• 30-May-2023

SUSHILA MOHAN/DIDI India’s Joan of Arc

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Sushila Mohan, popularly known as Sushila Didi, was one of India’s most courageous women revolutionaries. Born on 05 March 1905 in the Punjab province of British India, she was educated at the Arya Women’s college in Jalandhar, from where her tryst with India’s freedom struggle began. The Arya Women’s college was a centre of political activities, as the then principal of the college, Shanno Devi and former principal Kumari Lajjavati were prominent activists.

During a trip to Dehradun to attend a convention on Hindi literature, she came in contact with the students of Lahore National College, who were engaged in revolutionary activities. Later, she met Bhagwati Charan Vohra and his wife Durga Devi and joined the freedom movement. The hanging of Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaq Ullah Khan, Roshan Singh, and Rajendra Lahiri after the Kakori Conspiracy Case (where these nationalists had looted a train carrying government money), inspired her to become a full-fledged activist of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. Her father, a doctor in the British Indian Army, objected to her getting involved in politics. Sushila’s rebellious spirit surfaced when she left her home and moved to Calcutta (present-day Kolkata), where she worked as a tutor for the daughter of Sir Chajjuram Chowdhary.

After the assassination of John Saunders on 17th December 1927, Bhagat Singh reached Calcutta, and it was Sushila Didi who arranged his stay. While in Calcutta, she actively participated in protests led by Subhas Chandra Bose against the Simon Commission. Later, when Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries were arrested for their involvement in the Delhi and Lahore Conspiracy Cases, she and other women activists, formed the Bhagat Singh Defence Committee to gather funds to fight the cases for the undertrials of the Lahore and Delhi Conspiracy Cases. She was fondly called Didi, because of her selflessness and service-oriented attitude.

When Bhagwati Charan Vohra and other revolutionaries decided to assassinate Viceroy Irwin in 1930, Sushila Didi was assigned the task of collecting information and doing a recce of the train, which was supposed to carry the Viceroy. This plan ultimately failed when a bomb accidentally exploded in the hands of Bhagwati Charan Vohra, killing him instantly. After the hanging of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru and the death of Chandrashekhar Azad, Sushila Didi assumed command of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. She decided to avenge their deaths by assassinating Sir Henry Kirk, the Secretary of the Punjab Government. Unfortunately, this plan was foiled, as the police got a whiff of it and arrested several revolutionaries as a precautionary measure. Sushila Didi was also arrested and detained at the Parliament Street police station. However, the police were unable to prove her role in the scheme, so she had to be released.

In 1932, Sushila Didi participated in the Delhi session of the Indian National Congress, an event which had been banned by the British government. She was arrested and jailed for six months. In 1933, she married Shyam Mohan, a lawyer and Congress activist. In 1937, when several Kakori revolutionaries lodged in the Andaman Jail were released, Sushila Didi and Durga Devi decided to organize a political rally in Delhi to honour them. The rally was banned by the police, with the order that anyone joining it would be arrested. Despite this threatening order, Sushila Didi and Durga Devi successfully organized the program. The fearlessness she displayed prompted Pandit Parmanand of Jhansi to call her ‘India’s Joan of Arc’.

During the Quit India Movement (1942), she and her husband were arrested and sent to jail. After India got independence, Sushila Didi settled in Old Delhi, where she trained hundreds of Dalit women in small scale handicrafts technology. She served as a member of the Delhi Municipal Corporation for a brief period and was elected as the President of the Delhi Congress Committee. She passed away on 13th January 1963. The ‘Sushila Mohan Marg’ in Khari Baoli, Delhi, named in her honour, is a small tribute for a lady of such great stature.