from the British Raj. She never wore jewellery or cosmetics, and she was a satyagrahi. She was a prominent social reformer who participated in Gandhi-led Salt Satyagraha activities during the Civil Disobedience Movement. She was instrumental in organising women satyagrahis in the movement. This led to British Raj authorities imprisoning her three times between 1930 and 1933.

After her release from prison, Durgabai continued her studies. She finished her B.A and her M.A in political science in the 1930s from Andhra University. She went on to obtain her Law degree from Madras University in 1942, and started practicing as an advocate in Madras High Court.

Durgabai was the president of the Blind Relief Association. In that capacity, she set up a school-hostel and a light engineering workshop for the blind.

 

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Durgabai was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. She was the only women in the panel of Chairmen in the Constituent Assembly. She was instrumental in the enactment of many social welfare laws.

She failed to get elected to Parliament in 1952, and was later nominated to be a member of the Planning Commission. In that role, she mustered support for a national policy on social welfare. The policy resulted in the establishment of a Central Social Welfare Board in 1953. As the Board's first chairperson, she mobilized a large number of voluntary organizations to carry out its programs, which were aimed at education, training, and rehabilitation of needy women, children, and the handicapped.

 

Death

Durgabai Deshmukh authored a book called The Stone That Speaketh. Her autobiography Chintaman and I was published one year before her death in 1981. She died in Narasannapeta Srikakulam district.

She was the first chairperson of the National Council on Women's Education, established by the Government of India in 1958. In 1959, the committee presented its recommendations.

 

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