Amrit Kaur - A Princess, A Gandhian, A Social Reformer
Amrit Kaur was born on the February 2, 1889 in Lucknow to a princely family of Kapurthala, a part of undivided India. She was not only an eminent Gandhian and a great social reformer but also a student at Oxford university, and an important member of the Constituent Assembly. She is remembered as someone who believed in simple living and high thinking. Her determination to drive out the British, her feminist ideology, and also the many contributions she had made to the health infrastructure of the countryare exemplary.
Her obituary in the New York Times in 1964 read “Princess Amrit Kaur was as much a product of Edwardian England as she was of India,”. After completing her studies at Oxford University, she returned to India in 1908 at the age of 20, and embarked on a life of nationalism and social reform.“What drew me to Bapu was his desire to have women in his non-violent army and his faith in womankind. This was an irresistible appeal to a woman in a land where women were fit for producing children and serving their lords as masters,” she is quoted by American philosopher Richard Gregg in his introductory note in ‘Letters to Amrit Kaur.’
In her battle for a free India, she became one of the few women members of the Constituent assembly. She went on to become India’s first health minister. When the issue of funds for AIIMS came up, it was she who was instrumental in acquiring a huge amount from the New Zealand government. Over the years, she rallied around and was successful in getting donations from international bodies.Her largest campaign as health minister was against Malaria. In 1955, it was estimated that 400,000 Indians who otherwise would have died had been saved by mitigation of malaria in their districts.
Earlier this year, Kaur was listed by TIME magazine as the woman of the year 1947. In noting her achievements and contributions, the magazine writes, “In leaving her life of luxury, Kaur not only helped build lasting democratic institutions, she also inspired generations to fight for the marginalized.”