Her Life: The Grand Old Lady
- Year 1909 – Born in Kalka, Haryana.
- Year 1928 – Married Asaf Ali.
- Year 1930 – Got arrested for taking part in the Salt Satyagraha.
- Year 1942 – Hoisted the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan.
- Year 1948 – Joined the Socialist Party.
- Year 1954 – Established National Federation of Indian Women
- Year 1958 – Elected the Mayor of Delhi.
- Year 1964 – Was awarded the International Lenin Peace Prize.
- Year 1996 – Left the mortal world.
- Year 1997 – Received Bharat Ratna posthumously.
“My father was no more when Asaf and I married in September 1928. My paternal uncle Nagendranath Ganguly, a university professor who regarded himself as my guardian, said to relatives and friends that as far as he was concerned I was dead and he had performed my shraddh.”
Aruna Asaf Ali was an Indian freedom fighter active mainly during the Quit India Movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. In the course of the movement, she hoisted the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Mumbai by escaping police barricading and later escaping arrest.
Born as Aruna Ganguly to the Upendranath Ganguly, a restaurant owner and Ambalika Devi. She was born on July 16, 1909 in Kalka, Haryana. Eldest of the all siblings, she was born into an affluent family. Both of her parents were follower of the Brahmo Samaj. Her uncle Dhirendranath Ganguly was a pioneer of the Bengali cinema and other uncle Nagendranath Ganguly was a university professor.
She received her elementary education from the Sacred Heart Convent in Lahore and later at the All Saints’ College in Nainital. After her graduation, she became a teacher at the Gokhale Memorial School in Kolkata. She met Asaf Ali, a lawyer and a leader of the Indian National Congress (INC) in Allahabad. The two got married in 1928 against the will of Aruna’s family.
Her political career took off after the marriage. She began actively participating in the congress activities as her husband was an eminent leader of the congress. Her first active participation was in the Salt Satyagraha in 1930. She was arrested during the procession and was later released due to public protest. She was arrested again in 1932 because of her involvement in different protests. She was sent to Tihar Jail in Delhi where she observed a hunger strike against the poor condition of prisoners in the Jail.
As the consequence she was shifted to the Ambala jail and was forced to live in the solitary confinement. After her release she stayed away from the political arena, but worked towards the improvement of poorer section of the society. After the launch of the Quit India Movement on August 8, 1942, most of the top leaders of INC were arrested. On August 9, she hoisted the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan. An arrest warrant soon followed and she went underground to evade the arrest.
The government seized & sold her property and declared 5000 Rupee reward on her head. She started underground activities to maintain the momentum of the movement. She edited Inquilab, a monthly magazine of the INC and used her words to provoke the Indian youths. During the movement, she fell ill in Delhi. Gandhiji wrote her requesting to give herself to the police. However, she didn’t surrender until the warrant against her got withdrawn in 1946.
Awards and Recognition
After Independence, she became disenchanted with the work of the Congress Socialist Party, a part of INC. She left the party soon and joined the Congress Socialist Party (CPI). She established the women’s wing of CPI known as the National Federation of Indian Women in 1954 and served as its president. She left the party in 1956. In 1958, she was elected the first Mayor of Delhi. After the death of Jawahar Lal Nehru, she again joined the Congress Party without any involvement in the active politics.
She was awarded the International Lenin Peace Prize in 1964 by the Soviet Union and the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1991 by the Government of India. On July 29, 1996 she left for her heavenly abode. She was bestowed with the Bharat Ratna, posthumously in 1997.