Rajkumari Bibiji Amrit Kaur DStJ (2 February 1889 – 6 February 1964) was an Indian activist and politician. Following her long-lasting association with the Indian independence movement, she was appointed the first Health Minister of India in 1947 and remained in office until 1957. During her tenure, Kaur ushered in several healthcare reforms in India and is widely remembered for her contributions to the sector and her advocacy of women's rights. Kaur was also a member of the Indian Constituent Assembly, the body that framed the Constitution of India.

Amrit Kaur
Amrit Kaur 1989 stamp of India (cropped).jpg
Born(1889-02-02)2 February 1889
Died6 February 1964(1964-02-06) (aged 75)
New Delhi, India
OrganizationSt John Ambulance,
Tuberculosis Association,
Indian Red Cross, All India Institute of Medical Sciences
Political partyIndian National Congress
MovementIndian Independence movement
Minister of Health
In office
16 August 1947 – 16 April 1957
Prime MinisterJawaharlal Nehru
Preceded byPost established
Succeeded bySushila Nayyar
Personal details
ParentsHarnam Singh
Priscilla Golaknath

Early lifeEdit

Amrit Kaur was born on 2 February 1889 in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (then United Provinces), India. She and her seven brothers were the eight surviving children of Rājā Harnam Singh, a member of the princely family of Kapurthala State in the Punjab region[1] and his wife Rāni Priscilla Kaur Sahiba (née Priscilla Golaknath).

She had her early education in Sherborne School For Girls in Dorset, England, and had her college education at Oxford University. After completing her education in England, she returned to India.

CareerEdit

Participation in India's Independence MovementEdit

After her return to India from England, Kaur became interested in the Indian independence movement. Her father had shared close association with Indian National Congress leaders including Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who often visited them. Kaur was drawn to the thoughts and vision of Mahatma Gandhi, whom she met in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1919. Following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre later that year, when the British forces shot and killed over 400 peaceful protestors in Amritsar, Punjab, Kaur became a strong critic of the British rule in India. She formally joined the Congress and began active participation in India's independence movement while also focusing on bringing about social reform.[2]

Kaur co-founded the All India Women's Conference in 1927.[2] She was later appointed its secretary in 1930, and president in 1933. She was imprisoned by the British authorities for her participation in the Dandi March, led by Mahatama Gandhi in 1930. Kaur went to live at Gandhi's ashram in 1934, and adopted an austere life lifestyle despite her aristocratic background.[2]

As a representative of the Indian National Congress, in 1937 she went on a mission of goodwill to Bannu, in the present day Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The British Raj authorities charged her with sedition and imprisoned her.

The British authorities appointed her as a member of the Advisory Board of Education, but she resigned from the position following her involvement with the Quit India Movement in 1942. She was imprisoned by the authorities for her actions during the time.[3]

She championed the cause of universal suffrage, and testified before the Lothian Committee on Indian franchise and constitutional reforms, and before the Joint Select Committee of British Parliament on Indian constitutional reforms.

Kaur served as the Chairperson of the All India Women's Education Fund Association. She was a member of the Executive Committee of Lady Irwin College in New Delhi. She was sent as a member of the Indian delegation to UNESCO conferences in London and Paris in 1945 and 1946, respectively. She also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the All India Spinners' Association.

Kaur worked to reduce illiteracy, and eradicate the custom of child marriages and the purdah system for women, which were prevalent then among some Indian communities.

Post-independence: member of the Constituent Assembly, and Health MinisterEdit

 
Ninety-three cases of penicillin, a gift from the Canadian Red Cross to India arrived at New Delhi in a special plane from Canada on 17 October 1947. Presenting the gift to Amrit Kaur, the then Health Minister in the Government of India at the Palam aerodrome. Jivraj Narayan Mehta, Director General of Health Services appears on the left and standing on the right is Sardar Balwant Singh Puri of the Indian Red Cross.

Following India's independence from the colonial rule in August 1947, Kaur was appointed to the Indian Constituent Assembly, the government body that was assigned to design the Constitution of India.[4] She was also a member of Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights and Sub-Committee on Minorities.[5]

After India's independence, Amrit Kaur became part of Jawaharlal Nehru's first Cabinet; she was the first woman to hold Cabinet rank. She was assigned the Ministry of Health.[2] In 1950, she was elected the president of World Health Assembly, becoming the first woman and the first Asian to hold that post; for the first 25 years of that organisation's history, only two women held that post.

As the health minister, Kaur played an instrumental role in establishment of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, and became its first president. For establishing the institute, she secured aid from New Zealand, Australia, West Germany, Sweden, and the United States. She and one of her brothers donated their ancestral property and house (named Manorville) in Simla, Himachal Pradesh to serve as a holiday home for the staff and nurses of the Institute.

Kaur served as the Chairperson of the Indian Red Cross society for fourteen years. During her leadership, the Indian Red Cross did a number of pioneering works in the hinterlands of India. She initiated the Tuberculosis Association of India and the Central Leprosy Teaching and Research Institute in Madras (Chennai). She started the Amrit Kaur College of Nursing and the National Sports Club of India.

From 1957 until her death in 1964, she remained a member of Rajya Sabha. Between 1958 and 1963 Kaur was the president of the All-India Motor Transport Congress in Delhi. Until her death, she continued to hold the presidencies of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the Tuberculosis Association of India, and the St. John's Ambulance Corps. She also was awarded the Rene Sand Memorial Award.[6]

Kaur died in New Delhi on 6 February 1964.[7][8] Today, her private papers are part of the Archives at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, at Teen Murti House, Delhi.[9]

QuotesEdit

About the Plight of Harijans:

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.

About Child Marriages:

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.

About the Plight 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.

Author of “The Concept of Social Service” (1961), and editor of “Letters to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur” (1961).

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Illa Vij (18 March 2000) Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. Tribune India. Retrieved on 2018-12-07.
  2. ^ a b c d Bhardwaj, Deeksha (2 February 2019). "Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the princess who was Gandhi's secretary & India's first health minister". The Print. Retrieved 18 October 2019.
  3. ^ Srinivas, V (24 September 2016). "RajKumari Amrit Kaur". Press Information Bureau. Ministry of Health and Family Affairs. Retrieved 18 October 2019.
  4. ^ CADIndia. Cadindia.clpr.org.in. Retrieved on 7 December 2018.
  5. ^ Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. Cadindia.clpr.org.in (6 February 1964). Retrieved on 2018-12-07.
  6. ^ Genealogy
  7. ^ Verinder Grover (1993). Great Women of Modern India. Vol. 5: Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur. Deep & Deep. ISBN 9788171004591.
  8. ^ "Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, 75, Dies". New York Times. 6 February 1964.
  9. ^ "Archives". Nehru Memorial Museum & Library. Archived from the original on 3 May 2011.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit