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Who was Durga Bhabhi? The woman who helped Bhagat Singh escape from Lahore to Calcutta


As the country celebrates 73 years of independence, it seems that the courage and contributions of many freedom fighters have faded away from public memory. One such unacknowledged heroine is a woman few Indians know about, a woman who lived a life of intrigue and danger to help her nation fight colonial rule. The woman was Durga Devi Vohra alias Durga Bhabhi.

Durga Devi

Wife of Bhagwati Charan Vohra and an active member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), Durga Devi Vohra, who was popularly called 'Durga Bhabhi', was one of the most prominent women revolutionaries who actually participated in armed revolution against British government. She is most widely known for helping Bhagat Singh escape through a train journey after he had killed Saunders. Yet this was not Durga Devi Vohra's only contribution to the HSRA. Few are aware that she was involved in a range of activities, and even led an action, shooting at a British policeman and his wife in October 1930.

Durga Devi Vohra was the only child of a Gujarati Brahmin couple settled in Allahabad. Her mother died when she was young and her father took vows of sannyas, leaving her to be brought up by 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 (1903-1930), the son of a wealthy Gujarati, Shiv Charan Das, who worked for the railways and was honoured with the title of Rai Sahib.

Deeply impacted in his childhood by the brutal atrocities that Britain's colonial rule kept inflicting on India, Bhagwati Charan joined the Satyagraha movements sweeping India in the 1920s. As a student at Lahore's National College, he also joined Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Yashpal in starting a study circle that would scrutinize the revolutionary movements happening around the world.

Bhagwati Charan was involved in student politics, becoming an active member of the NJBS, which functioned (among other things) as a recruiting ground for HSRA members. Bhagwati Charan was relatively wealthy and was able to dedicate much time and money to social and political work. Additionally, he had no family opposition to his politics; his father had died in the early 1920s, and his mother when he was a child. On account of his wealth, party members regarded his initial interest in the HSRA with suspicion, and it took some time to refute allegations that he was not a CID informer.

In 1928, three years after she gave birth to her son, Durga Devi was forced to go underground when the colonial authprities launched a brutally repressive drive against HSRA members.As Bhagwati Charan had recently rented a room in Lahore to manufacture bombs.

By late 1928, he and Durga Devi were incorporated into the party and he became one of the primary ideologues of the HSRA, officially serving as the Propaganda Secretary, writing a history of the revolutionary movement, and treatises such as 'The Philosophy of the Bomb', which was drafted as a riposte to Gandhi's 1929 critique of the revolutionaries, 'The Cult of the Bomb'.

Durga Bhabhi's name in the history is etched for being the meticulous planner who helped Bhagat Singh escape from Lahore to Calcutta after killing Saunders. Along with his comrade Sukhdev, Bhagat Singh shot dead JP Saunders on 17 December 1927. Accompanied by Rajguru who was pretending to be a family servant, Durga Bhabhi posed as Bhagat Singh's wife and held her son Sacchidanad in her lap. They then passed the police barricades and boarded a first class train carriage for Lucknow and thereafter switched trains for Calcutta. Chandrashekhar Azad sat in a separate compartment disguised as a sadhu. All of them were carried loaded pistols to deal with any eventuality.

After the bombing of April 8, 1929, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were awarded death sentence. To protest against their hanging, Durga Bhabhi decided to kill Lord Hailey, who was the ex Governor of Punjab. Although the governor escaped unharmed, Durga Bhabhi was arrested and awarded three years of imprisonment.

After India achieved independence in 1947, she started to live as common citizen Ghaziabad. She later started a school as well for poor children in Lucknow. Durga Bhabhi died on October 15, 1999, at the age of 92 in Ghaziabad.

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