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ASHOKA GUPTA (1912-2008)

Ashoka Gupta was a freedom fighter and dedicated social worker. She worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi and her life spanned huge changes in India’s polity and women’s lives. Ashoka was born the second daughter of Kiran Chandra Sen and Jyotirmoyee Devi (q.v.) in November 1912. Her father died when she was six, and the family lived a peripatetic life in Jaipur, Delhi and Calcutta, while her mother struggled to establish herself as a writer. Ashoka was educated at St Margaret’s School in Kolkata. She had a brilliant education and was first among female candidates for the matriculation examination. She joined Bethune College, opting to study mathematics honours.

While still in college she married Shaibal Kumar Gupta, a district judge and member of the ICS. As her husband was transferred around the country, she got to travel and see India. In 1938, her husband was transferred to Dhaka. In Dhaka in 1936, she became a member of the All India Women’s Conference. Her involvement with the AIWC was lifelong; she became its President in 1986 and was its Patron at the time of her death. After her husband’s transfer to Bankura, she worked to alleviate famine there in 1942-43. The couple then moved to Chittagong. In Noakhali she met Mahatma Gandhi on his historic visit in 1945 and was inspired to work for the rehabilitation of refugees. She documented extensively the human rights abuses that were occurring during the time of Partition and how they affected women and children. After Partition she continued to work for social uplift. During the Bangladesh War she and her husband set up the Bangladesh Anushandhan Committee to investigate atrocities and help the affected. As she says of her life in her memoir, ‘These were decades of political tumult and turmoil, when no thinking Indian could remain a mute spectator but was dragged willy-nilly into this maelstrom of activity.’

She was a member of the Central Social Welfare Board, assigned to Orissa, Tripura and Rajasthan, a member of the advisory committee of the Bengal Board, on the Board of the LIC, of the Karma Samiti of Viswa Bharati, and of the board of the Kasturba Trust. She was the President of the All Indian Women’s Conference for five years, she was also state chief commissioner of the Indian Scouts and Guides Associations for three years, president of the SOS children’s villages, president of Buniyadi Vidyapeeth, patron of the Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust and the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption. She was a founder member of the Mahila Seva Samiti.

She was a recipient of the Jamnalal Bajaj award for lifetime achievement for her work with women and children. Her memoir, translated into English by Sipra Bhattacharya and Ranjana Dasgupta and titled In the Path of Service: Memories of a Changing Century, was published by Stree in 2008.
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