Social Work and Politics
After her marriage, Orissa became her home and her area of activities. The Chaudhuris settled in a small village named Anakhia, now in Jagatsinghpur District of Orissa, where her husband started improved sugarcane cultivation. Apart from agriculture, establishing rapport with the surrounding villages was their main concern. In their concept and scheme of rural reconstruction, people are at the center of activities. Their development depended on their empowerment, which was again the result of education. They started adult education work in the neighbouring villages. Soon came the Salt Satyagraha, and they jumped into the movement. As activists they used principles of education and communication in creating a conducive environment for Satyagraha. Even as prisoners, they taught fellow prisoners, organized choral singing and disseminated Gandhiji’s teachings.
In February 1933 the Chaudhuris organized the Utkal Congress Samajvadi Karmi Sangh, which later became the Orissa Provincial Branch of the All India Congress Socialist Party.
Proverbial courage, sheer dynamism and a strong zeal to fight for the rights of the oppressed and have-nots were the dominant features of her character. She was frank and outspoken, and was never afraid of calling a spade a spade. In 1934, she had accompanied Gandhiji in his “padayatra” in Orissa. After a daylong walk, he was obviously too tired to visit a Harijan village which was in his itinerary. The villagers, who had waited long, were disappointed, but were prepared to forgive Gandhiji for the minor lapse. Malati Choudhury did not spare Gandhiji, and told him point blank, “Bapu, you have not done the right thing.” Gandhiji apologized, and cooled her down with his disarming smile.
Even before Independence, she had established the Bajiraut Chhatravas at Angul in Orissa in 1946, and the Utkal Navajeevan Mandal, also at Angul, in 1948.
The Bajiraut Chhatravas had its genesis in the Prajamandal Movement (the resistance movement organized and sustained by the people) and its initial activities were geared towards providing residential facilities and educational opportunities to the children of the freedom fighters. Over the passage of time, there was a societal demand on the Bajiraut Chhatravas to provide educational facilities to children belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and under-privileged sections of the society coming from all over Orissa. Established in the memory of a twelve-year old boy Bajiraut, who sacrificed his life by disallowing the British forces to cross Brahmani River by boat, the Bajiraut Chhatravas has become an institution of national importance.
The Utkal Navajeevan Mandal is a voluntary organization of repute, engaged in rural development and tribal welfare in the rural and tribal areas of Orissa. The State Resource Centre for Adult Education, which was established by the Government of India, under the auspices of the Utkal Navajeevan Mandal, at Angul in 1978, had done pioneering work in Adult Education.
She had organized the ‘Krusaka Andolana’ (Farmers Movement) as part of the freedom struggle against the zamindars and moneylenders, who exploited the poor. She had seen and experienced the untold sufferings of the people while walking through many villages in Orissa. She had also realized that women were victims of many superstitious beliefs, and they alone were to fight against superstitions for their own empowerment. As a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, she felt restless, because she was not in tune with the views of other members; when the Mahatma's famous Noakhali yatra began, she joined it at the instance of Thakkarbappa.
After independence, Malati Choudhury, as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, and as the President of the Utkal Pradesh Congress Committee, tried her best to emphasize the role of education, especially adult education in rural reconstruction. When Nabakrushna Choudhuri became the Chief Minister of Orissa in 1951, she highlighted the plight of the have-nots, particularly those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Eventually, she decided not to join politics, because Gandhiji had advised that all Congress activists need not join politics, but should work for and with the people with service as their goal.
A dynamic person like her did not slow down her efforts after the Bajiraut Chhatravas, Utkal Navajeevan Mandal and the Postbasic School at Champatimunda, near Angul, were established. She had joined the Bhoodan Movement of Acharya Vinoba Bhave. During the Emergency she raised her voice against the anti-people policy and oppressive measures adopted by the government and was imprisoned.
Malati Choudhury lived an eventful life and died at the age of ninety-three.
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