Born on 27 March 1915 in Lakhimpur (Assam), Pushpalata Das was an activist, an ardent Gandhian, and a freedom fighter who actively participated in India’s freedom struggle ever since she was a child. At the age of 6, she joined the Banar Sena (Monkey Brigade), a locally organised volunteer group of girls that worked to promote swadeshi and popularise khadi among people.
Growing up in Assam at a time where the younger generation was deeply motivated by the work and ideology of Bhagat Singh and other revolutionary activists, Pushpalata began to imbibe these ideas while she was still in school. In 1930, at the age of 15, and while studying at the Panbazar Girls High School, Pushpalata, along with two of her friends started a revolutionary organisation called the Mukti Sangha, within the premises of the Kamrup Mahila Samity. This was the time when the country was embroiled in the Civil Disobedience Movement. To join the fight for the liberation of the country from the shackles of British rule, these girls took a pledge and signed it with their blood. They also organised a boycott when Bhagat Singh was given the death sentence. When the news of the Sangha came out, Pushpalata was expelled from her school. Subsequently, she was privately tutored, and post her graduation, in 1938 she went on to pursue law from Earle Law College in Guwahati. During her student years, she was highly influenced by communist ideas and was involved in student activism. She was also associated with organisations that aimed to protect civil rights and national defence.
Around the 1940s, as part of the Civil Disobedience Movement, Pushpalata was one among the many women who were at the forefront of India’s freedom struggle. She was one of the Joint Secretaries of the Congress Party’s Women’s wing in Assam and was given the charge of organising and mobilising women volunteers. By this time, she was deeply committed to the national cause for freedom from the British. The clarion call of Mahatma Gandhi had spurred the nationalist sentiments of many, and Pushpalata too participated in the ‘individual satyagraha’ that eventually led to her incarceration.
Pushpalata’s leadership skills were at the forefront during the 1942 Quit India Movement when she and her husband Omeo Kumar Das, a fellow Gandhian, were entrusted with the responsibility of organizing the women of the Darrang District in Assam. The satyagrahis were divided into two groups, the Shanti Bahini and the Mrityu Bahini. The plan was to show their defiance against the British rule by staging peaceful processions and hoisting the National Flag atop police stations on 20 September 1942 in Gohpur, Dhekiajuli, Bihali, and Sootea. However, their plan did not succeed, as the police opened fire on the peaceful protesters, killing and injuring many of them.
Pushpalata Das was an exemplary woman who led from the front during India’s freedom struggle and inspired many others to do the same. In 1942 she was arrested and jailed for three and a half years under the Defence of India Rule. Such was her grit that when she fell ill while in confinement and the government requested her to go on parole, she refused. She even rejected the Tamrapatra offered by the Assam Government. Even after the nation became free, she continued to serve in various capacities and roles. She was a member of the Rajya Sabha and a member of the Assam Legislative Assembly. In 1999, she was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Indian Government for her role in India’s freedom struggle. Pushpalata Das passed away on 9 November 2003.