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Arun Asaf Ali

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Aruna was born at Kalka, Haryana into a Bengali Brahmo family. She was educated at Lahore and Nainital. She graduated and worked as a teacher, an achievement in itself for women, given the conditions prevalent in the country at that time. She taught at the Gokhale Memorial School in Calcutta. She met Asaf Ali, a leader in the congress party at Allahabad and married him in 1928, despite parental opposition on grounds of religion (she was a Brahmo while he was a Muslim) and age (a difference of more than 20 years).

She became an active member of Congress Party after marriage 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 Mahatma 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.
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 hyms. 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.

On August 8, 1942, the AICC 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. She was awarded India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, posthumously in 1997. In 1998, a stamp commemorating her was issued. Aruna Asaf Ali marg in New Delhi is named after her. All India Minorities Front distributes the Dr Aruna Asaf Ali Sadbhawana Award annually.