"We walked through fifty-two districts – barefoot… We would tell the villagers about freedom…. They were longing for freedom, a fire was burning in their hearts!"
- Jaggi Devi, 1988
Jaggi Devi's story of courage blossomed in the midst of famine, epidemic and penury. Jaggi, popularly known as 'Mata', was born in 1917 in a peasant family. She was a Kurmi lady married at the age of 12 years to a Brahmin peasant leader, Baba Ramchandra. One of their marriage rituals constituted a pledge to serve the country. She played a leading role in the peasant movement in Avadh against the draconian exactions and rack-renting by landlord and their British patrons. She led the women of Kisanin Sabhas into Satyagraha and steered them to conquer their fears. Together they fought against the inhuman practice of eviction of the wife and children of dead tenants from their land; exaction of levies like 'motorwan' for maintenance of cars by landlords; 'nai-dhobi-band' or the strike of menial services and 'panchayati cow' proposed by the Kisanin Sabha, to provide milk to children.
Peasant movements in Avadh sprang from local roots and remained relatively autonomous, converging at points with the nationalist campaigns. By the early 1940s, this convergence was expressed in massive participation in anti-war individual satyagrahas and the Quit India movement. Thousands of ordinary peasants, including women, courted arrest and spent years in rigorous imprisonment. Jaggi Devi's fight for freedom went beyond 1947 and meant more than political swaraj, i.e. economic swaraj which would transform the exploitative land relations. In a pamphlet titled Mata Shatru, Pita Bairi, she castigated polygamy, polyandry and child marriages of women. She took part in collective struggles for female education in the 1930s and tried to educate her daughters Lalita and Vijaylakshmi (in the 1940s). She fought for swaraj, education and basic survival rights. During the 1980s, she petitioned the government to open a Khadi Ashram in her village, Daudpur Kunda, for the employment of women.