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Thursday, March 17, 2011

First Woman Central Minister Of India

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, DStJ (2 February 1889 – 2 October 1964) was the health minister in the Indian Cabinet for ten years after India's independence from the British Raj in 1947. She was an eminent Gandhian, a freedom fighter, and a social activist.

The Rajkumari was born on 2 February 1889 in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (then United Provinces), India. She and her seven brothers were the eight children of Rājā Harnam Singh, a member of the princely family of Kapurthalā in the Punjab region and his wife Rāni Harnām Singh, who was the daughter of a Bengali Presbyterian mother and an Anglican father.The Rajkumari had her early education in Sherborne School for Girls in Dorset, England, and had her college education at Oxford University. After completing her education in England, she returned to India.

Raja Harnam Singh enjoyed the confidence of many Indian National Congress (INC) party leaders, including Gopal Krishna Gokhale. After her return to India from England, Rajkumari got interested in India's freedom struggle through the occasional visits of those leaders to her father's home. After meeting in person Mahatma Gandhi in 1919 in Bombay, she felt drawn to his thoughts and vision for the country. The notorious Jallianwala Bagh massacre of mostly Sikhs the same year by the British Raj troops convinced her of the necessity of India's gaining its freedom from the Raj. She joined the INC, and began to participate in India's struggle for freedom, and also in social reform activities in India.

Rajkumari co-founded the All India Women’s Conference in 1927, became its secretary in 1930, and president in 1933.For her participation in Gandhi-led 240-mile Dandi March in 1930, British Raj authorities imprisoned her.Rajkumari went to live at Mahatma Gandhi's ashram in 1934, and took up the austere life there despite her aristocratic background. She served as one of Gandhi's secretaries for sixteen years.

As a representative of the INC, in 1937 Rajkumari went on a mission of goodwill to Bannu, in the present day Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The British Raj authorities charged her with sedition and imprisoned her.In 1942, she participated in the Quit India Movement, and the Raj authorities imprisoned her again.Rajkumari championed the cause of universal suffrage, and testified before the Lothian Committee on Indian franchise and constitutional reforms, and before the Joint Select Committee of British Parliament on Indian constitutional reforms.

Rajkumari served as the Chairperson of the All India Women’s Education Fund Association. She was a member of the Executive Committee of Lady Irwin College in New Delhi. The British Raj appointed her as a member of the Advisory Board of Education; (she resigned from that Board during the Quit India Movement). She was sent as a member of the Indian delegation to UNESCO conferences in London and Paris in 1945 and 1946, respectively. She also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the All India Spinners’ Association.Rajkumari worked to reduce illiteracy, and eradicate the custom of child marriages and the purdah system for women, which were prevalent then among some Indian communities.

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