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SATYAWATI DEVI (1906–1945)

Satyawati Devi was a unionist and social worker. She was born in the village of Talwan in the Punjab. Her mother Ved Kumariji was a social reformer and activist, and her father was a lawyer. The family had links with the Arya Samaj. When she was 16 her mother arranged an inter-caste marriage for her with Bal Bhadra Vidyalankar. It was a simple ceremony; the bride wore khadi. She was deeply influenced by Marxism and renounced religion, considering its degraded forms to be the greatest curse of Indian society. She wished to see India become a workers’ and peasants’ Utopia, and worked tirelessly to combat the evils springing from religion. She organised a strike at the Birla Mills in Delhi where her husband held a lucrative job. She also worked in the slums to better their conditions. During her last detention in Lahore Jail she was taken seriously ill and released to the Delhi TB Hospital. Gandhi, who had nicknamed her ‘Toofani Behn’, tried to make her recite ‘Ram’ on her deathbed, but she refused, dying as she had lived.
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