Smt. Jankidevi Bajaj, a strong proponent of the Gandhian way of life, propagated rural upliftment through cottage industries. A self-made woman, she actively participated in the freedom struggle and was known to be charitable and frugal, and resolute yet compassionate.
Jankidevi was born on 7th January, 1893 into a wealthy Vaishnav-Marwari family of Jaora in Madhya Pradesh. After a few years of primary education, she married into the affluent family of Bajaj, at the tender age of eight. Her marriage to 12-year-old Jamnalal Bajaj in the year 1902, brought her to Wardha (Maharashtra).
Jamnalal was influenced by Gandhi and had embraced his stringent lifestyle. Jankidevi willingly followed her husband’s footsteps and joined him on the path of sacrifice. What followed was a long list of accomplishments.
It began with relinquishing gold ornaments. Gandhi’s general appeal was followed by Jamnalal’s letter to Jankidevi, who was then just 24. They believed that gold was a symbol of ‘kali,’ and that it breeds jealousy and a fear of loss.
Jankidevi willingly gave up all her ornaments and never wore any gold, till her last day.
Then it was the turn of ‘purdah.’ Jankidevi gave up this symbol of social grace and aristocracy at the behest of Jamnalal. She encouraged all women to give this up as a show of courage and dignity. With this one act, she defined freedom for thousands of women who were mere non-entities beyond their homes. The year was 1919.
At 28, she relinquished her fine silks and adopted Khadi as her sole attire. She spun the khadi herself and taught ‘sut-katai’ to hundreds of people. This was an act of resolute acceptance and understanding of the Swadeshi Movement. Jankidevi didn’t think twice about burning the ‘demon of foreign textiles.’ She collected all the foreign clothes they had and burned a ‘holi’ for seven days at the Gandhi Chowk at Wardha. Such was her intense commitment.
For the first time in India, on 17th July 1928, Harijans were allowed inside the family temple when she went along with her husband to throw open the doors of the Lakshminarayan Temple at Wardha to all. This was her protest against untouchability and another big lesson for India to learn. She hired a Dalit at home to serve meals to her family and ensured that she practiced what she taught.
From here on there was no stopping her. With small but strong steps, Jankideviji marched over the hard terrain of rural India. Her belief gave her the courage to address thousands of people, hungry for freedom.
From the four walls of her home in Wardha, Jankidevi stepped out to walk hundreds of miles to spread Gandhi’s message. Her audiences listened spellbound as she spoke about Swaraj. During the freedom struggle, she went to jail many times. A freedom struggle leader was truly born.
Gandhi played a huge role in her life. She first comprehended his philosophy and then assimilated the Gandhian way of life.
Her five children soon learnt how to live a life of simplicity under their mother’s tutelage. Jankideviji’s world changed as she began to see many traditions as social evils. Revolution became a way of life.
Her dynamism spread far and wide. She promoted the cause of women’s education. She worked tirelessly with Saint Vinoba Bhave for Koopdan (gifting of wells), Gram Seva, Goseva and the well-known Bhoodan Movement.
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Because of her passion for Goseva, she served as President of Akhil Bhartiya Goseva Sangh for many years since 1942.
In recognition of her lifelong work, the Government of India honoured her with the Padma Vibhushan in 1956.
The Ladies’ Wing of Indian Merchants’ Chamber instituted the IMC-Ladies Wing Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar for Rural Entrepreneurs in the year 1992-93.
This was done under the Presidentship of Smt. Kiran Bajaj to commemorate the Birth Centenary of Smt. Jankidevi Bajaj. It was indeed a welcome gesture for the Ladies’ Wing when Bajaj Electricals Ltd. willingly offered to sponsor the Award.
IMC Ladies’ Wing Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar was instituted with an objective to seek a close alliance with rural India to promote, support and honour the substantial work being done by women in the field of rural entrepreneurship. If you know a fierce Indian woman who fits this criteria, nominate her by clicking below.
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