Patriots > Social and Religious Reformers > Amrit Kaur, Rajkumari
Amrit Kaur, Rajkumari (1889-1964)
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was born on 2 February 1889, in Lucknow. She belonged to the Ahluwalia royal family of Kapurthala State and was the daughter of Raja Sir Harman Singh. She was the only daughter of her father who was blessed with seven sons. Her father had accepted Christianity as his religion. The Government of Punjab has appointed her father as the manager of Oudh Estates which were more valuable than the State held by the Kapurthala family.

Rajkumari, who inherited Christianity as her religion, had her early education in England. She was sen to Sherborne School for Girls, Dorsetshire, and later jointed a College in London. She devoted most of her time to sports. She was a very good tennis player and won many championships. Rajkumari did not marry.

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur inherited much of her fame and position from her father, who was considered ‘a pious and pure’ Christian. Gopal Krishna Gokhale was one of the friends of Raja Sir Harnam Singh. Acknowledging the inheritance of her father. Amrit Kaur says, ‘The flames of my passionate desire to see India free from foreign domination were fanned by him ‘Amrit Kaur came under the sway and inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi and became one of his close followers and life-long pupils.

In public life Amrit Kaur’s interest was as much in social welfare, particulary women’s upliftment, as in politics. She was the Secretary of All-India Women’s Conference in 1930. From 1931 to 1933 she served as the President of the Women’s Association. In 1932 she gave evidence before the Lothian Committee on Indian franchise and later, as a member of the delegation of Women’s Organisation, she testified before the Joint Select Committee of Parliament on Indian constitutional reforms.

In 1938 she served as the President of All-India Women’s Conference. She also served Mahatma Gandhi as a secretary for sixteen years. She was the first woman to be appointed a member of the Advisory Board of Education, but resigned in August 1942. She was a member of the Hindustani Talimi Sangh. She attended the UNESCO in London in 1945 and in Paris in 1946 as a member of the Indian delegation. She was a member of the Board of Trustees of the All-India Spinners’ Association. After independence in 1947 she was appointed as the first Health Minister of India.

Amrit Kaur joined the Congress Party under Gandhiji’s inspiration and took an active part in its activities throughout her life. She was one of the closest lieutenants of Mahatma Gandhi. She took part in the salt campaign and was arrested in Bombay. Later on when the
communal award was announced, she condemned it outright. She went to Bannu in N. S. F. P. to advocate the cause of the Congress. She was convicted on July 16, 1937 and imprisoned on a charge of sedition. During the Quit India movement in 1942,she led many processions. One of them was subjected to ruthless lathi-charge in Simla. Later she was arrested at Kalka.

Rajkumari was even more active in social work than in politics. She spent most of her time. For the uplift of women and the eradication of social evils such as early marriage, purdah system, illiteracy etc., existing among India women. Regarding marriage and purdah, she wrote, ‘The abolition of earl marriage and purdah, therefore, will not only improve the health of millions of women but will remove two of the main obstacles in the way of the spread of female education.

Needless to say that the position of the widows in Hindu homes, marriage laws and the laws relating to the inheritance of property by women need radical alteration.’ Similarly Rajkumari considered child marriage as one of the serious obstacles in the way of a rightful place for women in the society. According to her, ‘child marriage is eating as a canker into the vitality of our national life. Girls become mothers while they are children themselves, and bring into the world off-springs, who are, in the very nature of things, the victims of disease and ill-health.’

She was strong champion of female education. In one of the women’s conferences she said; ‘In the realm of educational reform, we have urged ever since our inception that there should be free and compulsory education. Again, as far as proper facilities for the female education are concerned, until such time as universal, free and compulsory primary education as well as an adequate supply of infant and girls’ schools equipped with trained women teachers are introduced, we must continue to do our utmost to have the system of education in our exiting institutions changed.’ Similarly, she regarded basic education as the best suited to India.

Rajkumari was equally concerned about the lot of the Harijans. Writing about the Harijans, the deplored, ‘It is a crying shame that the people who cater for our services are relegated in most towns to live in the most abominable dwellings-if, indeed we can call their hovels by this name.’

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, who inherited the ablest traditions of a royal house, was not only a true patriot and a firm believer in non-violence, but had also been instrumental in the eradication of many of our social evils.
Author : M.S.Ahluwallia