Often called the ‘Grand Old Lady of Indian Independence’, Aruna Asaf Ali left an indelible mark on the country’s history.

We remember her role in the Quit India Movement that happened on 8 August 1942.

Aruna was born on 16 July 1909 in Kalka to an upper-class Bengali Brahmo family.

She completed her college education at All Saints’ College in Nainital. Following her graduation, she worked as a teacher at the then Calcutta’s Gokhale Memorial School.

In 1928, 19-year-old Aruna married Asaf Ali in Allahabad despite parental opposition on grounds of religion and age [he was a Muslim and her senior by 23 years].

Asaf Ali was a prominent member of the Indian National Congress (INC). Interactions with the members of the INC brought Aruna in touch with the political elite.

Unsurprisingly, Aruna was soon at the forefront of the freedom struggle. But it was in 1942 that she made her most significant contribution.

On 8 August 1942, INC launched its full-blown Quit India movement at the Bombay session.

In a bid to pre-empt the success of the movement, the British responded to the declaration by arresting all its major leaders, including Gandhi and Nehru.

This was when 33-year-old Aruna stepped in to preside over the remainder of the session.

On 9 August, she defiantly unfurled the flag of Indian Independence at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in the then Bombay.

Overnight, Aruna’s courage and slogan were on everyone’s lips, her flag hoisting becoming the most striking visual of the Quit India movement.

Thereafter, the British government posted a reward for her capture but she was successful in eluding the police.

During her time in hiding, Aruna used underground radio, pamphlets and magazines (such as Inquilab) to continue the struggle.

After India finally won its hard-fought independence in 1947, she devoted her time to working for other social causes such as women’s empowerment and workers’ movements.

Aruna continued to advocate for the rights of the people until her death in 1996.

She was awarded the International Lenin Peace Prize in 1964, the Padma Vibhushan in 1992, and the Bharat Ratna in 1997, posthumously.

Even now, Aruna Asaf Ali remains an essential figure among the trailblazers of independent India, on whose capable shoulders we now stand.