January , 2023
Durgabai Deshmukh: An Outstanding Social Worker and a Living Symbol of Women’s Empowerment
00:57 am

Dr. Ravindra Kumar and Mrs. Kamlesh Kumari

“Do not be a slave to circumstances. Make circumstances favourable...One’s success depends on handling each problem patiently and competently. Problems will come and go; life is not problem-free...Therefore, the meaning of life lies in the proper solution to them.” –Durgabai DeshmukhDurgabai Deshmukh, an embodiment of women’s empowerment in her lifetime, and a beacon light for females all over the world, was one among a few brave hearts of the twentieth century, who thought, fought, and worked, day and night, for education and emancipation of women. Upliftment of women by way of education and self-sufficiency, and their participation in the system of governance was central to her endeavours. The manner in which she worked with single mindedness, dedication and unswerving commitment remained a source of inspiration for those who wished women to be self-reliant, well placed in society and gainfully engaged in the task of nation-building. Born on July 15, 1909 in a middle-class and pious Brahmin family of Rajahmundry (East Godavari district), Andhra Pradesh, Durgabai faced myriad difficulties in her childhood. Her father BVN Rama Rao (lifetime: 1892-1929 AD), who was a social worker, passed away in her young age; she was deprived of her early education. Further, she got married in 1917 when she was just eight years old, and became a widow in 1941 AD as her husband Subba Rao died of some serious disease. Durgabai’s mother Krishnavenamma (lifetime: 1893-1965 AD) was associated with the Indian National Congress and was also a devotee of Mahatma Gandhi. She became a guiding spirit for her daughter, Durgabai, and made arrangements for her learning Hindi from a teacher living in the neighbourhood. In those days learning Hindi and its propagation at national level was a part of the National Liberation Movement of India spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi.  An astute learner, Durgabai not only gained command over Hindi language in a short period, but she went on to open a Hindi school namely BALIKA HINDI PATHSHALA for girls in Kakinada in the year 1923 AD. She was only fourteen years old at that time. Mahatma Gandhi himself was astonished by the tremendous feat of Durgabai. He praised her work publicly and felicitated her with a gold medal in the Congress session held in Kakinada itself in the same year, i.e., 1923.From the year 1923, her adolescence period, Durgabai got actively involved in the National Liberation Movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. She, then, besides educational work for women and children, took the task of propagating and selling khadi. Her mother also assisted Durgabai in her work, particularly related to education for women and children.     She was at the forefront along with a stalwart like Andhra Kesari (the Lion of the Andhra) Tanguturi Prakasam (lifetime: 1872-1957) in the Civil Disobedience Movement launched by Mahatma. She was arrested three times during the movement between 1930 and 1934 respectively. She was also quite active in 1940 and 1942 AD and was again arrested for her participation in the Individual Satyagraha and the Quit India Movement. Along with this, Durgabai’s social activities continued during that period. She founded many organisations in which the names of the Andhra Mahila Sabha and the Blind Relief Association were noteworthy. Besides this, she completed her graduation from the Andhra University, earned a degree in Law from the University of Madras, and started practice after getting herself enrolled with the Bar of Madras, a rare feat for women in those days.In 1953, Durgabai got married to Chintaman Dwarakanath Deshmukh (lifetime: 1896-1982), an eminent economist, the first Indian Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and the Minister of Finance, Government of India between 1950 and 1956.    Participation in the National Liberation Movement, working for women-education and social transformation were the three nodal tasks undertaken by Durgabai Deshmukh. She was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly and the Constituent Assembly in 1946. She was the First Woman Member of the Planning Commission of India formed in 1952.It was Durgabai Deshmukh, who as a Member of the Planning Commission, who played a key role in persuading the Government of India to declare a national policy on social work and support for such work, consequent upon which the Central Social Welfare Board was formed in 1953 under the Ministry of Woman and Child Welfare. There were seven main objectives of the Board at the time of its establishment, all dedicated and committed to the empowerment of women and all-round development of children. Durgabai Deshmukh was herself appointed as the First Chairperson of the Board. Under her guidance, a number of educational awareness programmes, schemes for training and rehabilitation of women, children’s welfare, especially for handicapped, were started all over the country. Along with this, she was also appointed as the First Chairperson of the National Council on Women Education founded in 1958 AD with the purpose of imparting education to women. Based on her exemplary and inspiring works, Durgabai Deshmukh established herself as a mother of social work in India. Inspired by her works, several institutions, nursing homes and health care centres came up in Andhra Pradesh and other parts of the country. At the age of seventy-one Durgabai Deshmukh breathed her last on May 9, 1981 at Narasannapeta, Andhra Pradesh. Through her firm determination and exemplary works, she has left a great legacy for millions and billions of women of India and the world. She remains relevant even today as she inspires women, through her significant message quoted at the beginning of discussion in hand, to step forward even in odd and inimical circumstances to assert their identity and self-respect. In recognition of her stellar works, Durgabai Deshmukh received many national and international honours including Padma Vibhushan, the Second Highest Civilian Award of India in 1981. Along with this, the Central Social Welfare Board, recognizing her as the guiding force of women’s empowerment and a great visionary, established a prize in her name. It is given every year to a voluntary organization for its extraordinary services in the field of social work. *A Padma Shri and Sardar Patel National Awardee Indologist Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a Former Vice Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut; he is, currently the Ombudsman of Swami Vivekananda Subharati University, Meerut (India). **Mrs. Kamlesh Kumari, currently, works with Education Department of Haryana State.  

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