Unsung Heroes | History Corner | Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, Ministry of Culture, Government of India

Unsung Heroes Detail

Unsung Heroes Detail

Rama Debi

Jagatsinghapur, Odisha

August 05, 2022

Rama Devi, known respectfully as ‘Ma Rama Debi’ was born on 3 December 1899at Satyabhamapur village in Cuttack district. Her father Gopal Ballabh Das was the Deputy Magistrate of Cuttack and her mother was Basanta Manjari, an eminent writer. Therefore in her childhood, she was brought up in a bed of roses.

On 11 November 1914, she got married to Gopabandhu Choudhury the son of Sri Gokulananda Choudhury, a renowned lawyer in Cuttack and an influential landlord of Jagatsinghpur. Gopabandhu was also a deputy magistrate and he resigned in 1921 to participate in the non-cooperation movement. Along with her husband, she also joined the non-cooperation movement. In that year she joined the Khadi Movement and became a staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi with whom she came in contact on his visit to Cuttack to attend the Women's Conference. She responded to the clarion call of Gandhi to struggle for justice and not to become submissive before injustice. At his request, she donated all her gold ornaments to him for the cause of the non-cooperation movement. In 1928 on the bank of the river Alaka in Jagatsinghpur, an ashram known as Alakashrama was set up to spread the message of freedom struggle to the people under the leadership of Gopabandhu Chaudhry and Rama Devi. The Alakashram is known as the Sabarmati Ashram of Odisha.

She took an active part in Salt Satyagraha, Khadi Movement, Bhoodan, and Gramdaan Movement of Vinoba Bhabe and was imprisoned several times by the British Government. After joining Indian National Congress she used to wear only khadi by discarding the costly sarees, cloths, and ornaments. In 1930 she took an active part in Salt Satyagraha in different corners of Odisha. She went to Inchudi and Srijang in Balasore District, the hotbed of Salt Satyagraha along with Kiranbala Sen and Malati Devi where thousands of women joined them in the movement. She was arrested in the same year and lodged in Bhagalpur jail but was released following Gandhi Irwin Pact. But after the failure of the second round table conference when satyagraha was renewed she was again arrested and lodged in Hazaribagh jail. After her release, she engaged herself in the services of Harijan responding to Gandhi’s urge for a mass contact program. She joined ‘Harijan Sevak sangha’ and moved from one Harijan village to another with a group of volunteers to clean their houses and teach their children. When Gandhi made a foot march in Odisha in 1934 to oversee the mass contact program with Harijan, he was regularly accompanied by Rama Debi. During this time she was also regularly supervising the work of the Odisha branch of ‘Gandhi Seva Sangha’ to which many women were inspired to enroll themselves to offer their service. In 1938 during the annual conference of Gandhi Seva Sangha in Delang near Puri, she organized the conference in such a manner that she won the appreciation of Gandhi. In that year she also supervised the refugee camp in Anugul, where 25,000 people from Talcher were lodged who escaped from their state after being terrorized by the king for their participation in the Prajamandal movement.

She was again arrested in 1942 along with her husband for participating in Quit India Movement but was released in July 1944. She was assigned the responsibility of managing the Odisha chapter of ‘Kasturba Gandhi Trust Fund’ by Gandhi. The money from that Trust Fund was used to set up a women's volunteer training center in 1945 in Ramachandrapur. A ‘Kanyashram’ was opened there to train the women who after their training were deployed in various places in Odisha to work for the people. In 1946, she became one of the co-founders of Navajiban Mandal to serve the tribes of the state. In 1946, when the communal riot broke out in Bengal and Bihar, both Rama Debi and Gopabandhu sensing their possible impact in Odisha spared no stone unturned to avert any such happening in the state. After independence she remained aloof from active politics and as a true Gandhian indulged herself in the service of the people throughout her life.

She died on 22 July 1985 at the age of 86.