By Swaraj Mishra*
While there are so much of discussions today on giving higher representation to women in the Legislative Assembly and Parliament, it is difficult to believe that Odisha Assembly had elected its first and the only woman Deputy Speaker as far back as in 1946, more than a year before Indian independence.
After formation of the separate Odisha province, elections were held twice for the newly formed state assembly in 1937 and 1946 before the independence of the country. There were only 60 seats in the Assembly at that time, out of which 4 seats were to be filled by nomination. Interestingly out of the remaining 56 seats to be filled by election, 2 were reserved for women – Berhampur Town and Katak Town. In 1937 election A. Laxmibai was elected from Berhampur Town whereas Sarala Devi represented Katak. In 1946 elections, Priyambada Devi won from Katak in place of Sarala Devi, but A. Laxmibai was again returned from Berhampur. Her immense popularity made her rise to the position of Deputy Speaker of the State Assembly. She continued in this position from 29th May 1946 to 20th Feb 1952. She is the first and the only woman to hold this august position in Odisha Assembly.
Very few know that this firebrand woman leader from Berhampur was actually the younger sister of V.V.Giri who later became the President of India. Born on 12th October 1899 to the family of V. V. Jogayapantulu, the renowned Telugu speaking lawyer of Berhampur, Laxmi got her education from Berhampur, Kolkata and later from Vellore Medical college, where she could not complete her medical studies because of ill health. Later, most unfortunately she lost her husband Adruti Venkateswar Rao of Rajahmundry within a year of her marriage and she returned to Berhampur. There she was exposed to many nationalist leaders as Giri family was playing host to most of them during their visit to Berhampur. Laxmi was already committed to social work, but after she came in direct contact with Gandhiji during his visit to Berhampur, she never looked back. She took a very active part in organising the women satyagrahis and participated in major nationalist movements like Non Cooperation, Civil Disobedience and Quit India.
Arrested twice for her nationalistic activities, she was the natural choice to represent Berhampur town seat reserved for women which she won uncontested in 1937. She was elected once again from the same seat in 1946 and went on to become the first and the only woman Deputy Speaker of Odisha State Assembly.
V. V. Giri, her elder brother later rose to become the President of India in 1969. But long before her brother could adorn any major position in the Assembly or Parliament she had already won this extraordinary distinction of being the only woman Deputy Speaker of Odisha Assembly. She left for heavenly abode on 27th January 1986.
The writer is the secretary of Aama Odisha.