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Pushpawati slapped the police officer for snatching the tricolour from her hand

As thick clouds of smoke rose up from the havan kund of the temple, wraith-like female forms moved among the devotees. They distributed cyclostyled notices surreptiously.

Those were the heady days of the Quit India Movement of 1942, when people across the country followed Gandhi's call of 'do or die' for freedom.

Little did the British authorities suspect that temples would be used by the womenfolk for the cause of Independence.

But in Meerut, a town deeply associated with the mutiny of 1857, the fire still burnt brightly.

The British, learning from the experience of 1857, decided not to take any chances as the Quit India Movement intensified. Large scale arrests were made. It was difficult for revolutionaries to gather information and keep their morale high. The hopes of the common people were of great importance.

It was under such circumstances that women and young girls stepped in. They realised the dangerous nature of their mission and were ready for any sacrifice.

They decided the Arya Samaj temple at Budhana Gate could be the centre of their activities. Here the prying eyes of the authorities could not reach easily. The revolutionary women would throng the temple on the pretext of participating in the havan, but would distribute revolutionary literature, make inflammatory speeches and urge the people to join the Independence struggle.

They were successful to a great extent because the police did not get a hint of their activities despite its extensive intelligence network.

According to a historical research work, Meerut ke paanch hazaar saal, these women were provoked to play their part after the arrest of most of the national leaders on August 8, 1942.

On August 9, people gathered in large numbers at the town hall in Meerut and heard speeches by several speakers which resulted in violence. On August 11, many local leaders were arrested for inciting people against the British government.

These arrests, though aimed at keeping women away from the freedom struggle, only strengthened their resolve. On August 15, Charu Sheela presided over a meeting at the Congress office and decided to take out a procession consisting of girls from the city.

The procession started from the Raghunath Girls college and proceeded towards Budhana Gate. The atmosphere was charged as anti-British slogans rent the air. The police panicked and one of the officers snatched the tricolour from Pushpawati Rajvanshi's hands. The response was immediate and unexpected. Pushpawati slapped the officer on the cheek.

All hell broke loose. The police resorted to force in order to disperse the demonstrators and 40 women, including Charu Sheela and Pushpawati were arrested.

In spite of the prohibitory orders being in force, the leading women revolutionaries held a meeting on August 23, 1942 at the Ladies Park. They decided to take out a similar procession under the leadership of Shakuntala Goel, Revti Devi and Krishna Devi.

A ten-women squad was given responsibility of the arrangements and some other women were instructed to follow them.

The procession started from a temple in Bazaza bazar and was to culminate in a public meeting at the Budhana Gate after weaning its way through the main markets in the city.

However, the women were surrounded by the police as they reached Khair Nagar. About 100 students and women were arrested, most were imprisoned for a month. Though most of these women were weaning mother, they were subjected to torture. One student even committed suicide.

Despite the best efforts of the authorities, women in the city continued to play an active role and helped the country gain Independence.