Parbati Giri, “The Mother Teresa of Western Orissa”, was born on 19 January 1926 at Samlaipadar village in the Bargarh district of Odisha. Around that time, a wave of nationalist sentiments was engulfing Odisha and Samlaipadar village was a hub of political activities. Amongst all the leading Congress leaders who were meeting and planning strategies to confront the British establishment, was Parbati’s uncle Ramachandra Giri. Parbati, young as she was, would often accompany her uncle to these meetings, and it was here that she got deeply inspired by the ideas and discussions floating around. These sessions were the motivation behind her decision to join the nation’s freedom movement, and today she is remembered not just for her exemplary contribution to India’s freedom struggle, but for also being an ideal social reformer .
Although Parbati wanted to pursue her higher studies, she dropped out of school at the age of 11 and started working with the local assembly of Congress workers. She went from village to village raising awareness and campaigning for the Congress. Impressed by her dedication and commendable work, senior leaders of the Congress requested Parbati’s father to allow her to join the organizational work of the Congress. Thus, in 1938, she left home and started working for the freedom struggle. She learnt the art of weaving and making handicrafts and the importance of social work. She adopted Gandhism as a way of life and her work manifested this virtue.
In 1940, when direct Satyagraha commenced she started organizing meetings and mobilised people in the villages to participate in Gandhiji’s Khadi Andolan movement. She convinced them to practice spinning the charkha and wear khadi. Thereafter, when the Quit India Movement started, Parbati Giri who was very young joined the other leaders in the movement. With the tri-colour flag in hand, she participated in rallies shouting anti-British slogans and never shied away from showing her utmost opposition to the British establishment. It is said that she even went to the Bargarh Court and ordered the lawyers to vacate the Court. Her aim was to get them to stop cooperating with the British officials in legal matters. Those who did not heed her directions were presented with two bangles as a symbol of their cowardliness. Another remarkable event was when she and three other boys arrived at the office of the SDO at Bargarh. She sat on the chair of the SDO posing as a judge. On seeing the SDO enter the office, she asked the other boys to bring him tied with a rope, like a culprit. She was arrested and jailed for two years because of this outrageous and bold act of hers.
Her fearless attitude towards the British was in stark contrast to the compassion and dedication with which she worked for the welfare of people. When Odisha was ravaged by a famine in 1951, she shouldered the responsibility of relief work and helped those who were severely afflicted. She also worked tirelessly for the improvement of conditions in jails and the eradication of leprosy. For her benevolent attitude towards the destitute people, combined with her significant role in the Indian freedom struggle, she was known as “The Mother Teresa of Western Orissa”. She was also called “Banhi Kanya” for her resilience and her aggressive nationalistic sentiments and free expression.