Shakuntala Chowdhury – Padmashri Award Winner 2022

“Better late than never.” the family and well-wishers of Shakuntala Chowdhury are saying this as Shakuntala Chowdhury, a Gandhian has been awarded the prestigious Padma Shri award at the age of 102 years. They have also urged the authorities to hand over the award to the centenarian in Assam from where the Padma Award winner belongs to.

We are very happy that she has been awarded the Padma Shri but it should have been given to her much earlier… now she is not in a condition to travel to the national capital to receive it,” Coordinator of Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust (KGNMT) Kusum Bora Mokasi told PTI.


At present, Shakuntala lives her twilight years with fading memories of a life devoted to selfless service, truth, simplicity, and non-violence, ensconced at the Sarania Ashram where Mahatma Gandhi had stayed during his last visit here in 1946. quietly lives  

Shakuntala Chowdhury

Shakuntala was born into an enlightened family in Guwahati on June 25, 1920. She was affectionately called as  ‘Shakuntala baido’. Shakuntala was a bright student who went on to become a teacher, and it was during her stint at Guwahati’s TC School that she came into contact with another Gandhian Amalprova Das, whose father had donated his Sarania Hills property for setting up the ashram.

Das had urged Chowdhary to join her to help run the Gram Sevika Vidyalaya and manage the Assam Branch of KGNMT, following which she became the office secretary, entrusted with the task of running the Trust’s administration. She simultaneously worked as a teacher at the Vidyalaya.

Chowdhary succeeded Das as KGNMT’s Pratinidhi’ (head) in 1955 and for 20 years she steered the mission witnessing many developments like the Chinese aggression, the Tibetan refugee crisis, the language stir of 1960 and she led her team to provide relief and succor to the distressed. Smt Baideo organized Shanti Sena activities on the international borders.


Association with Vinoba Bhave

Shakuntala was a close associate of Vinoba Bhave, the founder of the Bhoodan movement in which she participated actively. She participated in the year-and-half long ‘Padayatra’ in Assam During the last phase of the Bhoodan movement. She was a part of Bhave’s entourage and as an interpreter, conveyed his message to the people in Assamese.

Chowdhary’s association with Bhave was so strong that, Chowdhary’s father had even wanted her to go and live at Bhave’s Wardha Ashram, but her seniors at Sarania Ashram persuaded her against it as she had many responsibilities to fulfill in the state.

Bhave had also taken the initiative to promote Devanagari script among people of different linguistic groups along with their own script, and asked her to start a monthly magazine ‘Asomiya Vishwa Nagari’, which she edited till a few years ago.

Chowdhary was also at the forefront of the ‘Ban Cow Slaughter Satyagraha’ started by Bhave in 1978, the ‘Stree Shakti Jagaran’ and also served as a trustee of KGNMT at the national level.


Heart & Soul of Gandhian Ideology in Assam

Shakuntala has been the ‘’heart and soul’’ of the Gandhian institutions since 1947, bringing about immense change in the lives of many young girls and women across the state. She has won several accolades, including the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 2010 for the Development and Welfare of Women And Children.

Shakuntala Devi – A true Gandhian

Shakuntala’s assistant Anju Senapati said that she loved spinning yarn and even at this age, is always immaculately dressed in khadi ‘mekhla-sador’, and is very particular about orderliness and cleanliness around her.

The centenarian was always an avid reader, and even now, a book on Gandhi rests on her bedside table, while walls are adorned with paintings and photographs, capturing memories of a few milestones of her illustrious life.

Till a couple of years ago, she would wake up before dawn and exercise, offer prayers, wash her own clothes and help in the kitchen, Senapati said. Prayers and music have been a source of sustenance for her with Rabindranath Tagore’s songs being a favorite and even now, with memory playing truant, she often hums songs composed by the bard.


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