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 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.
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.
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
Deadly Drops: How Islamic Extremism is Stifling Women’s Education
Education has always been a cornerstone of Islamic tradition, with the Quran emphasizing the importance of seeking knowledge for both men and women. Yet, despite these teachings, there are still significant challenges facing women’s education in many Muslim-majority countries. Cultural norms, economic barriers, and limited access to resources are just some of the factors that have hindered women’s educational opportunities. In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between Islam and women’s education, and look at some of the key issues and debates surrounding this complex topic.”
Education is a fundamental human right that should be available to all, regardless of gender or ethnicity. Napoleon Bonaparte once famously said, “Give me an educated mother, and I shall promise you the birth of a civilized, educated nation”. Unfortunately, Islamic extremism has severely hampered the access and quality of education for millions of girls in many parts of the world. These extremist regimes fear a civilised and educated nation as it threatens their power.
Barbaric Use of Toxic Gases Against Schoolgirls in Iran
In late November 2022, 50 students of an all-girl school in the city of Qom, Tehran fell ill and were rushed to hospitals. Most of them were released a short time later, but several of them were kept for observation. Since then, hundreds of cases of respiratory distress have been reported among Iranian schoolgirls, mainly in the city of Qom, Tehran, the city of Borujerd in the western province of Lorestan and the north-western city of Ardabil, with some needing hospital treatment. Though no official figures were released, some speculate that the number of directly affected students was up to many hundred, as these incidents have occurred for several months. Before being sick, students frequently complain of unusual odours that they describe as smelling like strong perfume or rotten tangerines. They also claimed that they saw weird objects being tossed into schoolyards before the poisoning. Local media reported that some of the symptoms include nausea and headache, however, in some cases, temporary paralysis is also being seen. A quite inhuman example of Islam and women’s education.
Authorities in schools, the governor’s office, and the health department had downplayed this incident for months, saying the schoolgirls had “panicked” or experienced only “minor” symptoms. However, recently in an open session of parliament, a lawmaker stated that girls in up to 15 cities were affected. Iran’s deputy education minister says the serial poisoning of female students in the religious city of Qom and other cities has been “intentional”. He told state-linked media that “some people” wish to stop girls from going to school.
These developments come days after the students and teenagers joined the protest that started after the brutal killing of Mahsa Amini by the Guidance Patrol, the religious morality police of Iran’s government. Some Iranians, including well-known activists, have accused the regime of carrying out the poisonings as retaliation against girls for taking part in protests. Since the protests started in September, Iran’s most prominent Sunni cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid, has been harshly critical of the government. He also said that the poisonings were a tactic for the government to punish those who took part in the protests. “The poisonings of schoolgirls in Qom and Boroujerd is an inhuman and anti-Islamic act … it is revenge for their recent uprising,” Abdolhamid wrote on Twitter. Though a judicial investigation was launched, no arrests were made.
Atrocities of Boko Haram in Sub-Saharan Africa
Boko Haram is an Islamist militant organization based in north-eastern Nigeria and is the world’s deadliest terror group during part of the mid-2010s according to the Global Terrorism Index. Boko Haram, whose literal meaning is ‘Western education is forbidden’, responsible for killing an estimated 20,000 and displacing over 2.2 million people.
Boko Haram has earned notoriety for its numerous attacks on schools and colleges, as well as teachers, administrators, and students, causing havoc on an already vulnerable education system. Hostility towards secular education is a crucial element of Boko Haram’s ideology. A total of over 19,000 teachers have been displaced by the fighting and an estimated 2,295 teachers have been murdered by Boko Haram. According to estimates from the UN, over 1,400 schools have been damaged, destroyed, or looted, mostly in the northeast, and more than 600,000 kids no longer have access to education.
In 2014, it kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok town. Some of these women and girls claimed that Boko Haram had subjected them to forced “marriage,” forced conversion to Islam, and other types of sexual assault. Some claimed they were kept in prison-like settings and repeatedly raped. Victims, particularly those who refused to “marry” a fighter or convert to Islam, also recounted being made to work long hours for the insurgents’ wives and families and being threatened or physically assaulted when they became too worn out to continue. More evidence suggests that Boko Haram has exploited kidnapped girls as suicide bombers. The United Nations reported that in 2017, “115 children – 38 boys and 77 girls – had been used as human bombs. It also used schools for various military purposes, including to hold and execute captives, and as barracks for insurgents.
Many of the female students said that the attacks had led them to drop out of school permanently or to be forced to put their education on hold. Female students’ parents had been too afraid for them to go back to school. Several survivors claim that the abuse they have experienced has adversely affected their mental and physical health. As a result of the rape, some people recounted continuing to experience bleeding and other severe gynaecological issues. Many of the students and some of the teachers spoke of having frequent nightmares, anxiety, being easily alarmed, having trouble concentrating, and other symptoms frequently connected to trauma. Their traumatic experiences often have an impact on their ability to pursue their education.
Poisoning of School Water Supply by Afghan Taliban
After taking control of the nation, the Taliban restricted women’s school education in 1996. But after the regime is uprooted by the U.S., women in Afghanistan returned to school in 2001. However, the Taliban survived the assault and started regrouping and regaining their strength whilst propagating their extremist views in the years of 2000s and 2010s. In the year of 2010, 100 schoolgirls were hospitalized for drinking school water, which was poisoned by the Taliban. In a similar incident, 140 girls and 14 female teachers were poisoned by drinking water from their school, which was poisoned by Taliban militants. This can be considered a cruel example of Islam and Women’s education.
Even after taking control of Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban is still putting roadblocks in women’s education. Segregating female students from males, and ordering mandatory uniforms by Sharia law were some of the mild steps taken in this direction. In December 2022, it completely banned university education for women. Due to extreme international pressure, the universities are reopened for women, but with strict rules on study schedules, socialising with the opposite gender and separate classrooms.
Pakistani Taliban has also been targeting girls for pursuing education, both directly and indirectly through its several radical organisations. In 2012, 14-year-old Malala Yusufzai got shot in her left eye, because she was vocal about the oppression she was facing from the Taliban and other radical organisations, in pursuing higher education.
Islam and Women’s Education – The Grave Consequence
Apart from the immediate physical harm, these incidents cause long-term irreversible damage, along with overturning years of progress in societies. Parents, fearing for the safety and well-being of their children, pull girls out of their school, discontinuing their education. According to a report in 2021, only 42.59 % of women are literate in Afghanistan. Nigeria stands at 68.26%, whereas Pakistan stands at 65% in women’s literacy. Several other countries like Somalia, Niger and Yemen also stand very low in this regard. If not checked Iran’s women’s literacy rate could also go down in near future.
Discontinuation in education leads to early marriage for many girls in some of these countries. This leads to early pregnancy, making them vulnerable to both physical and mental health problems. Incomplete education also makes it more difficult for them to attain personal autonomy, employment and economical independence.
Governments, civil society organizations, and the international community must come together to address this issue and provide protection for girls who are seeking an education. It is only through collective efforts that we can prevent the poisonous tactics of extremism and ensure that all girls have the opportunity to realize their full potential through education. By doing so, we not only promote gender equality but also build more peaceful, just and prosperous societies for everyone. Once again when we hear Islam and Women’s education together, it should not create any horrific scenes of attacks on school girls, poisoning school water.
The Spies Who Happened To Be Women – Unmasking The Unsung Heroes Of World War
During World War, women played a vital and often overlooked role in espionage. From gathering intelligence on the front lines to serving as secret agents in enemy territory, women spies in World War were instrumental in helping the Allies win the war. Their bravery and ingenuity paved the way for future generations of women in intelligence and national security. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the fascinating and often daring stories of these incredible women spies. Let’s begin!
Can women make good spies?
In what capacity, if so?
These were the questions that an MI5 officer, Britain’s domestic counterintelligence organisation, Maxwell Knight, kept thinking about. The start of World War II and the blitzkrieg baptism of Europe were happening outside his office. The intelligence community was still exclusively a male realm in England and around the world and an exclusive, upper-class one. Yet, as Knight was going to point out, a female spy might prove helpful.
How did it all begin?
It was a dark moment for Britain and her European allies in the war during the summer of 1941. Britain was at risk because Germany had taken control of most of Europe and was bombing essential cities around the nation in what became known as the Blitz. This increased the significance of the Special Operations Executive’s (SOE) missions and the contributions of three significant women inside it.
This was also when both sides of the war needed tremendous personnel and soldiers. This constant need for labour gave women new opportunities, and the American military created separate branches for women for the first time. A hitherto male-only profession, espionage, became officially open to women in the United States and other countries.
Now let’s come back to SOE…
Special Operations Executive
The SOE was a volunteer organisation founded in London in June 1940 to wage a covert fight behind enemy lines. Winston Churchill, the then British prime minister, is renowned for having instructed SOE agents to “light Europe ablaze” through espionage, sabotage, and establishing a resistance network in occupied Europe.
The SOE employed dozens of women as spies, notably the American operative Virginia Hall and the Indian-British radio operator Noor Inayat Khan. Both these ladies collaborated with Vera Atkins, the intelligence officer in charge of SOE’s F Section, which was in charge of selecting and deploying agents into France.
By the time of the D-Day assaults on June 6, 1944, the SOE, based on Baker Street in the heart of London and also known as “The Baker Street Irregulars,” “Churchill’s Secret Army,” and the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” had sent 39 women to occupied France. F Section sought after agents who could speak French and fit in with French culture since they needed to avoid being discovered. Each agent received a codename or alias and training in specialised subjects such as wireless operation (as Khan did), keeping a cover narrative going, how to burgle and pick locks, and other related topics.
The United States founded the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1942 as the country’s first autonomous intelligence organisation. The OSS was created to conduct espionage and intelligence gathering, a contemporary of Britain’s SOE. Women were covertly hired to process top-secret transmissions from the field and work on other topics of classified intelligence based on the performance of female intelligence employees in the Special Operations Executives (SOE). Some elite female agents dispatched to serve in the field were trained at SOE intelligence schools. Perhaps you’ve heard of Julia McWilliams – the most well-known female OSS worker who rose from secretary to senior intelligence officer!
The Unsung Women Spies in World War I
Women have always been crucial components of the intelligence community because they might frequently eavesdrop, run messages, or convey information without getting recognised and questioned as men would have been. Spying wasn’t viewed as glamorous until after the Bond myth took hold. The Alice Network, which a woman directed, was the most effective spy ring during World War I. She was called the Queen of Spies and was named Louise de Bettignies.
Queen of Spies – Louise de Bettignies
Louise was born in France to a working-class industrial family. She was intelligent and multilingual, but like many other educated but impoverished women of the time, she chose the Jane Eyre route and supported herself by working as a governess for several aristocratic European households. When war broke out, Louise was in France. Shortly after, while visiting England, she was picked up by British intelligence, who quickly picked up on her sharp wit and her proficiency in French, German, and English.
After her return, Louise established a network of sources in German-occupied northern France. Her sources included men, women, and even children who would gather intelligence about the enemy, including troop counts, train schedules, and artillery positions.
Yet another story is that of Julia McWilliams, better known as Julia Child, the leading chef.
Julia Child – A French Chef & A Spy
In 1941, the 29-year-old Julia McWilliams had just one dream – to fight for her nation, United States, in World War II. Unfortunately, she was rejected from the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) in the Navy and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in the Army because of her height of 6-foot-2.
But someone recognised her abilities and was offered a position in the Secret Intelligence division at the Office of Strategic Services, which was the predecessor to the CIA. During this time, a Captain Harold J. Coolidge in the Special Projects Division of the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment (ERE) Section, was looking for a team to create a shark repellent to coat explosives and ensure the pilots’ safety in water. Little did young Julia know then – this ‘recipe’ would be the first recipe she would work on!
My first big recipe was shark repellant that I mixed in a bathtub for the Navy, for the men who might get caught in the water
– Julia in an interview in 2012
Since the beginning of the conflict, American Naval officers have been the target of numerous shark attacks. Moreover, curious sharks frequently detonate bombs meant to harm adversarial groups. The OSS was charged with developing a shark deterrent for military underwater operations. Following a year of field testing and extensive trial-and-error with over 100 different compounds, including poisons, organic acids, and even rotting shark meat, the study team, which included Julia Child, discovered that copper acetate was the most efficient repellant.
Julia also worked for the US Army’s civilian Aviation Warning Service, which was responsible for keeping watch over foreign planes entering American airspace. She made a big impact in at the OSS and served her country with all her might.
The role of women has always been undervalued in the spy world, always undermined in terms of recognition.
It’s a world that needs women.
Throughout the war, women took advantage of the assumption that they were more covert than males and completed duties and missions that men could not finish. According to an SOE dispatch from Holland, women could transmit critical communications covertly in the field since they were rarely questioned and inspected at checkpoints in 1944.
Women Spies in World War – Closing Remark
In some cases, female spies played up to feminine notions of fragility or helplessness to escape difficult situations. According to historian Juliette Pattinson, “many wartime reports show that male agents were less innovative and inventive than their female counterparts,” as she writes in Behind Enemy Lines: Gender, Passing, and the Special Operations Executive in the Second World War.
The Incredible Women of World War II Breaking Stereotypes
Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom.
– Mary Edwards Walker
The story of what led to the 2nd World War and its impact on the world is no mystery to any of us. We read it in our history books; we have had our parents and professors narrate it to us over and over again; the story of WW2 has become so integral to our life, that even our work buddies tend to refer to it on occasion!
Surprisingly, one aspect of it still remains in the shadows – the valour of women in this war.
World War II was a defining moment in human history, with millions of people fighting for their country and values worldwide. And even with established gender norms at the time, women made essential contributions – from working as medics to picking up arms and fighting on the front lines. But while the men on both sides were idolised and demonized (depending on which side told the story), the contributions of women – their bravery, shrewdness, determination, intelligence, and perseverance….just got lost in the narration. So when Juan Pujol aka Agent Garbo and Ian Fleming was being described as the “greatest agent of WW2”; Peggy Taylor, Virginia Hall, Noor Inayat Khan and Dame Victoire Evelyn Patricia Ridsdale would have to wait years before getting any recognition.
It’s 2023 March…let’s undo this wrong.
We take you through the stories of the many women of WW2 – United States
In the initial days, the USA was less involved in the war but was the primary supplier of weapons and ammunition where most of the workforce was predominantly male. However, in 1941 after its participation in the war, the absolute urgency of mobilizing the entire population made the expansion of the role of women inevitable. Nineteen million American women at that time, were working as the labour force in transportation, agriculture, administrative sector, bombs-weapons-aircraft production, and various volunteer jobs like building victory gardens, canning produce, selling war bonds, donating blood, rescuing vital commodities, and sending care packages.
The US Army formed the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942, which was later renamed the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and recognised as an official part of the regular army in 1943. Throughout the war, over 150,000 women served as WACs, with many deploying to the European and Pacific theatres.
The WACs served in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines in 1944, then in England and France in 1945. Aside from the number of women who served in the federal military, some women joined the various state guards, all of which contributed to the country’s internal security. Several hundred women were recruited from colleges to work as engineers, technicians, and mathematicians on the Manhattan Project, which was responsible for the development of the atomic bomb. Also, more than 60,000 Army nurses (all military nurses were women at the time) and more than 14,000 Navy nurses, were deputed to various stateside and oversea bases during World War II.
Apart from this, approximately 350,000 US women served with the armed forces and as many as 543 were martyred in war-related incidents. But despite all their contributions, women were only recognized as a permanent parts of the US armed forces with the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948!
Britain and its Colonies Similar to US, as the men were drafted into the armed forces during World War II, women in Britain took on tasks such as working in factories, mining, and other industries critical to the war effort. From 1938 to 1945, the percentage of women in industrial jobs increased from 19.75% to 27%, reducing segregation in the British workforce.
Fearing public opinion, the country prohibited women from participating in direct combat, but women did serve in the military through the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), and Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Women in active service most commonly served as searchlight operators, but they also worked as drivers, clerks, mechanics, radio operators, and in other administrative duties.
Over 487,000 women volunteered for women’s services throughout the war, including 80,000 for the WRNS, 185,000 for the WAAF, and 222,000 for the ATS. Women in Britain had an important role in intelligence work, in addition to their contributions to the domestic war effort. They operated as codebreakers, assisting the British military in deciphering intercepted German messages and providing important intelligence. Women worked as photo analysts in the largest intelligence coup of the war, the uncovering of the German V1 flying bomb. In this capacity, women also assisted in the planning of D-Day by analysing images of the Normandy coast.
In Australia, women joined the war effort through auxiliary force branches, similar to in Britain. Around 1940 several voluntary war organisations were established. Despite the federal government and military initially refusing to sponsor these organisations, a lack of male members forced the military to form female branches. In March 1941, the Royal Australian Air Force established the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF), in October 1941, the Army established the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) and in December 1942, the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AAMWS), and in July 1942, the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) – Approximately 50,000 women joined in several of these forces and contributed to various logistic and operational services.
In Canada, approximately 1.2 million women entered the workforce due to World War II, of which many of them worked in munition manufacturing. In the late 1930s, several volunteer groups were formed by women. Later the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and lastly Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRENS) were established by the army, navy and air force. The women who enlisted would take over drivers of light mechanical transport vehicles, cooks in hospitals and messes, clerks, typists, and stenographers at camps and training centres, telephone operators and messengers, canteen helpers and medical nurses.
Policies similar to those of Britain were implemented in India, and a women’s auxiliary corps was established in the army. In India, the Women’s Auxiliary Corps served in the Indian army from 1939 until 1947, with a peak strength of 850 officers and 7,200 auxiliaries. The Royal Indian Navy had a minor naval section. A small naval section also operated in the Royal Indian Navy. However, the nationalist and pro-independence movements in India during the war split on the decision to undertake military service. Under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose, Rani of Jhansi Regiment comprised Indian women, mostly from foreign plantations. Most of these women largely had support roles in logistics and medical care, however, some of them were directly involved in combat.
Finland & Romania
In Finland, women assisted the war by nursing, signalling air raids, rationing, and hospitalising the wounded. Lotta Svärd, named after the famous poem, was one of the largest, if not the largest, voluntary organisations in World War II.
In Romania, the Royal Romanian Air Force enabled women to participate in the war effort. Inspired by the Finnish Lotta Svärd, the Ministry of the Air established the 108th Medevac Light Transport Squadron, also known as the White Squadron (Escadrila Albă), which contained predominantly female pilots and grew to prominence as the world’s only force of its kind between 1943 and 1945. These women served as pilots in ambush as well as in transport and liaison missions.
Despite being a member of the Axis Power alliance, Finland and Romania set an example in the treatment of women in forces during World War II.
The soldier’s heart, the soldier’s spirit, the soldier’s soul, are everything…But it matters not if the soldier is a man or women.
The changing world order presented opportunities for women that were previously absent. Women from both sides grasped the possibilities and played an essential role in the war effort, not just at home but also in combat. Although many of these women acclimated to their traditional role after the war; their experience helped pave the path to several civil rights and feminist movements, seeding the newfound identities to the future generation.
“I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine” – The story of Nadia Murad
Nadia Murad is a Yazidi human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has become a significant voice in the fight against sexual abuse in conflict zones. Her advocacy work has drawn attention to the suffering of the Yazidi people and other persecuted populations, and her tale of survival and resiliency has inspired people worldwide.
Every time I tell my story, I feel that I am taking some power away from the terrorists.
Lets begin at the beginning..
Who is Nadia Murad?
1993 saw the birth of Nadia Murad in the sleepy Iraqi town of Kocho. She was raised in an intimate Yazidi community, a religiously marginalized sect that has endured centuries of discrimination and persecution. She was only 21 when ISIS terrorists stormed her community in August 2014 and kidnapped her and thousands of other Yazidis.
Three months of Nadia’s captivity under ISIS’s control included brutal sexual abuse and torture. She was forced to convert to Islam after being bought and sold by various ISIS fighters. She finally succeeded in escaping with the aid of a Muslim family, making her way to a refugee camp in northern Iraq.
I hope it will help bring justice for those women who suffered from sexual violence.
Nadia shared her tale with the world and fought for the rights of the Yazidi people after making her escape. She was named a UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking in 2016. She and Congolese campaigner Denis Mukwege shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for their efforts to end sexual violence in armed conflict.
I never thought, in my life, I’d be sold. It’s painful to say, as a human, ‘I was sold.’
Impact & Advocacy Work Against Sexual Abuse
Nadia has dedicated her advocacy work to ending sexual abuse in crisis zones and bringing attention to the suffering of the Yazidi people and other persecuted groups. She has advocated for justice and accountability for the crimes against the Yazidis and other ISIS victims at the United Nations and other international venues.
When genocide is committed, it must be seen. People must look at it with open eyes, not minimize its impact.
Nadia’s Initiative offers help to underprivileged people through healthcare, education, and other services, she has also worked to provide assistance and services to survivors of sexual violence.
Nadia’s effective activism has dramatically influenced the world’s discourse on sexual violence in armed conflict. Several individuals worldwide have been moved by her bravery and fortitude in the face of unspeakable anguish to speak up and take action to stop this horrific crime.
In one of her interviews, Nadia mentions that: “I don’t know a lot about politics, but there are things I desire from the entire globe, all governments, and all people who will hear my voice: that we all stand together, from all nations and religions. Whatever occurs, we are all human and hence the same. We take a stance for conscience and humanity, to stop these things from occurring to us right now so that this won’t happen to other people so that it won’t happen to other children, women, and girls, and to erase this terrorism from the world.”
I do not seek more sympathy; I want to translate those feelings into actions on the ground.
Nadia Murad is a strong voice in the struggle against sexual violence in crisis areas, and her advocacy work has greatly influenced the global dialogue on this subject. Her commitment to pursuing justice and holding perpetrators of sexual abuse accountable inspires us all. Her narrative of survival and resiliency has inspired people all around the world. Nadia’s message of optimism and resiliency will continue to direct us as we progress toward a more just and peaceful society.
Nadia’s Plea To The World
Throughout her advocacy efforts, Nadia has underlined the significance of hearing the stories of survivors of sexual violence and ensuring they are not forgotten or neglected. She has also demanded that those who conduct these crimes be held more accountable, including through the creation of an international tribunal to try ISIS members for war crimes and genocide.
In her autobiography “The Last Girl: My Tale of Captivity, and My Struggle against the Islamic State,” Nadia discusses her experiences and the necessity of taking action to stop sexual abuse in armed conflict. “I want to be the last girl in the world with a narrative like mine,” the author writes.
Despite unimaginable misery, Nadia’s message is one of hope and fortitude. She has demonstrated that even the worst of situations can be overcome and that by speaking up and taking action, we can work to build a society where sexual assault in armed conflict is neither accepted nor disregarded.
Deciding honestly, was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made and also the most important.
– Nadia Murad
Rani of Jhansi Regiment: Untold Stories Of Women, War & Valour
In India’s freedom movement, we all know about the struggle and hardships of Azad Hind Fauj and celebrate its accomplishments. But amid all the history chatter, we all somehow forgot about one of the most crucial events of women empowerment in the early 20th century, i.e., the formation of Rani of Jhansi Regiment of INA.
In July of 1943, under the leadership of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the world saw the establishment of Rani of Jhansi Regiment, one of the all-female regiments in World War II.
Indians in Southeast Asia and the Establishment of the Regiment
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Indian immigrants working for British-owned rubber plantations used to face constant segregation and discrimination and lived a life of poverty and exploitation. Stripped of their self-worth, the motherland became a consoling image for them. Their segregation made them hold their Indian identity close. Away from their home, they still wore Indian clothes, celebrated Indian festivals and passed their history from generation to generation. Indian newspapers and radios carried news from India and a life of degradation fuelled their anti-colonial sentiments, thus making second and third-generation of immigrants, willingly give their lives for a patriotic cause.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose truly understood the importance of women and their role in the freedom movement. Germany after its defeat by Russia in 1942, was not in a strategic position to help the Indian freedom movement. So, in 1942 Netaji arrived in Singapore, which was liberated from Britain by the Japanese Army, and took command of both the Indian Independence League (IIL), a political organisation of expatriate Indians, and the INA on July 2. Addressing a crowd in Pandang once he said,
“This must be a truly revolutionary army… I am appealing also to women… women must be prepared to fight for their freedom and for independence… along with independence they will get their own emancipation.”
Just after ten days, he announced the formation of an all-women regiment, i.e., Rani of Jhansi Regiment, under the leadership of Captain (Dr) Lakshmi Sahgal. Young women from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaya and Burma, joined the regiment overlooking any difference of cast, creeds and religions. It is incredible that Indian women, many of whom are illiterate, many of whom are cognizant of their traditional roles in society, should be willing to leave their families and husbands behind and give their lives for the cause of Indian freedom. The fact that the majority of these women had never visited their motherland makes their dedication all the more remarkable.
Around 170 cadets made up the force’s initial core when its training facility was created in Singapore. According to their educational background, the cadets were assigned the ranks of a non-commissioned officer or sepoy (private). Later camps were built in Rangoon and Bangkok and the unit had more than 300 cadets by November 1943.
Training, Service and Dismantling
The abandonment of traditional feminine reticence, ingrained through centuries of Indian custom, and the merger of military aggression contributed to the formation of a new personality. Military uniforms – shorts, jodhpurs, fitted shirts, and waist belts – exposed the body in an unusual way that may have been embarrassing for some of the girls. A fighting force on the verge of war has no time for vanity.
So while the loss of their long tresses, a source of pride for all Indian women, must have been excruciating for many, nonetheless, these soldiers quickly adapted to the empowerment their new life provided, as well as the demand for growth it imposed on their character. They were soldiers before they were women in their new roles.
On October 23, 1943, training in Singapore began for the regiment. According to their educational backgrounds, the recruits were assigned to sections and platoons and given the ranks of non-commissioned officers and sepoys. These cadets underwent drills, route marches, and weapons training with rifles, hand grenades, and bayonet charges as part of their military and combat training. Many of the cadets were subsequently selected for advanced training in jungle warfare in Burma. On March 30, 1944, the Regiment’s inaugural passing out parade took place at the Singapore training camp for 500 soldiers. The Chand Bibi Nursing Corps was also created by selecting 200 cadets for nursing training.
During the INA’s Imphal campaign in 1944, an initial contingent of nearly a hundred Rani of Jhansi troops moved to Burma, with a portion of them forming a vanguard unit to enter the Gangetic plains of Bengal after Imphal’s expected fall. A portion of the unit also served as the nursing corps at the Burma INA hospital. Following the siege of Imphal’s failure and the INA’s disastrous retreat, the Rani troops were tasked with coordinating the relief and care of the INA troops and were not used in combat.
After the fall of Rangoon and the withdrawal of the Azad Hind Fauj, the remainder of the regiment retreated along with the retreating Japanese forces on foot and, when available, on mechanised transport. But the dropping of the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by American warplanes in August 1945 brought World War II to a rapid close. Following that, the tragic death of Netaji Subhas Bose made the INA fall apart completely.
The majority of the women were still very young when the INA was disbanded at the end of the war, with their entire lives ahead of them. When they returned to Malaya, they were quickly released, and the returning British Military Administration dismissed them as misguided females carried away by romantic notions. History has never dealt directly with the women of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, and their valour has been underappreciated. Their gender apparently made it difficult for them to be taken seriously by our historians...Much in contrast, the INA’s male soldiers were sent to stand trial at the Red Fort in Delhi, where while they did receive severe punishments but altleast their contribution and their valour was never forgotten.
Many women from the officer class of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment later entered professional careers, and much of what we know about the regiment today is largely because of them and the more public nature of their activities. Unfortunately, the majority of women returned to the same situations they had left behind when they first signed up; they married, raised families, and became cloistered in traditional social structures once again.
The Extraordinary life of Lakshmi Sahgal
Lakshmi Sahgal (born Lakshmi Swaminathan; 1914-2012) raised as the daughter of politically active parents, was well aware of anti-British sentiments in India and the fight for political freedom. Lakshmi studied medicine and graduated with honours from Madras Medical College in 1938. She received her diploma in gynaecology and obstetrics a year later. Sahgal, who was fiercely independent, left an unhappy marriage in 1940 to follow a lover, who was also a doctor, to Singapore. She became involved with the Indian Independence League during the Japanese occupation. When Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore to take command of the INA in 1943, Sahgal was part of the official reception committee that greeted him at the airport.
When Bose announced his intention to form the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, Sahgal was quickly drawn into the planning of this new force. At Bose’s request, she took command of the force, establishing a camp and recruiting young women. Captain Lakshmi became Sahgal’s name and identity, which she would carry with her for the rest of her life.
In October 1943, Bose established the Provisional Government of Free India, or Azad Hind, in Singapore, and Sahgal was appointed Minister of Women’s Affairs to his cabinet. Later, in Burma, she established additional camps and coordinated relief efforts. When the war ended in 1945, Sahgal was captured by guerrilla fighters and forced to march for days through the jungle. She was handed over to the British in Rangoon in 1946 and was later repatriated to India and released. In 1947, Sahgal married Prem Kumar Sahgal, a former officer who joined the Indian National Army after leaving the British Indian Army. The couple then relocated to Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where Sahgal established her medical practice. Sahgal was a founding member of All India Democratic Women’s Association in her later years. She died on July 23, 2012, at the age of 97.
Janaki Thevar and the Malaysian Independence
Janaky Athi Nahappan, better known as Janaki Thevar, was a founding member of the Malaysian Indian Congress and one of the first women involved in the fight for Malaysian (then Malaya) independence. Janaki grew up in Malaya in a Tamil family and was only 16 years old when she heard Subhas Chandra Bose’s appeal to Indians to contribute whatever they could to the fight for Indian independence. She immediately removed her gold earrings and donated them. At 17, she was determined to join the women’s wing, the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army. Her father, in particular, was vehemently opposed but finally agreed after much persuasion. She was one of the first women to join the Indian National Army, which was formed during the Japanese occupation of Malaya to fight alongside the Japanese for Indian independence. She struggled at first to adjust to army life after being raised in luxury. She eventually grew accustomed to military life, and her career in the regiment took off. She was promoted to second in command of the regiment.
She became well-known as a welfare activist after WWII. Janaki was inspired by the Indian National Congress’s fight for Indian independence and joined the Indian Congress Medical Mission in Malaya at the time. Nahappan assisted John Thivy in establishing the Malayan Indian Congress, which was modelled after the Indian National Congress, in 1946. Thivy was elected as the party’s first president. Later in life, she was elected to the Malaysian Senate. In 2000, the Government of India bestowed upon her the fourth highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri. She died of pneumonia at her home on May 9, 2014.
Although many of the Jhansi Ranis returned to their traditional societies after the war, their stories of empowerment would have been passed down orally to their daughters and other female members of their households, sowing the seed for change in future generations of women. In India, renewed interest in the Rani of Jhansi Regiment has reignited debate about their role in the Indian independence struggle. It is hoped that with this renewed interest, this small group of extraordinary Indian women will finally be recognised.
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