Early Life:


1869. For most of India, it was the year when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, soon to be a national leader, was born. But in a corner of Undivided Bengal, villagers of Hogla in Tamluk, the district capital of the then Medinipur, witnessed the birth of a girl child to the poor Maity family. For a loan ridden poor peasant to give birth to a girl child back then had it’s ramifications. It meant burden, of having no heir, providing for this child and of course arranging for her dowry. She was named Matangini literally meaning “The Female Elephant”, however also often attributed to the consort of Lord Shiva, Adi Shakti. The official records show her date of birth as the 17th of November, 1869; however one should keep in mind that parents during those days didn’t care much about the accurate birth date or time of a girl child. Nevertheless Matangini Maity grew up, in the poorest of circumstances, where her family could not provide her basic education or help her read or write. She was around eleven when her father realized it was not possible for him to arrange a dowry befitting of finding a good groom for his daughter. At a mere age of twelve, Matangini was married off, to a sixty year old Trilochan Hazra, of Alinan Village of Medinipur. He was a family man with children who were perhaps older than his new bride, and hence could offer very little as a husband to the young Matangini. However, for her family it meant they could get rid of the burden of a girl child, without dowry.


Turning Point:


In 1887, when Matangini was just eighteen, Trilochan passed away leaving almost nothing to his widow. Childless women and widows were treated as a burden even among the aristocrats those days. Soon his sons disowned the young Matangini who found herself on the streets, with nowhere to go. She sought help from a lot of people, known and unknown to her in the little life she had led, and finally met Gunadhar Bhaumik, a village school teacher who quit his job to join Gandhi’s freedom movement, Gunadhar’s son, the world renowned physicist and Padmashree awardee Mani Bhowmik remembered his first encounter with this lady vividly in his book “Code name God”. Bhaumik writes “By the time I met Matangini she had been working with him (his father) for a few years… She was to become one of India’s founding daughters… For me, Matangini came to embody, in action and spirit, Gandhi’s guiding doctrine of Satyagraha. I drew courage from her story and from her practical idealism…she taught me to live without fear for she herself was fearless.”



The Gandhian Turn:


Around the year 1905, Matangini Hazra was attracted to the Gandhian principles so deeply that she decided to be an active participant of the Freedom Movement. She had somehow come in contact with the rebellion Congress men at Tamluk, which was then a hot seat for protest. Her christening into Congress and its ideas was rather quick. In a time when most of Bengal decided to follow its brave son Subhas Chandra Bose’s path of agitation she went around the villages nearby talking of the Gandhian Principles and actively participating in agitations.  By the time she was arrested first in 1932, Matangini had become recognized as a leader and was referred to by her villagers as “Gandhi Buri ” for her attachment to the Gandhian ways of protest, and her age perhaps coinciding with his. Her faith and devotion to the way Gandhi led the freedom movement, prompted people to be inspired by her as followed in his footsteps to make a mark locally. She was imprisoned shortly at Berhampore, near Bengal’s once Nawabi Capital at Murshidabad and was released after six months. The six months took a toll on her health but could do very little to her spirit. She immediately began to spin her own Khadi, for the Swadeshi Movement.




The year 1933 was very significant. The Governor Lord William Bentick was residing in the Palace of the Governors in Serampore, and what he experienced from his balcony that day was a scene he perhaps never forgot. A crowd of protestors had gathered unarmed with slogans and placards outside the gates and were being kept at bay by the Police forces of the Raj. This lady, in her trademark white saree, the aanchal over her head, sprang in front of the cordon, breaking the barricades in front of his eyes and waved her banner screaming “Go Back Latt Saheb” at him. The taken aback forces took a moment to realize what she had done, and caught hold of her, before she inspired the others to do the same. That day in 1933, Matangini Hazra was severely injured by the batons of the Raj. But it also made her the face of Bengal’s women taking the forefront in the struggle of Independence. She became a household name not only in Bengal but to many women who joined the struggle because of her.



Judgement’s Day:


In the year 1942, the Quit India Movement started on the 8th of August, and there were demonstrations and protests swept across the Raj. On the 29th of September 1942, Matangini Hazra led six thousand unarmed protesters with placards and flags to the Tamluk Police Station. The seventy two year old moved ahead of the crowd consisting of mostly women who followed her. On her left hand she held a conch shell, the sound of which was auspicious to the Hindus to triumph all evil, and on her right hand was the tricolour of the “Swaraj” that was soon to inspire the Indian National Flag. She held this symbol of national pride high as she moved ahead, closing in on the line of men, outside the Police Station, waiting with loaded guns. The Police were perhaps intimidated by this brave heart as she closed in on them shouting “Vande Mataram”. One of them took a shot, others followed. The crowd was scattered in different directions, some fell injured, others escaping, while Matangini Hazra stood firm. A bullet shot through her left hand as her bleeding arm let go of the conch shell that fell and broke to pieces. Blood splat across her white saree, as she walked on unnerved at the men, shouting Vande Mataram.


The Official Police Records say she was shot on both arms, yet her bleeding right hand didn’t let go of the flag that flew high over her head, as a symbol of freedom. Onlookers claimed she was shot on her right leg too, which made her stumble to the ground on her knees but her slogans refused to stop, as she prevented the flag from touching the soil as a sign of defeat. The last official shot ripped through her skull right at the middle of her forehead. She fell to the ground in a pool of blood as the Police surrounded their prized prey. Till her last breath she didn’t let the flag fall. Her death instigated local revolutionaries to form a separate independent governance at Medinipur which was later dismantled on Gandhi’s request in 1944. Strangely neither the unrest nor her death was reported by Amrita Bazar Patrika nor Jugantar, the two most famous newspapers of the time, the next day. It wasn’t until 1977 that even Bengal fully acknowledged her contribution with a first statue of her coming up at Kolkata Maidan.





A few like Pritilata Wadekar, Kanaklata Barua, Aruna Asaf Ali, Laxmi Sehgal, or Usha Mehta stand out today, as pioneers and leaders, but what about the several unnamed men and women who lost their lives, in the dream of freedom? We can only read, imagine and be inspired by these brave men and women who worked towards an India free from the hands of the British Colonisers. Yes, we all paid a huge cost with partition, people losing homes and family and ending up in refugee camps starting life again from scratch was an unforgivable cost of freedom. But let us not forget that this day is also about the many Matanginis who dedicated their entire lives to the cause of freedom.


Bibliography and links:

  1. Code Name God by Mani Bhowmik
  2. Freedom Movement in Midnapore by Sachindra Maity
  3. Local Politics and Indian Nationalism by Bidyut Chakraborty

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