Remembering Durgawati Devi: Her father Pandit Banke Bihari was a court official at the Allahabad Collectorate, and her grandfather was a police officer, both of them serving the British Empire, Durga Devi Vohra was the only child of a Gujarati Brahmin couple settled in Allahabad. Her mother died when she was young. Durgavati Devi was married to Bhagwati Charan Vohra when she was eleven and had a son.
An active member of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Devi came into prominence when the Sabha decided to observe the 11th anniversary of Kartar Singh Sarabha’s martyrdom on 16 November 1926 in Lahore.
Revolting against the British Government and demanding independence was an act of bravery. The freedom fighters also challenged the social taboos and prejudices along with the then Government. One among them was Durgawati Devi.
Being one of the very few women who actively participated in the armed rebellion against the ruling British Raj, Devi accompanied Bhagat Singh on the train journey in which he made his escape after the Saunders’ killing.
After Bhagat Singh surrendered himself for the 1929 Assembly bomb throwing incident, Devi attempted to assassinate Lord Hailey; he escaped, but many of his associates died. She was caught by the police and imprisoned for three years. She had also sold her ornaments worth Rs. 3,000 to rescue Bhagat Singh and his comrades under trial.
Devi, along with her husband, helped Vimal Prasad Jain, a HSRA member, in running a bomb factory named ‘Himalayan Toilets’ at Qutub Road, Delhi. In this factory, they handled picric acid, nitroglycerine and fulminate of mercury.
Ten things to know about the unsung hero, Durgawati Devi, also known as Durga Bhabhi.
- Born in October 1907, Devi was born in a well-to-do family of the modern-day district of Kaushambi near Prayagraj in UP. She was married to Shri Bhagwati Charan Vohra of Lahore at the age of 11. Vohra belonged to a well-off family as well.
- Vohra decided to fight for independence and joined the freedom fighters. Along with the support of Bhagat Singh and others, he set up the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). It is said that Devi had a very significant role in setting up the Association.
- Devi donated all her jewels and cash to the HSRA in order to purchase arms and ammunition for the revolutionaries. The organisation later became closely associated with Devi and she was given the title of Durga Bhabhi. Her main task was to deliver weapons and ammunition.
- Devi also provided shelter to Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdeo while they were absconding from the cops following the assassination of John Saunders in Lahore. Saunders who was accused of Lala Lajpat Rai’s death.
- Multiple times, Devi also went into disguise for the cause. One time Devi posed as Singh’s wife, along with her three-year-old son in order to save him from the Police officers.
- After Devi’s husband passed away in a bomb testing operation at Lahore prison, many expected her fight to have come to an end. However, Devi endured the pain of his partner’s death and continued her fight against British rule.
- She was also very instrumental in organising rallies and processions demanding Singh’s release back then.
- Reportedly, Devi took it upon herself to assassinate Punjab’s governor Malcolm Hailey following the arrest of some of the Indian revolutionaries. Devi was, however, arrested after the failed attempt. Later upon release, she once again attempted to assassinate him but was again arrested and imprisoned for three years this time.
- Later in 1935, Devi established a school for poor children in Lucknow, having left politics.
- Devi passed away on October 15, 1999, in Ghaziabad at the age of 92. Reportedly, she led a quiet life in anonymity after India’s Independence in 1947.
A small reference to her character was seen in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s 2006 film Rang De Basanti, where Soha Ali Khan played her part.
The seventh episode of the 2014 Indian Epic TV anthology television series, Adrishya, is about Durgawati.