Matangini Hazra was born in a family of farmers. She grew up in the state of Bengal, India. Bengal was the first province to come under the rule of the East India Company. The company’s agenda was to make as much profit as possible. They exploited farmers and made them grow crops according to their own needs. One such crop was indigo. Indigo served the purpose of colouring clothes.
The East India Company exported it back to Britain at a low cost and gave farmers minimum wages. Being very volatile, the indigo plantation was very risky. The company did not pay any insurance fees if the crop was destroyed. Often, farmers were left with no money after season-long harvesting. Matangini saw this exploitation from her childhood and developed a hatred against the Britishers.
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She was married at a young age and unfortunately became a widow at the age of 18. She also had no child. Matangini bravely dealt with the loneliness and tragedy and saw this as an opportunity to serve her nation.
She first began her political career in 1905. She was inspired by the works of Mahatma Gandhi. Though Gandhi was yet to come to India, his works in South Africa were getting popular.
She began by organizing an all-women morcha (group) to protest against farming injustices. This partially successful campaign led to a decrease in the taxation of Indigo. The campaign proved pivotal for the popularity of Matangini.
Until 1932, she kept working as a local leader, working on local issues. But when Gandhiji asked the nation to join him in the civil disobedience movement, she too shifted her focus to the national level. While Gandhi walked the western coast breaking the salt law, Matangini led from the eastern coast. She too was jailed for breaking the salt law. After a strong appeal from Indian National Congress all political prisoners, including Matangini, were released. Matangini returned the favour by joining the party. While attending one of Congress’ conferences in Calcutta, she was injured by the baton raid. She was once again arrested.
This popularity got her the nickname ‘Gandhi Buri’ translating as ‘old woman Gandhi’ in Bengali.
In 1942, a nationwide ‘quit India’ movement was started by Mahatma Gandhi. People were asked to take over government offices and buildings. Matangini led six thousand men and women to seize control of the Tamluk police station. The armed forces at the police station ordered them to disband. A defiant Matangini with the Tricolor in her hand stepped forward. Bullets started flying around and one found its mark in Matangini. She kept walking ahead, leading her people and chanting ‘Vande Matram’ (glory to motherland). Three more bullets went through her.
The angry crowd soon seized the police station and captured all of its officers. Matangini’s body lay over a pool of blood but the flag in her hand was still fluttering.
Today her statue stands where her body once laid. Matangini Hazra, who became a part of the revolution at the age of 18, continued doing so till the age of 72. She will go down as one of the longest-serving activists of the Indian revolution.