Arun Asaf Ali

Arun Asaf Ali
An Icon of Courage
(1909-1996)

The courageous and defiant Aruna Asaf Ali finds a place of honour in India’s independence struggle and socialist revolution. Initially she was associated with the Congress and in 1948, after Independence, she
joined the Socialist Party of Acharya Narendra Dev. Later she joined the Communist Party and remained associated with the party till the end through the presidentship of their Patriot group of newspapers.

Aruna Asaf Ali gained instant fame and recognition for the valour she displayed in 1942 during the Quit India Movement when she broke the police barricade and hoisted the Congress flag at Oval Maidan in Bombay. This was a task well achieved for a 30-year-old lady. She went into hiding after the incident and resurfaced in 1946, after the new government formed by the Congress withdrew the arrest warrant issued against her. The secret service of the British Government had announced  a reward of Rs 5,000 – a big amount in those days – for anyone who could provide clues about her whereabouts. Her property and wealth were impounded too. Yet she could not be caught. Although she went into hiding, she did not remain inactive. She toured the country and instilled a feeling of nationalism among the masses.

Aruna was born into a Bengali family on 16 July 1909 in Bengal. Her father was a doctor, but he died when she was too young. Her mother sent her to Nainital for studies, where she came in contact with the Nehru family. The association instilled political awareness in her. After returning from Nainital, she joined a school in Calcutta. On one occasion, when she went to Allahabad to meet her sister, she met a well-known Muslim lawyer Asaf Ali. The meeting soon blossomed into love and they got married. Both participated in the activities of the Congress together. In 1930, she was imprisoned at Lahore for a year for her participation at the satyagraha movement. These sentences made her stronger from within and helped her carry out the courageous feat of 1942.

After Independence, she settled in Delhi and dedicated herself to social service. She was also elected the Mayor of Delhi in 1958. She published a magazine, Link and established ‘Saraswati Bhavan’ – an institution that was concerned with education and service to the poor and underprivileged.

In 1992, she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding. In recognition of her services, the government conferred the Bharat Ratna on her posthumously in 1997.

(Famous Indians of the 20th Century, Vishwamitra Sharma, Pg. 38)

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