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RENUKA RAY (1904–1997)

Renuka Ray was a freedom fighter. She was the daughter of Satish Chandra Mukherjee, an ICS officer, and Charulata Mukherjee, a social worker and member of the All India Women’s Conference. As a young girl, Renuka lived for a while in London and went to Kensington High School, then did her BA from the London School of Economics. She had teachers like Harold Laski, William Beveridge, Clement Atlee, Eileen Power and others. She met Gandhi at the age of 16 and this had a profound effect on her. She married Satyendranath Roy. In 1934 as legal secretary of the AIWC she submitted a document titled ‘Legal Disabilities of Women in India; A Plea for a Commission of Enquiry’. This articulated the AIWC’s disappointment with the treatment of the Sharda Bill and their commitment to legal review of the situation of women before the law in India. Renuka argued for a uniform personal law code, saying that the position of Indian women was one of the most iniquitous in the world.

In the same year she visited seven coalmines where women worked in the Jharia coal belt. The scenes she saw there were so horrifying that she and her colleagues drew up a report urging that women not be allowed to continue in this hazardous occupation, and that the AIWC immediately take on the responsibility of finding them alternative employment, a task which they recognised would not be easy. From 1943 to 1946 she was a member of the Central Legislative Assembly, then of the Constituent Assembly and the Provisional Parliament. In 1952–57 she served on the West Bengal Legislative Assembly as Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation. In 1957 and again in 1962 she was Member for Malda of the Lok Sabha. She was also President of the AIWC in 1952, served on the Planning Commission and on the Governing Body of Visva Bharati University in Shanti Niketan. She served as a Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation. She established the All Bengal Women’ Union and the Women’s Coordinating Council. Her memoir is titled My Reminiscences (1982).
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