• 30-May-2023


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In the public domain, she is known as the woman who helped Bhagat Singh escape from Lahore after the assassination of police officer John P Saunders. However, in reality, that was only one aspect of her untiring efforts to see India free from the clutches of the British regime. Durga Devi Vohra was born on 7th October 1907 to a Gujarati family residing in Prayagraj. At eleven, she was married to Bhagwati Charan Vohra, a revolutionary and a member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). Durga Devi was wholeheartedly supported by her spouse to further her studies after marriage, and she graduated with Honours in Hindi from Punjab University. She then took up a teaching job at Kanya Vidyalaya.

Although Durga Devi’s husband was fully involved in revolutionary activities, she got involved only in 1926 when the Naujawan Bharat Sabha in Lahore was established. Durga Devi, along with Sushila Didi, kickstarted the inaugural meeting of the Sabha by anointing the portrait of Kartar Singh Sarabha with drops of blood from their thumbs. Kartar Singh was one of the Ghadarites (revolutionaries), who was martyred on 16th November 1915.

Initially, Durga Devi's involvement with the HSRA was primarily confined to what can be called the 'domestic realm' of the revolutionary movement. Apart from providing food, shelter, and collecting funds for the revolutionaries, her role was essentially that of a messenger who carried sensitive information and weapons from one place to another. On one occasion, she was assigned the task of bringing bombs from Multan (now in Pakistan), and another time she was told to transport firearms from Jaipur. On both occasions, Durga Devi carried out the assignments successfully, and thus gradually became an integral part of the HSRA.

After the arrest of Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt (Delhi Conspiracy Case) and Sukhdev (Lahore Conspiracy Case), Durga Devi was given the charge of re-organizing the HSRA in the Punjab province. She was a prominent member of the 'Bhagat Singh Defence Committee’, which was established to collect funds to finance the campaign and fight the case for the release of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. Durga Devi’s role was to liaise between the jailed revolutionaries, their lawyers, and those revolutionaries who were on the run. During this time, she also received arms training from Chandra Shekhar Azad.

After the death of her husband Bhagwati Charan Vohra during an unfortunate bomb testing accident in 1930, Durga Devi transitioned from a passive participant to an active member in the revolutionary movement. On 8th October 1930, Durga Devi and Sukhdev Raj, along with the Ghadarite revolutionary, Prithvi Singh Azad, tried to assassinate William Haley, the Governor of Punjab, who was visiting Mumbai. Their plan failed as the schedule of the Governor was changed at the last moment. The revolutionaries improvised, and they decided to fire at the British officers stationed at the Lamington Road Police Station. Durga Devi fired three to four rounds, injuring one sergeant Taylor.

Durga Devi’s association with the revolutionaries brought her under constant surveillance. So, she decided to court arrest in 1932. She was imprisoned for six months and released on the condition that she would never enter Punjab and Delhi. She moved to Ghaziabad and took up a teaching job at Pyare Lal Girls school for two years and then moved to Lucknow and joined the Indian National Congress.

After India got independence, Durga Bhabhi shunned politics and all its trappings. She turned her attention toward education. In Lucknow, she started a school for underprivileged children, now known as the Lucknow Montessori Inter College. She also established a research institution named the ‘Shaheed Memorial and Independence Struggle Research Center', which was pivotal in collecting documents about the revolutionary movements and related personalities. This Center was instrumental in first publishing the collected works of Bhagat Singh. Durga Devi passed away on 15th October 1999.