(2 February 1889 – 6 February 1964)
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was born in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (then United Province). Her father was Raja Harnam Singh, a member of the princely state of Kapurthala (Punjab) who lost the throne when he married a Presbyterian. Rajkumari Amrit went to Dorset for her early education and then to Oxford. She came back to India after graduation and didn’t forget to carry liberation, freedom, and empowerment in her bags. She was the first health minister of independent India and worked by Gandhi’s side as his secretary for sixteen years, dedicating her entire life to serving her country.
“Rajkumari was such an ardent believer in women’s role in public life that she did not even hesitate to criticise Pandit Nehru on this issue,” wrote Aruna Asaf Ali, referring to the time when Pandit Nehru composed Indian National Congress’ working committee without including a single woman. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was one of the earliest feminist icons in India. She fought, as much as she her power and reach allowed her to, for the empowerment of women.
She worked relentlessly to reduce illiteracy and wipe out the custom of child marriage and the Purdah system for women, which were prevalent among some communities. “Child marriage is eating as a canker into the vitality of our national life. Girls become mothers while they are children themselves, and bring into the world offspring who are, in the very nature of things, the victims of disease and ill health.”
“The abolition of early marriage and purdah…will remove two of the main obstacles in the way of the spread of female education. Needless to say, the position of the widows in Hindu homes, marriage laws, and the laws relating to the inheritance of property by women need radical alteration.” Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was “a Princess in her nation’s service. She has gone among the poor and the weak, the mothers and the children, the sick and the starving, not only with messages of hope and faith but also with substantial and highly effective programmes of action.”