A small, older woman wearing an off-white sari was presented to me while reading about prominent Indian women who have achieved great heights in India. One of the Quit India movement’s most influential individuals in her teens was Usha Mehta. She played a crucial part in developing an underground radio that broadcasts inspirational bulletins from covert locations to maintain the spirit of freedom among those patriots who were still outside the prison on August 9, 1942, the day Gandhi and other Congress leaders were captured. 

I was satisfied with breaking the law and doing something for the nation even as a young child.

-Usha Mehta

Usha Mehta founded Congress Radio in her early twenties and attended college in a place still known as Bombay. Eventually, the British Raj located the radio and captured those who started it. Usha Mehta herself was incarcerated for several years. After being freed, she continued her education and became a respected political professor at Bombay University. She also significantly managed Mani Bhavan’s ?a historical building and a museum dedicated to Gandhi?upkeep and art exhibits and organised discussions on Gandhi’s legacy and the liberation movement. 

Policemen, you can wield your sticks and batons, but you cannot bring down our flag.

-Usha Mehta

 

In a city that had meant so much to Gandhi and his movement, the feisty young girl who was instrumental in starting an underground radio station evolved into the kind, middle-aged lady who continued to maintain this most significant tribute to Gandhi. Usha Mehta never got married and devoted her life to her students, her scholarship, and the upkeep of Mani Bhavan.

 

“A hopeful message”

The folklore surrounding the Quit India Movement has long included the tale of the Congress radio that Usha Mehta oversaw. Thanks to Usha Thakkar’s most recent book, Congress Radio: Usha Mehta and the Underground Radio of 1942, the incident has been elevated from folklore to history. As a former student of Usha Mehta who, like her, later worked in management at Mani Bhavan, Thakkar carefully mined archival records to create a book that should interest both academics and general readers.

Importantly, this historical work connects directly to the present. An excerpt from the bulletin of the Congress Radio program dated October 20, 1942, is given below:

“The Indian people convey a message of peace, goodwill, and hope to the rest of humanity. Let’s put today’s acts of violence toward one another behind us. Just keep in mind that each nation’s generosity and each person’s actions are necessary for the creation of a truly peaceful and better world. Germany has the technical expertise, scientific expertise, and musical talent that we need. The liberalism, bravery, and literature of England are essential. We require the grace of Italy. Russia’s past triumphs and present victories are necessary. Austria, a lovely country that loves to laugh, must give us the gift of laughter. We require her culture, her love of abundant living, and China. But what about China? Her insight, bravery, and renewed optimism are what we need. The youthful optimism and spirit of exploration are essential. The wisdom and innocent simplicity of the apes are exactly what we need. We need all of humanity to renew peace and restore humanity’s dignity.”

The spirit of this message was the nationalism that once existed in India, and it was written and aired during a highly violent struggle between nations. While firmly committed to independence from foreign rule, risking life and limb to achieve political freedom, and deeply ingrained in the linguistic and cultural traditions of the various parts of the subcontinent, this person also understood that our nation would benefit from unbiased interactions with, and a healthy appreciation of, the best cultural, political, and intellectual resources that other countries had to offer. 

When the newspapers dared not touch upon these subjects under the prevailing conditions, only the Congress Radio could defy the orders and tell the people what was happening.

-Usha Mehta

Due to its crucial role in India’s freedom movement, the history of the clandestine Congress Radio is an intriguing but understudied section of the account that requires attention. It tells the tale of a merry band of young patriots who ran the Congress Radio, fervently promoting the cause of freedom and informing listeners about the fight against the oppressive reign of the British government. The story of her endeavour is both gripping and inspirational since, in addition to making history quickly, it also provided the public with trustworthy news, fostering confidence among them and alarming the British. The ability of the radio to inspire listeners during those dark and trying times and fan the flame of freedom in their hearts was equally astounding. It also taught the kids the importance of ideas and objectives and making selfless, challenging attempts to realize these seemingly unattainable goals.

Professor Usha Mehta, the lone female in the group, made an incredibly courageous and sympathetic contribution. She excelled academically and became one of India’s most notable freedom fighters. She maintained contact with the general public despite receiving the prestigious Padma Vibhushan from the Indian government and being recognized as an eminent academic. Her warmth, simplicity, and humility enamoured people since she had ingrained Gandhian values early in life. She made an outstanding contribution to the 1942 operation of the clandestine Congress Radio.

In addition to her radio broadcasts, Usha Mehta contributed to the Indian independence struggle. She took a lead role in several other initiatives, including protest planning, leaflet distribution, and fundraising. She was a persistent advocate for women’s rights and the rights of underrepresented groups. She was instrumental in creating the All India Women’s Conference, which became a strong voice for women’s rights in India.

Usha Mehta left a lasting impact as a social reformer and independence fighter that continues to motivate people in India and around the globe. She has served as a symbol of inspiration and hopes for generations of Indians because of her courage, passion, and dedication to the cause of Indian freedom. Her contributions to the independence movement will always be remembered and honoured since she was a true patriot who gave her entire life to serving her nation.

Usha Mehta, a champion of freedom and the founder of a secret radio service for news dissemination