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Subhadra Kumari Chauhan was a poet and freedom fighter. She was born in 1904 in the village of Nihalpur, near Allahabad, into a middle class Rajput family, and was brought up in an orthodox atmosphere where untouchability was the code of conduct and purdah a strictly enforced custom. Her father, Thakur Ram Nath Singh, was a strict disciplinarian, but her elder brother Raj Bahadur Singh challenged the family traditions, and managed to get Subhadra Kumari educated at Crossthwaite Girls’ School in Allahabad. There she was a senior contemporary and friend of Mahadevi Verma, whom she encouraged in the pursuit of literature. She was married to Thakur Lakshman Singh Chauhan of Khandwa at the age of 15, and soon after secured a scholarship at the middle school level. Her husband settled in Jabalpur, where he joined the Non Co-Operation Movement. Subhadra became a student at the Theosophical School at Varanasi, but left her studies and went to Jabalpur to assist her husband in the freedom struggle.

In 1923, when she was barely 19 years old, she took out a procession with the Congress tricolour flag in defiance of government orders. The flag had previously been pulled down and trampled upon by the police. Indignation had spread all over the country. Subhadra and her husband decided to lead a group of satyagrahis from Jabalpur, and this was the beginning of her fiery political career. In the 1930s she presided over the women’s section of the State Congress Committee and in the early 1940s she joined in the Civil Disobedience Movement and courted arrest, leaving behind her small children and taking a babe in arms with her to jail. Later, in 1936 and 1946, she was elected to the Bihar Legislative Assembly unopposed. She has described her arrests in her characteristic unassuming and humorous way, saying that on her way to jail she would be honoured with so many garlands that she would make a pillow of them in her prison cell, where they would remind her of the flowers that had decked her marriage bed. The Gandhian philosophy of non-violence, non co-operation and non-communalism were the main planks of her political doctrine.

Her first poem was published in 1913 when she was a child of nine. Very early in life she gained recognition and became established as a poet when she found a place in Kavita Kaumudi, a collection of the writings of eminent poets. Subhadra Kumari Chauhan wrote in the Khariboli dialect of Hindi, in a simple, clear style. She took part in many kavi sammelans or literary soirées while still very young. Burning patriotism, a deep seated humanism, an intense intolerance of social barriers, especially those imposed on women, and a very genuine compassion for Dalits were the chief driving forces of her creative works. Her patriotic poems, influenced by writers like Premchand, Makhanlal Chaturvedi and others, are a vivid portrayal of the rising tide of nationalism that was sweeping through the whole country, and the stirring quality of her work galvanised the masses into action. Indeed, the refrain from her soul-stirring ballad ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ is still to be heard even in remote parts of the country: ‘Khoob lari mardani wo to Jhansi wali Rani thi…’ Her most famous collection of poems, Mukul (1930) and a collection of short stories, Bikhre Moti (1932) were awarded the Seksaria Prize in 1930 by the All India Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. She has to her credit many poems for children, published mainly in journals and collected under the title Sabha ke Khel in 1933. She wrote Unmadini in 1934. Her writings have left an indelible impression on Hindi literature. She died from injuries sustained in a car accident at the age of 44. Sudha Chauhan, her daughter, has written her biography.
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