Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, didn’t consider herself a feminist, but spoke eloquently for equal rights for women, as well as the elevation of their social status. In a speech she gave at a Women’s Conference in New Delhi in 1980 titled “True Liberation of Women”, she said
“I have often said that I am not a feminist. Yet, in my concern for the underprivileged, how can I ignore women who, since the beginning of history, have been dominated over and discriminated against in social customs and in laws… “
Indira Gandhi was the only child of Kamala Kaul and Jawarharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister after achieving independence from Britain in 1947 and protégée of Mahatma Ghandi. After the untimely death of her mother, Indira Gandhi served as her father’s hostess and companion at many political events all over the world. In 1942, Indira Gandhi married Feroze Jehangir Gandhi, a dedicated member of the Indian independence movement who was jailed several times for the cause. Together, they had two sons, Rajiv in 1944 and Sanjay in 1946. She suffered the loss of Sanjay in a fatal plane crash in 1980.
Indira Gandhi’s Political Achievements
Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India herself not once, but twice. She served from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 until her death in 1984. While she achieved any political and social successes during her service as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi also proved to be a very controversial figure. One of her political successes was the creation of the independent nation of Bangladesh that resulted from her diplomatic work with Pakistani President Shimla in 1971. This agreement ended the violence that had caused almost 10 million people to flee to India.
Indira Gandhi was also one of the first global environmental activists and led a movement known as the Green Revolution. This movement consisted of diversifying crops and increasing the number of food exports. These policies helped reduce food shortages while creating much needed jobs and reducing poverty.
The administration of Indira Gandhi oversaw the nationalization of banks. This accomplished the goals of increasing household savings as well as providing money for investments in small and medium-sized businesses. It also made more investment in agriculture possible, which contributed to the nation’s development.
Indira Gandhli on Losing and Winning
However, from 1975 to 1977, in response to a call for her resignation as the result of an infraction of election rules, she declared a state of emergency and suspended civil liberties for Indian citizens. As a result, Indira Gandhi lost the next election and was briefly imprisoned, but won again in 1980 by a landslide.
According to her biography, a Sikh separatist movement began in India during the 1980’s. Ghandi, to repress the movement and a potential civil war, ordered an attack by 70,000 soldiers on the Golden Temple in which 450 Sikhs were killed. On October 31, 1984, she was assassinated by two of her most trusted bodyguards and died en route to the hospital. Indira Gandhi once said
“Even if I died in the service of the nation, I would be proud of it. Every drop of my blood… will contribute to the growth of this nation and to make it strong and dynamic.”
She died as she’d wanted, in service to India.
Indira and family matters
Her son, Rajiv, a professional airline pilot with little interest in politics before the death of his brother, became Prime Minister in 1984 amidst riots after her assassination. Over a decade later, he too was assassinated. His son, Indira Gandhi’s grandson, Rahul Gandhi continues the family legacy and was a prime ministerial candidate in 2014.
Being a parent, even in a politically stable environment, is perhaps the most challenging, and most important, occupation someone can undertake. Parenting a young country, newly liberated and composed of many opposing factions capable of contributing to civil unrest is even more so. Indira Gandhi made many valuable contributions to the survival and development of her country as well as her children and family.
If you are fascinated (like me) how famous women dealt with motherhood, head over to the article on Toni Morrison, here.