Parbati Giri: The Mother Teresa of Western Orissa

Parbati Giri
Parbati Giri

One afternoon in 1942 at Bargarh, Orissa, a 16 year old girl sat in the chair of the Sub Divisional Officer of Bargarh, and acted as the judge. Helping her in the court proceedings were her three compatriots impersonating as an Advocate, Court Reader and Peon respectively.

When the official SDO of Bargarh arrived he was taken aback at a little girl occupying his chair. On seeing the SDO, the girl ordered her compatriots to tie him up and bring him up to her.

Parbati Giri at the orphanage she set up in Paikmal village
Parbati Giri at the orphanage she set up in Paikmal village

The SDO of Bargarh ordered the police to arrest the girl. The court subsequently gave her imprisonment for 2 years. The girl was Parbati Giri, a fiery freedom fighter which Orissa and the entire country looks up to. After independence Parbati continued to serve the nation and opened an orphanage at Paikmal village ( Padampur Sub Division, Bargarh District and devoted the rest of her life for the welfare of orphans. Her dedication to the cause of the downtrodden has got her the epithet – Mother Teresa of Western Orissa.

Awareness and motivation to join the freedom struggle came to Parbati from her family. In those days’ women in public life was a rarity and that too for a girl from a rural background. Women in urban areas had a few more options.

Parbati Giri at a public function. She was known for her work on Leprosy in Western Orissa
Parbati Giri at a public function. She was known for her work on Leprosy in Western Orissa

Parbati Giri’s Childhood

Parbati was born in Samlaipadar village in undivided Sambalpur district in 1926. Her uncle Ramchandra Giri was a leading congress leader and Samlaipadar village was an important congregation point for the nationalists. Then barely ten, Parbati was an interested listener in the meetings of the freedom fighters and was inspired with their work and sacrifices. This stuck into this little girl’s heart and she would go door to door and request people to become members of the Congress.

The initiative of this little girl towards the Indian national movement reached the Orissa Congress leaders. Impressed they requested Parbati’s father to allow his daughter for organisational work at the Congress conclave at Samlaipadar village. At that time Parbati was 11 years old. Her dedication towards the tasks assigned was so impressive that her family was requested by distinguished congress leaders like Malati Choudhury and Pranakrushna Padhiari to allow Parbati to join in the organizational work of Congress full time. This was a time when there was an acute shortage of grass-root level workers in the Congress. The family after initial hesitation relented and Parbati along with another friend, a child widow, left home on 14 January 1938 and went to the Bari Ashram run by Rama Devi. This 12 year old girl was never to return back home full time and dedicated her entire life to the nation and nation building.

During her life at Bari Ashram, Parbati Giri learned the philosophy of Ahimsa and Self Reliance. She would go from village to village and organized meetings against the British rule. She gave training of weaving and thread making in villages like Samlaipadar, Barpali, Panimora, Sarandapali and Dalaipara of Sambalpur town.

The Quit India Movement was started in the year 1942 which saw Pabitra then 16 years old, leading rallies against the British rule. Once she went to the Bargarh Bar and ordered the lawyers to vacate their chambers and not cooperate with the British legal system. The lawyers were taken aback at being ordered around by a 16 year old. Some of the lawyers heeded to Parbati’s request and left. Those who stayed back were offered two bangles each by Parbati. This defiance of young girls is now part folk lore in Orissa. Subsequently she was arrested and jailed for two years for anti government activity stemming from her occupation of the office of the SDO of Bargarh.

Parbati Giri with Indira Gandhi
Parbati Giri with Indira Gandhi

After independence Parbati could have easily got into politics. However she chooses the hard path of national development as a foot worker. She participated in the Bhudaan movement of Binoba Bhave . She founded the Rukmini Lath Balniketan at Paikmal village , Bargaon for orphans.

Accolades received by Parbati Giri

Parbati Giri was honoured with an Honorary Doctorate by Sambhalpur University which was conferred on her personally by the Governor of Orissa, Shri C. Rangarajan in 1998. It is indeed surprising that the padma awards eluded Parbati.

Parbati is known as the Mother Teresa of Western Orissa, an honour both for Parbati and as well for Mother Teresa.

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