Dr. Annie Besant



Dr. Annie Besant is one of those foreigners who inspired the love of the country among Indians. She declared in 1918 in her paper "New India": "I love the Indian people as I love none other, and... my heart and my mind... have long been laid on the alter of the Motherland."Annie Besant, born of Irish parents in London on October 1, 1847, made India her home from November, 1893. Dr. Besant, said Mahatma Gandhi, awakened India from her deep slumber. Before she came to India, Dr. Besant passed through several phases of life-housewife, propagator of atheism, trade unionist, feminist leader and Fabian Socialist.By 1889, "there was scarcely any modern reform (in England) for which she had not worked, written spoken and suffered."Dr. Besant started the Home Rule League in India for obtaining the freedom of the country and reviving the country's glorious cultural heritage. She started a paper called "New India." She attended the 1914 session of the Indian National Congress and presided over it in 1917. She could not see eye to eye with Gandhiji in regard to the latter's satyagraha movement.

An orator and writer with poetic temperament, Dr. Besant was a veritable tornado of power and passion. By her eloquence, firmness of convictions and utter sincerity she attracted some of the best minds of the country for the national cause. She was largely responsible for the upbringing of the world renowned philosopher K. Krishnamurti.

Annie Wood was born in London to a middle-class Irish couple. After her father's death, relatives paid for her brother's education at Harrow while Annie was lucky to be admitted free to the home school of a family friend. At 19 she married a stern young vicar. Frustrated with domesticity, she tried to martyr herself in service to her husband's parishioners but quickly realized the poor needed better living and working conditions rather than handouts. Eventually her marriage foundered over her emerging progressivism. After divorcing Frank Besant, Annie supported herself and daughter by writing and lecturing for the Freethinkers, Theism and Fabian Socialism. George Bernard Shaw considered her Britain's and perhaps Europe's greatest orator. In 1877 Annie, with Charles Bradlaugh, was arrested for selling birth control pamphlets in London's slums. They were convicted, but the verdict was overturned and the trial helped to liberalize public attitudes although it cost Annie custody of her daughter. She comforted herself by earning a science degree at London University. In 1888 she led the Match Girls' Strike that opened stockholders' and ultimately Victorians' eyes to cruel, unsafe labor practices against unskilled female factory workers. But by then Annie had converted to Theosophy. She became its European and finally worldwide head. She lived most of her remaining years in India, rejoined at last by her son and daughter. After campaigning brilliantly for Home Rule, she died in Madras in 1933.