“It was held that all was well with a man if he acted nobly and that his belief were quite secondary things” : Annie Besant in Bearings of Religious Social Reconstruction in 1913.
It has been more than a century that Annie Besant landed in India. While India was reeling under English slavery Dr Besant broke the shackles of her own chauvinistic society and looked for transformation in a place like India which was characteristically entrenched in superstition, disbelief and illiteracy.
As a reformer, writer, preacher and an activist she paved the path for women liberation, education and idealism. Being a devout Christian she worked towards women liberalism and advocated ideas such child birth control which was considered blasphemous and also earned her widespread criticism and later a divorce from her parish husband.
She landed in India in 1893 with the same objective of freedom. An orator by birth she became the exponent of the Theosophical Society (Gods of Wisdom) in 1989, a belief system inspired by Buddhism and Brahmanism which till date exists and spans across the world in 74 centers.
Vijaya Rama Swamy, a professor of ancient Indian history in JNU, says, “In india Dr Besant worked as an activist and apart from the Theosophical society and various schools that she opened in India, she closely worked with the leaders of the Indian national congress demanding the freedom of India.”
“She roamed around different the hinterland and played a leading role in propagating the charkha.”
Apart from working for women liberation she imposed her idea of Free India through a newspaper, ‘New India’ of which she was the esteemed editor. New India became a unanimous voice of a liberated ‘state’ through Dr Besant’s writings. In 1914 when the Great war started Indian heavily contributed to the British army and while they became unknown martyrs for their slavish country Besant grew disoriented with the colonial rule. By 1916 she launched the All India Home Rule League with Lokmanya Tilak.
“She was an international personality, whose legacy still throbs in India, she not only associated herself with the nationalist leaders but also the famous writers from London, Ireland the like being WB Yeats, GB Shaw etc,” says Jyoti Atwal, associate professor of modern history in JNU.
After her successful Home Rule League in Bombay, Dr Besant also formulated the Society for the Promotion of National Education (SPNE) and opened different schools. Under her guidance the National Convention was also formed whose aim was to ‘crystallize’ the position of Indian in the English dominion. There upon the first bill of Commonwealth of India was drafted.
This political trailblazer became such a momentous figure in India that she was bestowed the title of ‘mother’ during 1917.
“To be free in India as the Englishman is free in England”. Besant cherished this idea till she breathed her last in September 1933.
An ardent believer of truth her epitaph read, ‘I tried to follow truth’
And as Google doodle celebrates Annie Besant’s 168th birthday with Besant holding up a New India newspaper in a rocking chair, India should not forget the Irish women who fought for India’s struggle for Independence.