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RAMA DEVI (1899-1985)

Rama Devi was a freedom fighter. She was born into a wealthy zamindar family. Her mother was Basanta Kumari Devi and her father Gopal Ballav Das of Cuttack district. On 11 November 1914 she married Gopabandhu Choudhury the son of Sri Gokulananda Choudhury. Her mother-in-law was very strict, but could not confine Rama Devi to the house for long. In 1921 her husband left his government job to work for the Congress full time, and Rama Devi went with him.

Her husband’s brother Nabakrushna Choudhury and his wife Malati Choudhury (q.v.) also joined the Congress and the four of them threw themselves into the Non-Cooperation Movement. They also took active part in the Salt Satyagraha, the movement to promote swadeshi and khadi and the Bhoodan and Gramdan Movements. In 1930 Rama Devi spearheaded the famous satyagraha at Inchudi in Balasore district where thousands of men and women took part. Malati was arrested and sent to Bhagalpur Jail, and some months later the police came for Rama Devi. The two women were released after the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Rama Devi continued to agitate and was arrested again in 1932 and kept in the Hazaribagh Jail. After her release she began in 1934 to work for Dalit rights through the Asprushyata Nibaran Samiti, later renamed Harijan Seva Sangha. In 1938 she worked hard to raise money for the Congress meeting in Orissa. After Kasturba’s death she was appointed to work for the Kasturba Gandhi Trust in Orissa. She started an ashram at Bari which was run on Gandhian lines. But in 1942 when the Quit India Movement began the entire Choudhury family was once again arrested.

After Independence she helped set up the Utkal Khadi Mandal and also established a Teachers’ Training Centre and Balwadi (crèche) at Ramchandrapur. In 1950 she set up a Tribal Welfare Centre at Dumburugeda. During the 1951 famine she and Malati worked in famine relief in Koraput. Thereafter whenever natural calamity struck, she was always there to organize relief and give comfort to the victims. In 1952 she undertook a padayatra all over Orissa to motivate people to donate surplus land to the Bhoodan Movement. She worked to aid soldiers affected by the Indo-Chinese war of 1962. During the Emergency she protested by bringing out her own newspaper . The publisher, Gram Sevak Press, was banned by the government. She established a children’s cancer hospital at Cuttack.

She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Utkal University and the Jamunalal Bajaj Award.
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