women, but the number of groups involved, other than upper- and
middle-class Hindu women, was never large. A few Muslim women
were steadfast followers of Gandhi; many more either found it
difficult to accept the overtly Hindu ideological basis of his ideas or
were neglected by the Congress organisers.
• There were distinct regional differences in the number of women
who joined, in their relationship with Congress leaders, and the extent
to which they synthesised women’s interests with nationalist issues.
• Bombay women were the best organised, the most independent,
and fielded the largest demonstrations. Most of their leaders also
belonged to women’s organisations and they articulated a clearly
• In Bengal, women attracted a great deal of attention because of
their militancy. Marching alongside men in the Congress parade
and later, joining the revolutionary parties, they became the
subjects of folksongs and legends. Their peaceful demonstrations
were fewer but they too attracted a great deal of attention in a
society where purdah was widely practiced. These women
espoused a feminist ideology but time and again, put it aside in
favour of the broader struggle.
• In Madras, where leaders were unwilling to use women’s talents,
fewer women joined the movement.
• In North India, the Nehru and the Zutshi families provided strong
women leaders who put the nationalist agenda first. One cannot
doubt their grasp of the importance of feminist issues, but their
immediate concern was mobilising women for political
demonstrations. They did not think it possible to raise women’s
consciousness about both politics and women’s rights at the same
• Most women leaders were unable to get beyond their own sense of
respectability when they sought recruits. An exception to this of
course were the women who joined the revolutionary movement.
They worked closely with men, wore disguises, travelled alone or in
the company of strangers, and learned how to shoot, drive cars and
make bombs. Even though they were valorised, they were not