India has given us women fighters who, unmindful of the hardships, entered the prisons for the freedom of this country. In the non-cooperation movement of 1922, a young girl of twelve years offered satyagraha at Kakinada. This young girl, Durgabai, afterwards exhibited her dynamic abilities by founding a unique organization — the Andhra Mahila Sabha — which is regarded as the foremost among the women’s welfare and educational institutions of entire South India. Andhra Mahila Sabha consisted of a hospital, nursing home, nurses training centre, literacy and crafts centers.
Durgabai, familiar to the rest of the country as Durgabai Deshmukh was born in Rajahmundry on 15 July 1909. She started establishing schools to give training to women in spinning and weaving to propagate Gandhi’s ideas.
She was imprisoned during the Salt Satyagraha and was sent to Vellore Jail where she mingled with other women prisoners.Many of the women who were in Vellore Jail were not sure why they were convicted. Durgabai was touched by their ignorance and misery, she vowed that she would work for enlightening the women folk of India. She was arrested thrice during the Satyagraha movement. She spent her last term in Madurai Jail where she was kept next to the cell of murderers. Their agonized cries shattered her nerves. She considered that her mission in life was to live for the poor, oppressed and downtrodden.
Durgabai organized four regional conferences to enunciate a Population Policy for India and prepared comprehensive reports for the national leadership and the United Nations. She worked persistently for population control, which she considered as the backbone for the progress and prosperity of the nation. Durgabai established the Blind Relief Association.
Durgabai decided to resume her interrupted education, which she had stopped after her fifth vernacular education. So she took a crash course at Banaras Hindu University for Matriculation so as to qualify to enter the University. Later she introduced courses for school dropout girls under Social Welfare Board Programmes. Durgabai did her B.A. (Hons.) from Madras University and won a scholarship to the London School of Economics. Her journey to the U.K was prevented by the war and she joined Law College in Madras. She specialized in criminal law, a pursuit that was most unsuitable for women. She became one of the most successful criminal lawyers of her time. Her motto in life was to never send back a woman in need of legal aid.
Durgabai married C.D.Deshmukh who was the finance minister and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. It was the Governor who proposed to her.
Dr. Durgabai believed that “In the field of social welfare, the Government alone cannot initiate and carry out all the necessary measures for its citizens. Nor can it alone see to the preventive services that keep a society healthy. Only when spontaneous, dedicated work springs from the very soil it is linked with, can national efforts have real depth and meaning”.
It was she who first brought forth the idea of setting up Family Courts in India as she had seen such courts functioning China. In her report of the tour submitted to Pandit Nehru she strongly recommend the setting up of Family Courts in India. Durgabai became the member of the Planning Commission in charge of social welfare.
Durgabai became the member of the Constituent Assembly and worked closely with leaders like Jawaharlal ‘Nehru, Gopalaswamy Iyengar and B.N.Rau.
She was a very active woman in the Constituent Assembly and Ambedkar once said of her “here is a woman with a bee in her bonnet”.Durgabai along with her husband conceived the India International Centre and the Council of Social Development and Population Council of India in New Delhi. She breathed her last on 1981.
A living legend all posterity should follow.