Jashodaben was born in 1952. Her mother died when she was two years old.
Narendra Modi and Jashodaben had an arranged marriage in the custom of the Ghanchi caste of Vadnagar. At the age of around three or four, they were engaged. Around age thirteen they had shaadi, which is the wedding or marriages in India. In 1968, Narendra and Jashodaben married. Narendra Modi was 18 years old and Jashodaben was approximately 16. They began gauna by living together briefly.
Shortly after this time, Modi separated from his wife and began wandering in the Himalayas practicing Sannyasa. Jashodaben stayed at Modi's family's home for a few months. She resumed school after her marriage. Two years later her father died. She continued her studies and received her Secondary School Certificate in 1972.
After three years of being out of contact with all who knew him, Modi returned home and contacted his family. He made plans to go to Ahmedabad to work at his uncle's canteen without Jashodaben. Before he left, his mother arranged for Jashodaben's parents to send her to meet Modi to sustain the gauna. After Jashodaben arrived at the house of Modi's family, Modi had an argument with his parents and left their home to meet his uncle as planned. Over the three-year period around the marriage, Jashodaben estimates that she spent about three months with her husband. After Modi left, he continued with his professional life.
Jashodaben studied further to become a teacher at primary school, and from 1978–1990 taught in Banaskantha district. In 1991 she moved to Rajosana village and remains there. She is retired and her pension is ₹14,000 (US$210) per month. One commentator said that her low salary would have made much of life a hardship for her. In talking about her relationship with Modi, in one interview Jashodaben said "We have never been in touch... There has been no communication from his end to this day." In a later interview Jashodaben said that until 1987 she and Modi spoke "normally". Jashodaben lives with her brother Ashok and his wife in Unjha. She lives a simple life of prayer, waking at 5 am and praying at home before leaving for the temple.
In the Indian general election, 2014, Modi contested the Vadodara seat of the Parliament of India. Under the Representation of the People Act, Modi was asked to declare any previous marriage. In his response, for the first time in public and media, Modi acknowledged that he had a wife. Previously Modi had often said that he would evade corruption in India because he did not have a wife and family. Previously Modi had not responded to official documents asking about a spouse.
Somabhai Modi, Modi's brother, issued a statement saying that the arranged child marriage had been forced on Modi by his family. He said that the marriage was never consummated, and that Modi left it soon after it was solemnized. Inspired by the teachings of Vivekananda, Modi later worked for society.
Before Modi officially acknowledged his marriage, a group of activists and security professionals visited Jashodaben at her home. They offered to escort her on the Char Dham pilgrimage, which was a trip which she had long wanted to take. During the trip they took her to the Rishikesh ashram of Ramdev, a yoga guru, where she stayed around the middle of April. Journalists sought Jashodaben for comment at the news of the marriage, but her family told them that she would return home in May.
To contest the election, Modi's political opponents criticized his evasions of facts about his marriage on official documents. An Aam Aadmi Party member sought criminal charges against Modi for having failed to acknowledge his legal wife. In summer 2014, Congress party politician Ajay Rai filed a lawsuit to be heard by the Allahabad High Court complaining, among other things, that Modi did not give the permanent account number of Jashodaben.
In 1992, Jashodaben refused to be interviewed by the newspaper Abhiyan when that publication presented a story on the marriage of her and Modi. In 2009, a reporter for OPEN found Jashodaben in her village and asked her some questions. In 2014, a reporter for The Indian Express interviewed her. In May 2014, TV9 Gujarat video interviewed her. In December 2014, a writer for Dawn News said that not many newspapers have had the courage to report the troubles which Jashodaben has experienced.
Jashodaben said that she was not invited to the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi, but had she been invited, she would have gone. She said that she still had emotions for Modi and was pleased that he acknowledged her as wife on his legal documents in contesting the election. She said that she plans to meet him again at the right time.
In June 2014, at what has been described as "her first public event", Jashodaben attended the public funeral of politician Gopinath Munde. In November 2014, she made her first trip to Mumbai where she prayed for her husband at the Mahalakshmi Temple and the Siddhivinayak Temple.
In February 2015, Jashodaben hosted some Christian missionaries who invited her to convert to Christianity. In June 2015, Jashodaben was scheduled to speak at a conference on politics organized by supporters of Modi. Event organizers report that the conference was shut down on day 2 of the week-long program on the direction of BJP leader Amit Shah and others. No reason was given for cancelling the conference, but people in attendance attributed Jashodaben's presence as the cause.
In November 2015, Jashodaben applied for a passport in order to visit relatives and friends overseas. As she was unable to produce a marriage certificate or a joint affidavit from her husband, the application was rejected by the regional passport office as "incomplete." Her brother Ashok said a legal option was being considered.
From May 2014, police from the Mehsana district began providing continual police protection for Jashodaben. The security agent team following her was assigned as a response to the Special Protection Group Act, which says that the spouse of the Prime Minister of India should receive police protection. The Salaries and Allowances of Ministers' Act describes other benefits which are typically given to spouses of prime ministers.
In November 2014, Jashodaben filed a Right to Information Act (RTI) request seeking details about her security and rights as the spouse of the prime minister. She reported that she was "very scared" of them and asked for copies of the orders they were following. Various media organizations in India reported the RTI in different ways, including emphasizing Jashodaben's fear, the financial implications of her complaint, the guards' demands to be treated as guests, or the case as an example of female independence. Jashodaben has said that her security details suggest she refrain from talking with the media. The Gulf News reported that her security guards are primarily with her to conduct surveillance on her. Jashodaben's family has complained that her guards do not keep any identity cards, refuse to identify themselves, and refuse to name the person or office supervising them.
In December, the Intelligence Bureau denied her request for information about orders, saying that the law has an exemption which applies in this case. Jashodaben uses the name "Jashodaben Narendrabahi Modi", which is her married name. The letter was addressed to "Jashodaben, daughter of (her father)". At the end of December 2014, Jashodaben filed an appeal to the refusal. In addition to the appeal, Jashodaben complained that the government officers changed her name from "Jashodaben Narendrabhai Modi" to her maiden name "Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi". Doordarshan, India's public television broadcaster, presented Jashodaben on television 1 January 2015 to hear her comments on the issue. As a result of this broadcast, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting chastised staff at Doordashan and transferred the director of the broadcast from Ahmedabad to Port Blair 2500 km away. On 6 February Jashodaben's request was again denied, and again addressed to "Jashodaben, Chimanlal Modi's daughter".
In May 2015, Jashodaben filed a third request for the information about the security detail and their orders. She also complained that she had completed the forms using her legal name, "Jashodaben Narendrabhai Modi", but the government office replied to her using her maiden name. In response to the filing, a government representative said, "If they are still not satisfied by the information given by the first appellate authority, they can file the second appeal at the Gujarat Information Commission." In response to the RTI request, commentator on women's issues Shobhaa De called Jashodaben a "superhero" and "plucky", and said that her actions were "bold, blunt, and to the point".
Jashodaben wears a mangala sutra necklace and sindoor in her hair, which are traditional signs that a woman is married. The elements of the marriage and long estrangement between Jashodaben and Modi has started discussions and awareness about the relationships between men and women in India, as Jashodaben is not the first wife in a traditional marriage to have been abandoned by a politician husband.
Narendra Modi's sister has called Jashodaban a "true Indian woman". In rural India, Jashodaben is seen as the ideal Indian woman because she remains devoted to her husband after almost 50 years of separation. A commentator compared her to Yasodharā, wife of Gautama Buddha, and to Ratanawali, wife of Tulsidas, whose husbands became great religious leaders after renouncing their marriages. She has also been compared to Savitri, Sita, and Shakuntala, prominent women from Hindu tradition who embodied "self-sacrifice and suffering (as) the characteristics of the Indian womanhood, a noble heritage that is handed down through the ages."
Jashodaben receives a lot of fan mail. One person said that "Crores of girls in India take inspiration from her". Religious organizations have praised her with comparison to Suvarchala, the wife of Hanuman in Brahmacharya, who did not oppose him when he sought to renounce his marriage.
A writer for Dawn News said that the marriage of Jashodaben and Modi was "a legal and public issue, not a private one between spouses." He compared the issue of wife's rights in this case to those in the Shah Bano legal case.
The separation of Jashodaben and Modi has been discussed in the context of a broader trend in India that politicians may have more success if they are known for not having ties to a spouse. The RSS, which gives Modi political support, values celibacy in its senior leadership. The powerful women leaders Mayawati, Jayalalitha, and Mamata Banerjee, all are respected more in India for not having a spouse, but that reflects on different ideas about women's responsibilities. Sonia Gandhi gained respect for not remarrying after the death of her husband; some observers believe that the widow would have lost respect politically had she remarried.
Tarun Gogoi, Former Chief Minister of Assam and a member of the Indian National Congress in opposition to Modi's BJP, sarcastically suggested that Jashodaben be awarded the Nobel Prize. He said that "she is a symbol of great Indian womanhood and sacrifice". He was indirectly attacking Modi and trying to describe the circumstances of the abandoned wife as a human rights issue. MP Sakshi Maharaj said that Jashodaben's religious practices contributed to Modi's political success. Gurudas Kamat said that Modi's treatment of his estranged wife was unfair to her.
One media source suggested leaving Jashodaben out of the public eye for her own well being.