Malati Coudhury

Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty

(26 July 1904 - 15 March 1998)

    Malati Chaudhury, fondly called Numa by the generations of people that she inspired was on the forefront of all the struggles of the oppressed people of Orissa throughout her life. The uniqueness of this ceaseless fighter was that she spurned offices of power, lived with the children of the downtrodden and fearlessly confronted not only the colonial state and feudal rulers but also authoritarian regimes and forces of exploitation in independent India.

    Malati Chaudhury together with her illustrious husband and co-fighter Nabakurishna Chaudhury, who later became the Chief Minister of Orissa was one of the founders of Congress Socialist Party in India and was the President of the Utkal Pradesh congress Committee in 1946. Leading many campaigns against Zamindars and autocratic rulers in Princely States she was among the few who persisted with the effort to give the Congress in Orissa a democratic and socialist orientation. Malati Chaudhury's catalytic role in the State People's Movement in Dhenkanal, Talcher and Nilgiri is part of the heroic saga of anti-feudal history of Orissa.

    She founded the Baji Raut chhatrabas in Angul in 1948 to give protection to the children of political activists and deprived sections of society and' provide education to them. This hostel was named after the young hero Baji Raut of the .area -who was shot dead by the British imperialist forces when he refused to take them In his boat across the river. Now most of the inmates of Baji Raut Chhatrabas are orphans, tribal and dallt children.

    Baji Raut Chhatrabas became the simplest possible habitat for Numa and Bapi (as Nabakrushna Choudhury was known) where they lived all their life In free India and from where they launched many struggles for justice. The mud-walled thatched house where they lived and breathed their last remains today as the place of pilgrimage for many.

    Numa was determined to highlight the plight of the tribal people and fight to liberate them from the exploitation and harassment by money lenders, landlords and forest officials. She was one of the founders of Utkal Navjeevan Mandal. Established In 1948 the founding members of Navajeevan Mandal were all veteran freedom fighters of Orissa. Malati Devi was not only one of the founding members but also remained its moving spirit till she breathed her last.

    As far as social action is concerned NavaJeevan Mandal is one of the few pioneering organisations of India working among tribals and dalits. While preparing these oppressed people to fight against various kinds of oppression and exploitation NavaJeevan .Mandal has also taken up various activities to encourage self-development programmes among its beneficiaries.

    New challenges always brought her to the forefront of struggles. In the dark days of Emergency (1975-77) she rose in protest and went underground to organise opposition to the dictatorial rule. She was arrested and put behind bars. One who had gone to jail many times during the anti-colonial struggle was once again ready to carry on the battle for democracy at her ripe old age.

    Her commitment to democratic rights of the poor made her the acclaimed mother of all the activists of the agrarian and tribal struggles during the last four decades of her life.

As President of Orissa Civil Liberties Committee in 1968 she was among the first voices of conscience in the country to strongly condemn killings of 'Naxalites' in false encounters and demanded justice according to law and response to the socio-economic demands of the landless, poor peasants and tribals.

    Throughout her life she was a Gandhian Sarvodaya revolutionary and voiced her protest against repression by police, bureaucracy, landlords and business corporations. All the people's movements of Orissa, the Baliapal Movement against the Missile Test Range, the Gandhamardan Movement on the BALCO project, the Chilika Bachao Andolan and the Women's Movement drew great inspiration and support from her. Her final battle before leaving us for good was against the rising tide of globalization and communalism.

    History records Malati Chaudhury's role walking with Mahatma Gandhi in the streets of Noakhali in 1947 in the wake of the communal riots and tirelessly working for peace. Her pace of work earned her the epithet 'Tofani' ('the storm') from the Mahatma. She was always among the first to reach the strife torn places such as Raurkela in 1964 and Cuttack in 1967 striving for peace, dignity and harmony among the affected people.

    Today when globalization causes pauperization of the peasants and tribals, communalism raises its ugly head and attacks on civil liberties and democratic rights continue to grow, remembering Malati Choudhury may show a ray of hope to carry forward her unfinished struggle.

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