In the entertainment industry women have successfully pioneered against barriers of sex, class and race but when it comes to changing communities and societies women have also stood proudly and worked hard to earn their place in the political arena. Now it is time to learn some historical lessons from The Nightingale of India, Sarojini Naidu, who was a child prodigy, freedom fighter, and poet; an English working class suffragette, Annie Kenney and Soong Ch’ing-ling, “the one who loved China”.
Sarojini Naidu– February 13, 1879 – March 2, 1949
Sarojini Naidu, known as Bharatiya Kokila (The Nightingale of India), was a child prodigy, freedom fighter, and poet.
Naidu was the first Indian woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman to become the governor of a state in India.
She was responsible for awakening the women of India. She brought them out of the kitchen. She travelled countrywide and re-established self-esteem within the women of India.
Some of her famous and inspirational quotes are:
- “When there is oppression, the only self-respecting thing is to rise and say this shall cease today, because my right is justice.“
- “If you are stronger, you have to help the weaker boy or girl both in play and in the work.“
Sarojini Naidu was born in Hyderabad, India as the eldest daughter of scientist-philosopher, Aghornath Chattopadhyaya, and Varada Sundari Devi, a poetess. Her father was the founder of the Nizam College. She learnt to speak Urdu, Telugu, English, Persian and Bengali. Her favorite poet was P.B. Shelley.
She attained national fame for entering Madras University at the age of twelve. At sixteen, she travelled to England to study first at King’s College London, and at Girton College, Cambridge.
At the age of 17, she met Dr. Muthyala Govindarajulu Naidu and fell in love with him. He was from South India. After finishing her studies at the age of 19, she married him during the time when inter-caste marriages were not allowed. Her marriage was a very happy one. They were married by in Madras in 1898. They had 4 children: Jayasurya, Padmaja, Randheer, and Leelamani.
She joined the Indian independence movement, in the wake of the aftermath of partition of Bengal in 1905. During 1903-17 Sarojini came into contact with Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Annie Besant, C. P. Ramaswami Iyer, Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
From 1915 to 1918 she lectured all over India on welfare of youth, dignity of labour, women’s emancipation and nationalism. After meeting Jawaharlal Nehru in 1916, she took up the cause of the indigo workers of Champaran. In 1925 she was elected as the President of the Congress, the first Indian woman to hold the post.
In March 1919, the British government passed the Rowlatt Act by which the possession of seditious documents was deemed illegal. Mohandas Gandhi organized the Non-Cooperation Movement to protest and Naidu was the first to join the movement which the government worked to suppress. The independence of India became the heart and soul of her work.
In July 1919, Naidu became the Home Rule League’s ambassador to England. In July 1920 she returned to India and on August 1, Mahatma Gandhi declared the Non-Cooperation Movement. In January 1924, she was one of the two Indian National Congress delegates at the East African Indian Congress.
Naidu arrived in New York in October 1928 and was concerned with the unjust treatment of the African-Americans and the Amerindians. Upon her return to India she became a member of the Congress Working Committee.
On January 26, 1930 the National Congress proclaimed its independence from the British Empire. On May 5, Mohandas Gandhi was arrested. Naidu was arrested shortly thereafter and was in jail for several months. She, along with Gandhi, was released on January 31, 1931. Later that year, they were again arrested. Naidu was eventually released due to her poor health and Gandhi was released in 1933. In 1931, she participated in the Round Table Summit, along with Gandhiji and Pundit Malaviyaji. In 1942, she was arrested during the “Quit India” protest and stayed in jail for 21 months with Gandhiji. Naidu shared a warm relationship with Mohandas Gandhi, even calling him “Mickey Mouse”.
At the Asian Relations Conference of March 1947, Naidu presided over the Steering Committee.
On August 15, 1947, with the independence of India, Naidu became the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, India’s first woman governor and she died in office in 1949.
Sarojini Naidu is also well acclaimed for her contribution to poetry. Her poetry had beautiful words that could also be sung. Her collection of poems was published in 1905 under the title “Golden Threshold”. She published two other collections called “The Bird of Time” (1912), and “The Broken Wings” (1917). Later, “The Magic Tree”, “The Wizard Mask”, and “A Treasury of Poems” were published.
In 1916, Naidu published the first biography of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, The Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity.
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