Lucky you, I and we are to be born in post-independent India. Since we opened our eyes, we’ve been breathing in the air of freedom. Misery of slavery and bondage has touched our lives, only through the words inscribed on books.
Tilak, Nehru, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Khudiram Bose emanate our lips spontaneously, the moment we’re asked about freedom fighters. But whom does Annie Besant strike? None…
On her 168th birthday, I would like to carry the readers, via my words, to the pre-independent India where Annie Besant was a harbinger of the India today. The Religious Meet Of Chicago (1893) where Swami Vivekananda orated his famous speech also saw Annie’s eloquent speech on ‘Life After Death’ and it was the time Annie showed herself up in the land of culture, India.
To know India in and out, she traversed the whole India inferring India’s educational system as its weak pillar which ought to be strengthened. And her realization triggered her to set out on her mission of reforming India’s educational system. She used her oratory skills to promote educational and cultural awareness among culturally-dead Indians. She succeeded in weaving a web of school and colleges, entangling youth in this web and instilling patriotism within them. The very famed Central Hindu School In the holy city Varanasi is Annie’s legacy. During her presence, it comprised of more than 2,000 students.
The callousness of British raj was prominent in India that time and Annie was not one of the kinds to stay ignorant and indifferent. Political activism was in her bloodstream and she embarked upon the movement ‘Home Rule Movement’ (swaraj) to favour India and free India from the clutches of British. In 1917, Indian National Congress had its first woman president and it was none other than Annie. She also owned a daily newspaper named ‘New India’.
‘I Love the Indian People as I Love None Other’ were Annie’s words to exhibit her affection towards India. India gradually became her country and she initiated her activism for several causes like women’s rights, birth control campaign, Fabian socialism, worker’s rights secularism and many such likes. Her magical effect was spreading throughout the India. Once Mahamahopadhyaya Pandit Gangadhar Shastri was seen extoling Annie as ‘Sarvashukla Saraswati'(Goddess of Learning). Mahatma Gandhi too praised her as the one whose presence has awakened the sleeping India. When Annie was put behind the bars for her whopping activism against British, she was sent behind the bars and then it was Gandhi who came as her saviour.
Milady, you’re not there but your contribution towards Independent India will remind us of your presence for keeps.
We all owe an un-payable gratitude towards you Annie. Heartfelt thanks and a very Happy Birthday (168th).
By Prerna Daga