Rajkumari Amrit Kaur: One of the Earliest Feminist Figures and the First Health Minister of India

 

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Rajkumari Amrit Kaur

Quick Facts

  • Name: Amrit Kaur
  • Famous As: India’s First Health Minister
  • Nationality: Indian
  • Birth Date: 2 February 1889 (Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh)
  • Died On: 6 February 1964

 

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur is perhaps the most distinguished figures in the Indian healthcare and social service sector. She is actually one of India’s first feminist icons working extensively in the public services and social upliftment sectors championing passionately towards the cause of social justice and empowerment of women. As the first ever female health minister of India, she worked actively in the public healthcare sector at a time when India was reeling under a severe healthcare lapse and extremely low life expectancy.

She served the Indian government for a period of ten years and was a devout follower of Gandhian ideology. Having taken an active part in the Indian Freedom Movement as well as numerous social welfare initiatives, she is one of the building blocks of modern India. As a matter of fact, Kaur also as an integral part of the Constituent Assembly instrumental in drafting the constitution of India after independence.

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Rajkumari Amrit Kaur – The First Health Minister of India

Life and Times of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur

Having born into a princely family hailing from Kapurthala, Amrit Kaur had a mixed heritage attributed to her mother who was born to a Bengali Presbyterian mother and an Anglican father. The extremely modern and progressive outlook of Kaur’s was shaped where she completed her early schooling at the Sherborne School For Girls located in Dorset, England after which she enrolled at the Oxford University for college. Soon after graduating from college, she came back to her roots in India.

Kaur’s Integration into India’s Freedom Movement

As her father, Raja Harnam Singh had close ties with the Indian National Congress and friendly relations with Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Kaur was indeed exposed greatly to the environment of social justice and the freedom movement as most leaders were frequent visitors to her house. This influenced Kaur to such an extent that she decided to meet Mahatma Gandhi in Mumbai in the year 1919. His principles and ideology actually inspired her but this interest converted into a passionate drive after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre which left a deep impact on Kaur. This is when she decided to be a part of the Indian Freedom Struggle and things only began to escalate from there. Not only did Kaur become a member of the Indian National Congress but she also put herself into various social upliftment and reform initiatives in India.

The firebrand immersed herself into the Indian Independence Movement after co-founding the All India Women’s Conference in 1927. She became one of the active participants of the iconic Dandi March in the year 1930 for which she was arrested by the British Raj. Now this served as a benchmark for her political career and Gandhi’s influence on her life reflected on Kaur when she decided to live at Gandhi’s ashram in the year 1934 and adopted a life of austerity and penance while working as Gandhi’s secretary.

She was imprisoned repeatedly by the British authorities for her participation in the goodwill mission at Bannu in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and her extensive participation in the Quit India Movement in the year 1942.

Kaur Post Independence

Apart from crusading for universal suffrage and being the Chairperson for All India Women’s Education Fund Association, Kaur was also instrumental in the setting up of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi which was the first ever premier healthcare facility in post independence India. By securing funds from New Zealand, Australia, West Germany, Sweden, and US, she made it possible for independent Indians to avail high quality healthcare in India.

She was also the Chairperson of the Indian Red Cross society for fourteen years during which she worked tirelessly to eradicate debilitating diseases like Tuberculosis and Leprosy. She also established the Amrit Kaur College of Nursing and the National Sports Club of India and was the president of St. John’s Ambulance Corps. She also was awarded the Rene Sand Memorial Award for her contributions to society and the Indian Healthcare and Education Sector.

Quotes by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur

On Untouchability:

“It is a crying shame that the people who cater for our services are relegated in most towns to live in the most abominable dwellings—if, indeed we can call their hovels by this name.”

On Child Marriage:

“Child marriage is eating as a canker into the vitality of our national life. Girls become mothers while they are children themselves, and bring into the world offspring who are, in the very nature of things, the victims of disease and ill health.”

On the Status of Women:

“The abolition of early marriage and purdah…will remove two of the main obstacles in the way of the spread of female education. Needless to say that the position of the widows in Hindu homes, marriage laws and the laws relating to the inheritance of property by women need radical alteration.”


“In the realm of educational reform, we have urged ever since our inception that there should be free and compulsory education. Again, as far as proper facilities for the female education are concerned until such time as universal, free and compulsory primary education as well as an adequate supply of infant and girls’ schools equipped with trained women teachers are introduced, we must continue to do our utmost to have the system of education in our existing institutions changed.”

 

Written By: Aishwarya Sharma

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