Influenced by Gandhian philosophy, Malati Choudhury was a freedom fighter, social activist and a writer. Malati Choudhury was born in 1904 in a distinguished Brahmo family in East Bengal (now Bangladesh). She lost her father Barrister Kumud Nath Sen, when she was only two and a half years old. Her mother Snehalata Sen was a writer who wrote ‘Jugalanjali’ and translated some works of Rabindranath Tagore.
Malati’s family originally belonged to Kamarakhanda inBikrampur, Dhaka(now in Bangladesh), but her family members had settled in Simultala, Bihar. Her maternal grandfather Beharilal Gupta was an ICS officer. Her two cousins Ranjit Gupta was former Chief Secretary of West Bengal and Indrajit Gupta was the former Home Minister. Her two brothers were P.K. Sen, former Income Tax Commissioner and K. P. Sen, a former Indian Postal Service officer.
In the year 1921, at the age of 16, Malati Choudhury was sent to Santiniketan where she got admitted to Viswa-Bharati, founded by Tagore where she directly came in contact with Rabindra Nath Tagore and acquired knowledge from him and stayed there for some six years.
She took her classes there under a tree with other nine girls. Apart from lessons, she learnt embroidery, handicrafts, music, dancing, painting and gardening. As a young student there, she was quite famous for her outgoing personality, taking active part in Gurudev’s dance dramas and music sessions, as well as being the source of innocent mischief in the community.Gurudev affectionately called her ‘Minu’.
Malati Choudhury came in close contact with Nabakrushna Choudhuri who came from Sabarmati Ashram to study at Santiniketan. She married Nabakrushna Choudhuri, who later became the Chief Minister of Odisha. After marriage they left Shantiniketan in 1927 and settled down in Orissa which proved to be a turning point in her life.
After marriage Odisha became her home and she settled in a small village named Anakhia, now in Jagatsinghpur District of Orissa, where her husband started improved sugarcane cultivation. They also started adult education in the neighbouring villages.
During the Salt Satyagraha Malati Choudhury, accompanied by her husband joined Indian National Congress and participated in the movement. They educated and communicated with the people to create favourable environment for Satyagraha. They were also arrested and imprisoned. Even in the jail they taught the fellow prisoners and propagated Gandhiji’s thoughts and views.
In 1933 she formed Utkal Congress Samajvadi Karmi Sangh along with her husband which later came to be known as Orissa Provincial Branch of the All India Congress Socialist Party. In 1934, she joined Gandhiji in his famous “padayatra” in Orissa. In 1946 Malati Choudhury set up the Bajiraut Chhatravas at Angul in Orissa whose motive was to provide residential facilities and educational opportunities to the children of the freedom fighters and the children belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes,
Other Backward Classes and under-privileged sections of the society coming from all over Orissa. She also established Utkal Navajeevan Mandal in 1948 at Angul in Orissa which was avoluntary organization of repute, engaged in rural development and tribal welfare in the rural and tribal areas of Orissa. Indian government established The State Resource Centre for Adult Education in Orissa with the help of Utkal Navajeevan Mandal in 1978. Malati Choudhury also founded the Post basic School at Champatimunda.
She also organized the ‘Krusaka Andolana’ (Farmers Movement) as part of the freedom struggle against the zamindars and moneylenders, who exploited the poor. After independence, Malati Choudhury, as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, and as the President of the Utkal Pradesh Congress Committee, tried her best to emphasize the role of education, especially adult education in rural reconstruction. She accompanied Acharya Vinoba Bhave during Bhoodan Movement. Malati Choudhury also joined Gandhiji during his Noakhali visit. Gandhiji affectionately called her ‘Tofanee’.
When Nabakrushna Choudhuri became the Chief Minister of Orissa in 1951, she fought for the plight of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. She protested against the proclamation of Emergency by Indira Gandhi and was eventually imprisonment.
During her lifespan she received many awards for her contribution to the country. She was given away the National Award for Child Welfare (1987), Jamnalal Bajaj Award (1988), Utkal Seva Sammaan (1994), Tagore Literacy Award (1995), Honour by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the first sitting of the Constituent Assembly (1997), Honour by the State Social Welfare Advisory Board (1997), Honour by the Rajya Mahila Commission (1997), and the ‘Deshikottama (D.Litt. Honoris Causa) from her Alma Mater, Viswa-Bharati. She refused to take Jamnalal Bajaj Award by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, because she thought Rajiv Gandhi did nothing to propagate the views of Gandhiji.
She breathed her last in 1997 at the age of 93.