‘Unknown’ Maniben Patel
And Well known ‘Meeraben.’
By Someswar Bhagwat
One of the regrets of my life has been being born too late to have seen Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel, the two stalwarts of the struggle for India’s freedom. And I started formally in 1958 as journalist … again too late to ‘cover’ the two stalwarts. My early start as a teenager did not help either.
But I did meet Maniben Patel, MP, daughter of the Sardar and knew a daugter-in-law of Gandhi (who spent her sunset years in the Sewagram Ashram he had set up) who I used to visit often over half a century ago.
The circumstances of meeting Maniben were strange. Going from an official function to another at a distant venue in Madhya Pradesh, I got into an official car into which Maniiben, then a member of Parliament, also got in. There was another seat vacant and Union Minister Satyanarayan Sinha tried to take it. Maniben literally shood him away, asking him to take another car as he “wore scents like a woman” and was too feminine.
It was as if she herself was not feminine. She certainly did not behave like one. A lean and thin, demunitive woman clad in a plain white khaadi saree, sans any pomp (which Sinha had) or self-glorification,she was one of the few Gandhians left. She was only around 64 then but looked much older. She died on March 20,1990 almost 87.
Here is part of a write-up on her by someone on social media:-
Maniben Patel was Sardar’s only daughter. When only 16 she switched to Khadi and worked in Gandhi Ashram!
When 17 she put all her gold bangles, earrings, gold watch, ornaments and jewelleriy in a bundle and, with her father’s permission, deposited them in Gandhi Ashram, for the cause of freedom movement.
All the garments Sardar used to wear after 1921 were woven out of the yarn made by Maniben.
Unlike other’s daughters, she was a freedom fighter who took part in the non-cooperation stir.
In the 1928 Bardoli Satyagraha she served Satyagrahi camps and was jailed in 1930 in the Salt Satyagraha. Later too she was arrested and jailed on several occasions.
In Bardoli,1932, she was again held for defying Kheda march ban and sentenced to 15 months’ jail. For “arousing people in villages near Rajkot” in 1938 she was arrested again.
Praising her Gandhiji said he had not seen another daughter like Maniben.
During the 1940 stir of selective disobedience, Maniben was arrested and was released from Belgaum jail in May 1941. When she again wanted to court arrest Gandhiji had stopped this frail, girl due to her health.
She was arrested during Quit India movement in 1942 with
Kasturba Gandhi and released in March 1944. Arrested again in May 1944 in Bardoli she was sent to Surat Jail and then to Yervada jail. She stayed single and served the Sardar till.his death in 1950. When asked to vacate the house the Sardar was allotted Maniben went back to Ahmedabad and lived with a cousine, forgotten by the people.
But not forgotten is another spinster from the same freedom struggle, Miss Madeline Slade. She was an English woman who came to India and became a disciple of Gandhiji.
Maniben was forgotten as the dynasts did not care. Meera ben is remembered as she was a disciple of Gandhi whose name and legacy they usurped. Meera migrated to Austria where she died in 1982.
Both Maniben and Meeraben are equally great.
In 1982 she was conferred Padma Vibhushan – no not Maniben but Meeraben.