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LILA ROY (1900–1970)

Lila Roy was a revolutionary activist and teacher. She was born in Goalpara, Assam in October 1900. Her father, Girish Chandra Nag, was a deputy magistrate, and her mother Kunjalata was educated. Her father sympathised with the nationalist movement and the idea of swadeshi. She was educated at the Eden High School, and in 1921 graduated from Bethune College, coming first in her class and receiving the Padmavati Gold Medal. That same year she became assistant secretary to the All Bengal Women’s Suffrage Committee and arranged meetings to demand women’s rights. In 1923 she obtained an MA in English from Dacca University. She was then the only woman student at the university. That year she and her friends founded the Dipali Sangha, and established schools which became the centres of political discussion in which noted leaders participated. Later, in 1926, the Chhatri Sangha, an association of women students in Dacca and Kolkata, was founded.

She encouraged girls to learn skills and crafts and their handiwork was exhibited at the schools run by the Sangha. Aware of the problem of violence against women, she started a Women’s Self Protection Fund in 1927–28 to run courses on self-defence. In 1930 she opened the Chhatri Bhavan in Kolkata, a hostel for girl students who were unable to get admission elsewhere due to their anti-British leanings. She was instrumental in forming the Dacca Mahila Satyagraha Sangha, which played an active role in the anti-salt tax movement. She became the editor of a journal, Jayashree, which had the blessing of Rabindranath Tagore.

In 1925 she joined the Sri Sangha, a revolutionary society of Dacca. In 1929 she married Anil Baran Roy, one of her old classmates and the leader of Sri Sangha. In 1930 when Roy was arrested she ran the organisation and later courted arrest. After her release from jail in 1937 she joined the Congress and the next year founded the Bengal Provincial Congress Women’s Organisation. She became a member of the women’s subcommittee formed by Subash Chandra Bose. Later she became a member of the central executive body of the Forward Bloc. When Bose went to jail in 1940 she was nominated the editor of the Forward Bloc Weekly and before leaving India, Netaji gave complete charge of party activities to Anil and Lila Roy.

In 1946 she was elected to the Indian Constituent Assembly from Bengal. She worked with the victims of the Kolkata riots and built the National Service Institute for rescue and relief work at Noakhali. In 1947 she founded the Jatiya Mahila Sanghati, a women’s organisation in West Bengal. In 1960 she became the chairwoman of the new party formed with the merger of the Forward Bloc (Subhasist) and the Praja Socialist Party but was disappointed with its working. After two years she retired from active politics. She died in June 1970, after a prolonged illness.

Manjira Majumdar
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