A woman of substance

A woman of substance

Photo for representational purpose only

RS Dalal

CHANDRAWATIJI, an important political figure of Haryana and undivided Punjab, breathed her last on November 15. I met her for the first time when I was posted as SSP, Bhiwani, in 1977. She was riding the tide of popularity, having trounced Haryana’s strongman Bansi Lal at the hustings early the same year. One morning, when I got a phone call from her, she sounded very upset. She was miffed about the police lathicharge on local students. She was angry that the college-going son of a communist leader, who was in detention under MISA throughout the Emergency, was also not spared. While regretting the incident, I tried to calm her down by explaining that the students were violent and the police were left with no choice. However, she expected the police to be more restrained in future.

In my later interactions, I found her to be very sensitive to the issues concerning people. She would raise a banner of revolt against any act of injustice. She used to wear a simple khadi sari and carry herself off with dignity and poise. She was honest to the core and was blunt and forthright in her dealings. A leader of true Gandhian style and substance! I would hear with keen interest from the rural folks, who came to me with their grievances, about her heroic struggle against heavy odds. They would talk about her political ups and downs. “It’s due to her straightforward, blunt, honest approach that she missed the top position in the state,” one group would explain. “Politics is a game of one-upmanship and she got out-manoeuvred,” another group would insist. “But she’s back with a bang. After all, she has been a fighter all her life,” yet another would exclaim.

She was born in 1928 at Dalawas village of Badhra in Bhiwani district, an extremely backward desert region of the former princely state of Jind, whose capital was at Sangrur in Punjab. Badhra was notoriously called kalapani of Jind state. During my inspection tours of the Badhra police station, I could see the torture cages that still stood as mute witnesses to the cruelties perpetrated by the Jind state. Girls’ education was unheard of then. Supported by her father, an army man, and encouraged by a social reformer and political leader, Nihal Singh Takshak, she finished matriculation from Pilani and completed BA from Sangrur. She then enrolled herself as an LLB student in Delhi University. For three years, she trudged 30 km from her village to Dadri railway station to catch a train to Delhi to attend law classes.

In 1954, at the age of 26, she was elected an MLA from Badhra. In all, she was elected MLA six times, and was a minister twice. She was also appointed Lt Governor of Puducherry.

As an epitome of simplicity, steely resolve, modern outlook, and a woman rising from the inhospitable sand dunes of Badhra, she will always be a stirring inspiration to all, especially to the women of Haryana.

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