attended its annual meeting. In 1890, Swarnakumari Ghosal, a woman
novelist, and Kadambini Ganguly, the first woman in the British
Empire to receive a BA and one of the India’s first female medical
doctors, attended as delegates.
• From this time on, women attended every meeting of the INC,
sometimes as delegates, but more often as observers. Attending with
their fathers and husbands, their contribution was both decorative and
• A chorus of fifty-six girls from all regions of India performed the
song “Hindustan” in 1901. The next year, two Gujarati sisters sang a
translation of this song at the opening session.
• These educated and politically knowledgeable girls and their mothers
informed the world that India was as advanced as any Western
country in its vision of women’s public roles.
Participation in Swadeshi Movement In 1905, when the British
partitioned the province of Bengal, women joined men in protesting this
division by boycotting foreign goods and buying only swadeshi goods. Nirad
Chaudhuri has recalled how his parents decided to put away the children’s
foreign-made clothes and buy Indian-made outfits. Later, in 1909, his mother
took a sudden and violent dislike to a glass water pitcher that survived the
swadeshi movement and ordered one of her sons to smash it.
Support to Revolutionary Terrorism Still other women gave their
support to the revolutionary organisations. Nanibala Devi (1888–1967) was
widowed at fifteen, and was forced to take shelter with her nephew
Amarendranath Chattopadhyay. He was the leader of the new Jugantar (New
Age) Party, dedicated to violent defeat of the foreign rulers. Nanibala joined
the party and acted as their housekeeper, occasionally posing as the wife of
one of the revolutionaries.
Division of Public and Private Roles In this context, where public and
private roles were sharply divided by both ideology and physical
arrangements, women’s political acts were hidden from the British
• Women hid weapons, sheltered fugitives and encouraged the men,
their domestic roles providing cover for these subversive and