A Princess Who Fought For Freedom, Became First Health Minister And Gave Us AIIMS

India witnessed a long period of freedom movement against the British rule, when many young men and women left their families behind to fight for their country. It was a call for the nation and the wind of revolution was so strong that the patriots were ready to sacrifice everything.

It was then that a princess, born and raised in an aristocratic royal family, left all her privileges to fight for the country’s independence. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur of Kapurthala, dedicated her entire life serving the country and its people. With just a dream of emerging India in her eyes, she left her life behind, without any desire to have a family of her own.

From a princely life to freedom struggle

The only daughter of Raja Harnam Singh, Amrit was the most pampered child in the family. Born in 1889, she was raised in Lucknow where her father would manage the Awadh Estate. At the age of 12, the princess was sent to England for studies, a luxury only a few could afford those days. Having completed her education from Oxford University, Amrit was a woman with ideas and passion.

After returning to India, she drew inspiration from freedom fighter Gopal Krishna Gokhale who was also her father’s close friend. Influenced by his dedication and love for the country, Amrit decided to join the movement. “The flames of my passionate desire to see India free from foreign domination were fanned by him,” she said about Gokhale.

It was because of him that she met Mahatma Gandhi. During his speech to Indian national Congress in 1019, she understood his dream of seeing free India. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre convinced her to follow the path of freedom movement.

In 1926, Amrit founded All India Women’s Conference and fought for the abolishment of child marriage, purdah system, and Devadasi culture. After her parent’s death in 1930, she joined Gandhi and started participating in the freedom movements, actively. She left the luxury of her palace and started working as a secretary to Gandhi in 1936 and continued till independence.

Amrit joined the civil disobedience movement and Dandi march beside Gandhi and was never afraid to go for protests, strikes or dharnas. The Rajkumari was now converted into a brave freedom fighter who never hesitated to face lathi charge or even imprisonment.

Her contributions to the country

A true follower of Gandhi, Amrit was not only a freedom fighter but also a fierce social activist. She fought for women’s rights and equal opportunities from the beginning. It was because of her efforts that the marriageable age of girls was increased to 18 from 14. When she was appointed as one of the members in the Constituent Assembly, she actively pushed for a Uniform Civil Code.

She wanted to eliminate the social flaws from constitution like polygamy, the law of inheritance for women, etc. She was never a supporter of women reservation but always supported women’s representation in Indian Politics.

“Rajkumari was such an ardent believer in women’s role in public life that she did not even hesitate to criticize Pandit Nehru on this issue,” wrote Aruna Asaf Ali, a freedom activist.

It was this internal drive for change in her that gave her a position in the Indian cabinet after India’s independence. She was appointed as first health minister of India and held office for 10 years. Amrit was the first women and first Asian appointed as President of World Health Assembly in 1950. She was also a part of Indian Red Cross Society as their Chairperson for 14 years.

One of the most significant contributions to independent India by her is All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) which in 1964 was recognized as the most distinguished hospital in the world. She was also responsible for setting up Tuberculosis Association of India, Central Leprosy Teaching and Research Institute, Amrit Kaur College of Nursing, Lady Irwin College, and the National Sports Club of India.

A woman of grit and grace

Amrit lived to be a woman to look up to as an ideal. Clad in a simple plane sari, she never desired the luxury she was born with. The passion for her work and the determination to give back to her country is something rarely witnessed in people.

Amrit gifted ‘Manorville’, her residential building at summer hill Shimla for doctors and nurses of AIIMS.

She lived a healthy life and passed away at the age of 75. Till her last breath, she was determined to work and make life better for others. She definitely is a role model for people of all ages. Someone with immense courage and poise, the Rajkumari continues to live in the heart of its people.

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