- Former prime minister Indira Gandhi and freedom fighter Rajkumari Amrit Kaur are mentioned in TIME magazine’s list of the 100 most powerful women who defined the last century in a new project that aims to feature those women who were “often overshadowed”.
Who was Amrit Kaur?
- Amrit Kaur was the first woman in independent India who joined the Cabinet as the Health Minister and remained in that position for 10 years. Before taking up the position of a Health Minister, Kaur was Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary. During these 10 years, she founded the Indian Council for Child Welfare.
- She also laid the foundation of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Lady Irwin College in Delhi in the following years. Born into the Kapurthala royal family, she was educated in Oxford and returned to India in 1918, and began to be drawn towards the work and teachings of MK Gandhi.
- In 1936, hoping that more women would join the freedom struggle, Gandhi wrote to her the following, “I am now in search of a woman who would realise her mission. Are you that woman, will you be one?”.
- In the following years, as Kaur started interacting with other freedom fighters such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Mahatma Gandhi, she gave up her princely comforts and began to discipline herself by responding to the Gandhian call. “The flames of my passionate desire to see India free from foreign domination were fanned by him,” she said. Apart from joining the nationalist freedom struggle, Kaur also began work on a number of other social and political issues such as the purdah system, child marriage and the Devadasi system.
- When the civil disobedience movement took off in the 1930s, Kaur dedicated her life to it. The independence activist Aruna Asaf Ali wrote about her, “Rajkumari Amrit Kaur belonged to a generation of pioneers. They belonged to well to do homes but gave up on their affluent and sheltered lives and flocked to Gandhiji’s banner when he called women to join the national liberation struggle,”. Kaur was jailed after the Quit India movement and carried to the jail a spinning wheel, the Bhagwat Gita and the Bible.
- Further, while Kaur advocated for equality, she was not in favour of reservations for women and believed that universal adult franchise would open the doors for women to enter into the legislative and administrative institutions of the country. In light of this, she believed that there was no place left for reservation of seats.
- She passed away in 1964, at the age of 75. While she was a practicing Roman Catholic, she was cremated as per Sikh rituals in the Yamuna.