Remembering the British socialist who supported India’s independence movement

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Annie besant [File photo | Photo courtesy: Youth Congress]| Photo credit: Twitter

Highlights

  • Annie Besant started the All India Home Rule League in 1916.
  • Annie Besant chaired the 1917 Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress.

“The British are good settlers, though often brutal, when they come into contact with entirely uncivilized tribes whose past is so distant that it is forgotten. But they trampled with their heavy boots the sensitive and delicate sensibilities of an ancient nation, highly civilized and cultivated, like India. This is what Annie Besant – a British social reformer, philanthropist and supporter of Indian nationalism – once said, widely reported by the media. Today is his 88e death anniversary.

Annie Wood was born in London on October 1, 1847. At the age of 20, Annie, who was a woman of Irish descent, married Frank Besant, a clergyman, and the couple were fortunate enough to have two children. However, due to Annie’s unconventional religious views, the couple broke up in 1873. This was the start of Annie’s immersion in social issues for nearly two decades. Between 1874 and 1893, Annie worked for women’s suffrage, family planning, unionism, and Irish Home Rule.

Annie first visited India in 1983. She later settled here and became involved in the country’s struggle for independence from British Imperial rule. With Bal Gangadhar Tilak, she started the All India Home Rule League in 1916. She was also a prominent member of the Indian National Congress. She chaired the 1917 Calcutta session of Congress. In June 1917, the British state arrested her, following which Congress and the Muslim League threatened to protest if she was not released.

Annie’s thirst for some sort of global truth does not appear to have been satiated by social and political reforms. She developed an interest in Theosophy, a religious movement established in 1875. Hindu ideas of reincarnation and karma were the basis of the Theosophical movement. Annie, as a member and later president of the Theosophical Society, spread Theosophical beliefs in India and other parts of the world.

With her unique personality and organizational methods, Annie transformed Indian nationalist politics during the years of World War I. Annie, until the end of her life, campaigned for India’s independence from the British state.


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