Usha Mehta was an Indian freedom fighter who is known for endorsing Gandhian thought during India’s struggle for Independence. She is recognised for establishing the ‘Secret Congress Radio’ that was operated during the Quit India Movement in 1942. This radio functioned under an underground radio station that was used for three months amid Quit India Movement. She was the recipient of the second-highest civilian award of the Republic of India named ‘Padma Vibhushan’ by the Government of India in 1998.
Usha Mehta was born on Thursday, 25 March 1920 (age 80 Years; at the time of death) in Saras village near Surat in Gujarat, India. Her zodiac sign was Aries. Usha Mehta received her initial school education at Kheda and Bharuch in Gujarat and then in Chandaramji High School, Bombay, now Mumbai. In 1939, she earned a bachelors degree in philosophy at Wilson College, Bombay. The Better India Afterwards, Usha Mehta earned a political science degree at Wilson College, Bombay. Later, she obtained a PhD in Gandhian thought at the University of Bombay, now Mumbai University. New York Times
Hair Colour: Grey
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
Her father’s name was Hariprasad Mehta. He was a district-level judge under the British Raj. Her mother’s name was Gheliben Mehta. She was a homemaker. She had an elder brother.
Usha Mehta has three nephews. Her first nephew’s name is Ketan Mehta who is a renowned Bollywood filmmaker.
Her second nephew is Dr Yatin Mehta who is an anaesthetist. He also worked as the Director of Escorts Hospital and is associated with Medicity in Gurgaon.
Her third nephew is Dr Nirad Mehta who was an Indian Army officer and is working at P.D. Hinduja National Hospital, Mumbai.
Husband & Children
At the age of five, Usha Mehta saw Mahatma Gandhi for the first time at his ashram in Ahmedabad. Soon afterwards, Gandhi visited her village for a campaign where little Usha participated in spinning charkha, and she also attended the speeches delivered by Mahatma Gandhi. At the age of eight, in 1928, Usha participated in several protests against Simon Commission and raised slogans of ‘British Raj: Simon Go Back.’ In an interview with a media house, Usha revealed her childhood memory,
I had the satisfaction of breaking the law and doing something for the nation even as a young child.”
Usha, along with other village girls, participated in morning protests against the British Raj while surrounding and picketing in front of various liquor shops. In one of the protests, a girl with an Indian flag in her hand was fell down by the policemen during the lathi charge. The children later complained to their parents and elders about the incident. In the next protest, all these children seen wearing the tri-colour (saffron, white and green) dresses and shouting to the British policemen,
Policemen, you can wield your sticks and your batons, but you cannot bring down our flag.”
Her father was not happy with Usha when she participated in several freedom fighter movements. However, the restrictions turned down when her father retired in 1930, and they moved to Bombay, now Mumbai. In 1932, Usha Mehta began participating in Quit India Movement by distributing secret bulletins and publications to the prisoners and meeting their relatives to carry secret information. On 8 August 1942, Indian National Congress and Mahatma Gandhi announced the Quit India Movement and delivering of anti-British speeches at Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay, now Mumbai. All the major leaders including Mahatma Gandhi got arrested before the day and the gathered crowd was handled by the junior leaders for addressing them and hoisting the flag. Usha, along with other freedom fighters, began a Secret Congress Radio on 14 August 1942. On 27 August, this radio went on air. Her first words were broadcasted on the air on this Secret Congress radio were,
Vithalbhai Jhaveri, Chandrakant Jhaveri, Babubhai Thakkar, and Nanka Motwani were Usha’s associates who provided the radio equipment and technicians to launch it. The names of the other leaders who helped and assisted Usha in the launching of the Secret Congress Radio were Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Achyutrao Patwardhan, and Purushottam Trikamdas. The messages of Mahatma Gandhi and other notable leaders were aired on this secret radio. The organisers of the Secret Congress Radio managed to avoid being caught by the Britishers by changing the radio’s location daily. On 12 November 1942, Usha Mehta, along with the organizers of the radio, were arrested by the police and later, imprisoned. New York Times She was interrogated by the Indian Police and the CID for straight six months. She was kept in sole confinement and was given study abroad allurements by the police for betraying the movement. During all her court sessions, she remained quiet and did not answer any of the questions. She was sentenced to four years imprisonment and was kept in Yeravda Jail in Pune. During her imprisonment period, her health deteriorated, and she was admitted to Sir J. J. Hospital, Bombay, now Mumbai. Soon, her health improved and was again sent to Yeravda Jail. She was released in March 1946 on the orders of the then home minister in the interim government Morarji Desai. She was considered the first political prisoner to be released in Bombay. The Secret Congress Radio remained in use only for three months during the Quit India Movement. Being a part of the secret radio, Usha called it a “finest moment” in an interview with a media house. Later, it was revealed that an Indian technician leaked the information about the secret radio to the authorities.
After she was released from jail in 1946, she continued her further studies as a PhD scholar at Bombay University. Usha Mehta was associated with Bombay University, Mumbai University as a research student, an assistant professor, a lecturer and a professor for a long time. She also served as the head of the civics and politics department of Bombay University. In 1980, she received her superannuation from Bombay University.
Soon after the independence of India, Usha Mehta penned several articles and essays on her various social-political movements in English and Gujarati. She co-authored books like Mahatma Gandhi and Humanism (2000), Women and Men Voters, the 1977-80 Experiment (1981), Gandhi’s Contribution to the Emancipation of Women (1991), Vishv Ki Kaljayi Mahilaye, Antar Nirantar, Dances of South India etc.
Usha Mehta was chosen as the president of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi. She also participated in the matters of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. On India’s 50th anniversary of freedom, the Government of India associated her with a number of celebrations. Later, with the passage of time, Usha remained unhappy with the ways in which the social, political and economical developments of modern India were taking place. In an interview with India Today media, she stated,
Certainly this is not the freedom we fought for. Once people were ensconced in positions of power, the rot would set in. We didn’t know the rot would sink in so soon. “India has survived as a democracy and even built a good industrial base. Still, it is not the India of our dreams.”
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- Usha Mehta is the recipient of Padma Vibhushan in 1998, the second-highest civilian award in India.
In August 2000, Usha Mehta participated in the celebrations of the Quit India Movement in August Kranti Maidan though she was suffering from fever. After two days, she died peacefully at the age of 80, on 11 August 2000. New York Times
- Usha took admission to a Law school in 1942; however, she later quit her studies to participate in the Quit India Movement leaded by Mahatma Gandhi.
- After Usha was released in 1946, her failing health stopped her to participate in any political and social work. Even she was not able to attend the official function of India’s Independence in New Delhi. Later, she continued her studies and submitted a doctoral dissertation on the political and social thought of Gandhi. She received a PhD from Bombay University, now Mumbai University.
- Initially, Usha and her associates were broadcasting the secret radio twice a day, in Hindi and English languages; however, they broadcasted on it just once in the evening between 7.30 and 8.30 pm. It was broadcasted three times only. The first broadcast was on August 27, 1942. The second broadcast was between February and March 1943. The third time, it was broadcasted for a week during January 1944.
- The major news that was telecasted by Usha Mehta and her associates on the secret radio was: A Japanese air raid on the British army at Chittagong. This city is now a part of Bangladesh. The Jamshedpur Strike was also telecasted by them when the 13 days strike was held at Tata Iron and Steel Company by the labour workers to support the Quit India Movement demanding the formation of the Indian government. This steel mill was the largest steel mill of the British empire. Ashti and Chimur riots were also informed by the secret radio where the police openly fired on the people and arrested many Congress leaders.
- In a conversation with a media house, Usha Mehta revealed that it was congress secret radio that transferred information to the local people when no newspapers dared to do the same. She said,
When the newspapers dared not touch upon these subjects under the prevailing conditions, it was only the Congress Radio which could defy the orders and tell the people what actually was happening.”
- In a conversation with BBC, she once disclosed the things seized by the authorities from their radio station. She said,
They seized the equipment and 22 cases containing photos and sound films of the Congress party sessions.”
- When Usha joined the movement in 1932, initially, she sold salt in small packets as a part of Gandhi’s “salt march.” This was done to push the government to regulate and monopolize salt in India.
- Usha was an eminent advocate of Gandhian philosophy and thought. She was a follower of Gandhi who decided to remain celibate for life, not involving in luxurious things and wearing khadi clothes only.
- An activist in the Indian independence movement and a social and political leader Ram Manohar Lohia’s note for Usha Mehta read as,
I do not know you personally, but I admire your courage and enthusiasm and your desire to contribute your might to the sacrificial fire that has been lit by Mahatma Gandhi.”
- Usha Mehta lived a frugal and simple life. Instead of driving a car, she used to board a bus. Handwoven dresses and Khadis were worn by her throughout her life. She even managed to live on tea and bread. She used to wake at 4 am in morning and worked late evenings. New York Times
- Usha Mehta taught for thirty years at Wilson College, Mumbai.
- The iconic slogan of Mahatma Gandhi “Do or Die. We shall either free India or die in the attempt” that he spoke on 8 August 1942, prompted Usha Mehta to fight against the British rule in India. BBC
- According to several media houses, a biopic on Usha Mehta is going to be made by Indian film director and producer Karan Johar. WION
- During her later years of life, Usha Mehta was shocked by the growing corruption in India. In a conversation with the Better India media house, she stated,
Did our great leaders sacrifice their lives for this kind of India? It is a pity the new generation of political activists and leaders are paying scant respect to the Gandhian ideas, the chief among which was non-violence. If we don’t mend our ways, we may find ourselves back at square one.”
- Once, Usha Mehta was spotted attending an event as a chief guest.