Aruna Asaf Ali : biography
Aruna Asaf Ali (Bengali: অরুণা আসফ আলী) (July 16, 1909 – July 29, 1996), born Aruna Ganguly, was an Indian independence activist. She is widely remembered for hoisting the Indian National Congress flag at the Gowalia Tank maidan in Bombay during the Quit India Movement, 1942. She was 87 years old at the time of her death.
Her father Upendranath Ganguly hailed from Barisal district of Eastern Bengal but settled in the United Province. He was a restaurant owner and a very adventurous man. Mother Ambalika Devi was the daughter of Trailokyanath Sanyal, a renowned Brahmo leader who wrote many beautiful Brahmo hymns. Upendranath Ganguly's younger brother Dhirendranath Ganguly (D G) was one of the earliest film directors. Another brother Nagendranath, a soil biologist was married to Rabindranath Tagore's only surviving daughter Mira Devi though they got separated after sometime. Her sister, Purnima Banerjee was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India.
Face of Quit India movement
On August 8, 1942, the All India Congress Committee passed the Quit India resolution at the Bombay session. The government responded by arresting the major leaders and all members of the Congress Working Committee and thus tried to pre-empt the movement from success. A young Aruna Asaf Ali presided over the remainder of the session on 9 August and hoisted the Congress flag at the Gowalia Tank maidan. This marked the commencement of the movement. The police fired upon the assembly at the session. Aruna was dubbed the Heroine of the 1942 movement for her bravery in the face of danger and was called Grand Old Lady of the Independence movement in her later years. Despite absence of direct leadership, spontaneous protests and demonstrations were held all over the country, as an expression of desire of India’s youth to achieve independence.
Aruna Asaf Ali was awarded International Lenin Peace Prize for the year 1964 and the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1991. She was awarded India’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan in her lifetime in 1992, and finally the highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, posthumously in 1997. In 1998, a stamp commemorating her was issued. Aruna Asaf Ali marg in New Delhi was named in her honour. All India Minorities Front distributes the Dr Aruna Asaf Ali Sadbhawana Award annually.
Aruna Asaf Ali was well known for her Spartan lifestyle – she used public transport. In her eighties, once she was travelling in a crowded bus in Delhi and no seat was vacant. A fashionable young lady also boarded the bus and a gentleman trying to impress her, vacated his seat. This lady, in turn, offered the seat to Aruna Asaf Ali who accepted it. At this, that man protested, saying to the lady, "I vacated that seat for your sake, sister." Aruna Asaf Ali retorted with her quick wit, "Never mind, mother always comes before sister."
Freedom struggle: early days
She became an active member of Congress Party after marrying Asaf Ali and participated in public processions during the Salt Satyagraha. She was arrested on the charge that she was a vagrant and hence not released in 1931 under the Gandhi-Irwin Pact which stipulated release of all political prisoners. Other women co-prisoners refused to leave the premises unless she was also released and gave in only after Mohandas K. Gandhi intervened. A public agitation secured her release.
In 1932, she was held prisoner at the Tihar Jail where she protested the indifferent treatment of political prisoners by launching a hunger strike. Her efforts resulted in an improvement of conditions in the Tihar Jail but she was moved to Ambala and was subjected to solitary confinement. She was politically not very active after her release.
She was a member of the Congress Socialist Party, a caucus within the Congress Party for activists with socialist leanings. Disillusioned with the progress of the Congress Party on socialism she joined a new party, Socialist Party in 1948. She however left that party along with Edatata Narayanan and they visited Moscow along with Rajani Palme Dutt. Both of them joined the Communist Party of India in the early 1950s. On domestic front, she was bereaved when Asaf Ali died in 1953.
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