In the times when women were confined to their homes,this brave lady played key role in success of many revolutionary movements involving Chandrashekar Azad, Bhagath Singh and other prominent revolutionaries. It was her duty to supply arms required for their actions.
Durga Devi Vohra was the only child of a Gujarati Brahmin couple settled in Allahabad. She lost her when she was young and her father became a sanyasi, leaving Durga with her aunt. She studied up to Class V, and married when she was eleven.
She first came into contact with the revolutionaries in Lahore through her husband, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, the son of a wealthy Gujarati, Shiv Charan Das, who worked for the railways and was honoured with the title of Rai Sahib.
Bhagwati Charan studied at National College, Lahore, where he met Bhagat Singh, who became a frequent visitor to the family home, as did Yashpal and Sukhdev. Bhagwati Charan was involved in student politics, becoming an active member of the NJBS(Nou jawan bharath sabha) which functioned as a recruiting ground for HSRA(Hindusthan socialistic republican army) members.
Bhagawathi Charan had both money and time to invest in politics. he had no family opposition to his politics. his father had died in the early 1920s, and his mother when he was a child.
By late 1928, he and Durga Devi were incorporated into the party.
Durga Devi gave birth to a son, Sachinanda, in 1925, but she remained committed to teaching and continued to work in a girls’ college in Lahore until she was forced to go underground in 1929.
Durga Devi was a devoted wife. She would assist her husband in all his political ventures.
After Saunders’ assassination, Sukhdev and Bhagat Singh came to Durga Devi for help, bringing with them Rajguru.
She agreed to pose as Bhagat Singh’s wife in order to help him escape Lahore. Taking Sachi, and accompanied by Rajguru (pretending to be the young family’s servant), they passedp though a police cordon and boarded a first class train carriage for Lucknow, where they changed trains for Calcutta.
Disguised as a panda and wearing a ramnami angochha shawl, Azad travelled with Sukhdev’s mother and sister, as though he was escorting them on a pilgrimage.
From Lucknow, Bhagat Singh sent a telegram to Bhagwati Charan, informing him that he was coming to Calcutta with ‘Durgawati’.
It was with an element of surprise that Bhagwati Charan learned of his wife’s role in helping Bhagat Singh and Rajguru escape. Bhagavathi Charan was very happy that he has got a revolutionary wife.
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, an HSRA member, in running a bomb factory named ‘Himalayan Toilets’ (a smokescreen to hide the agenda of making bombs) at Qutub Road, Delhi. In this factory, they handled picric acid, nitroglycerine and fulminate of mercury.
Bhagawathi Charan died in Lahore on 28 May 1930 while testing a bomb on the banks of the Ravi. The device was required for the proposed rescue of Singh and others under trial in the Lahore Conspiracy Case but it exploded during the test and he lost his life.
Durga Devi had almost gone mute after the death of her husband. But as if she is on a penance she started to involve in activities of the party.
After Bhagath Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were given death sentence and Azad’s death in gun battle with british the revolutionary movement was largely suppressed.
Durga Devi then began to take part in Congress politics. She served as president of the Delhi Congress Committee in 1937–8, and assisted in organising a reception for the freed prisoners of the Kakori Conspiracy Case.
She was arrested again, this time in her capacity as a Congress worker for her involvement in a hartal in 1938, and was imprisoned for a week. In 1940, she set up and dedicated all her energies to a Montessori school in Lucknow, and she was still engaged with the school in 1972 when her first interview was published.
When she died in 1999 her funeral rites were performed by Sachi on the banks of Hindon river, celebrated with full state honours.
Durga Devi had to face lot of criticism to be associated with men even after the death of her husband. But she was determined to serve her country and she also wanted to live the way her husband would have wanted her to. She kept fighting all odds till the end.
Dr Sindhu Prashanth