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India@75: Aruna Asaf Ali, the queen of the August revolution

Aruna Asaf Ali courted arrest for participating in the Salt Satyagraha. She even held a fast in Tihar jail for the rights of political prisoners leading to her solitary confinement. 

Jul 6, 2022, 8:28 PM IST

9 August 1942. An unforgettable day in the history of India’s freedom struggle. Indian national Congress session presided over by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was held at Gowalia tank maidan in Bombay. The conference made a crucial decision to launch the Quit India struggle.  

Mahatma Gandhi gave the clarion call; Do or Die and not to rest until the British quit India. After Gandhi’s speech, a 33-year-old woman hoisted the Indian tricolour, which was banned then. The brave woman was Aruna Asaf Ali. She came to be called the queen of the August revolution.  

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Born in Kalka in Punjab to a prominent Brahmo Samaji Bengali Brahmin family, Aruna Ganguli was attracted to the freedom movement in college. A rebel from her childhood, Aruna married, despite her family’s objections, a prominent Congress leader Asaf Ali who was many years older and belonged to the Muslim religion. Aruna courted arrest for participating in the Salt Satyagraha. She even held a fast in Tihar jail for the rights of political prisoners leading to her solitary confinement. 

The only prominent Congress leader who supported the revolt in the Royal Indian Navy, she moved to the Left ideology. She first joined the Congress Socialist party and then moved to the Socialist Party. She was a comrade of Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia.

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While she went underground, Aruna’s property was confiscated and a reward of Rs 5000 was declared for her capture. After independence, Aruna joined the Communist party. She became the first Mayor of Delhi and raised her voice for women’s rights. She launched publications like Patriot and Link with prominent journalist Edathatta Narayanan. 

Aruna was honoured with the Lenin Prize, Nehru Prize, and Padma Vibhushan and was awarded Bharat Ratna posthumously. Aruna Asaf Ali, the grand old lady of the Indian freedom movement, passed away at 86 in 1997.

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