Saraswathi Gora (b.1912), a Gandhian freedom fighter and social change worker and the co-founder of Atheist Centre (in 1940) is a relentless champion of women and children and Gandhian constructive work.
For the last six decades, she has been in the forefront for the eradication of untouchability and the caste system, and for the promotion of secular and humanist values.
Under her able guidance, the Atheist Centre covers a broad spectrum of activities through its three significant organisations Vasvaya Mahila Mandal, Arthik Samata Mandal and Samskar. They work towards comprehensive rural development in more than three hundred villages in various districts of Andhra Pradesh.
Her revolutionary activities go back decades. She participated in the ‘Quit India Movement’ and led a batch of women Satyagrahis – for which she was imprisoned for six months in the Vellore Central Jail.
She was a freedom fighter, and though the Government offered a pension to her, she did not take it.
In the 1930s Ms Gora championed the cause of Devadasis’ marriages and re-marriages. From 1940 onwards, she took the bold step of promoting and helping inter-caste and inter-religion marriages.
She started by arranging such marriages between those who wished to do so in her own family, setting an example to others. She also advocated the registration of marriages under the marriage act, which emphasises the equality of the spouses.
She successfully struggled for the abolition of zamindaris by leading a batch of 60 illiterate women in Karivena in 1954 for which she was imprisoned for five months. But when the system was abolished, the peasants were given those lands.
She led many a Satyagraha in post-independent India – championing the cause of the poor and downtrodden.
The Atheist Centre was fully involved in the Sarvodaya and the Bhoodan Movement. Ms Gora actively participated in Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan Padayatra in Andhra Pradesh.
In August 1985, she established Gora Abhay Nivas, a short stay home for women. From its inception on August 1985 to March 1999, 1053 women with social problems were admitted. Under her leadership, 350 self-help groups of women, with a membership of over 6000, became involved in thrift, credit and loan programmes, generating some Rs 70 lakh in income.
Ms Gora also persistently worked for weaning away women ex-criminals by rehabilitating them in several effective programmes.
Ms Gora is the driving force of Arthik Samta Mandal of the Atheist Centre. It has implemented a comprehensive scheme of rural development in 150 villages of Krishnam Guntur, West and East Godavari and Nalgonda districts. Arthik Samata Mandal also helps hundreds of children through child and family sponsorship programme. Through the financial help given by the Save the Children Fund (UK) and Plan International, and other agencies, hundreds of children in remote rural areas received an education.
The Atheist Centre has implemented medical welfare, health services and check up and family planning programmes for the benefit of the slum dwellers and the vulnerable sections.
An eye centre, established in September 1995, restored eyesight to 84 blind people in just four years.
The Atheist Centre has also established family courts, set up a social guidance centre for women, trained women in Panchayati Raj and empowered them also.
Saraswathi Gora’s life is a saga of struggle to achieve social justice and equality and to translate humanist ideals into practice. Although rooted in India’s soil, she has a global perspective and international outreach.
She is the recipient of the Challagalla Award & Malladi Subbamma Award for outstanding social work by trusts of Hyderabad. Her autobiography in Telugu, titled ‘My Life with Gora’, was published in 1992 coinciding with her 80th birth anniversary.
It is a tribute to her work that the International Humanist and Ethical Union chose the Atheist Centre for the International Humanist Award in 1986 – presented in Oslo, Norway.
Ms. Saraswathi Gora was honoured with Jamnalal Bajaj Award for Development and Welfare of Women & Children, in the year 1999.
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)