February 13, 2021, will mark the 142nd birth anniversary of India’s Nightingale, Sarojini Naidu. Born to a Bengali family in Hyderabad on February 13 in 1879, Naidu would become India’s most recognizable and formidable figure in the journey towards freedom. Coming from a family of academics (her father Aghorenath Chattopadhyay was the principal of Nizam's College in Hyderabad while her mother Sundara Devi Chattopadhyay was a poetess), it wasn’t a surprise that Naidu was also very literary inclined. Her influence, contribution, and a strong voice against the tyranny of British colonizers were instrumental in making India free.
Not all freedom fighters attacked the oppressors with guns and brute strength. Naidu used the adage of ‘pen being mightier than the sword’ and attacked the enemy with her words. At the same time, her words roused others toward feelings of freedom and independence.
Mahatma Gandhi’s path of attaining Independence through non-violence became her influence. In 1905, she joined the Indian Independence Movement. Apart from Gandhi, she also sought to follow the philosophies of writers like Rabindranath Tagore and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. In what would be defined as a feminist movement today, Naidu often spoke against regressive traditions that hampered and damaged women’s lives in the country.
Here are five facts about Naidu’s incredibly influential life:
1. Women's Indian Association: Naidu was instrumental in establishing the WIA, founded by Annie Besant in 1917. The group aimed at educating and raising awareness about some of the deplorable conditions faced by Indian women.
2. Leader in multiple movements: Some of the most prominent protests by Naidu included Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha Movement, Civil Disobedience, and Quit India Movement with other freedom fighters. Her presence in these monumental events mobilized women who still remained largely domesticated to come out of the houses.
3. The gifted writer: The seeds of artistry existed since childhood. She began writing at the tender age of 12. The Lady of the Lake was her first major poem which had over 1300 lines! She received international acclaim for poems like In the Bazaars of Hyderabad and The Gift of India. She also wrote plays like Maher Muneer (Persian). It is for her poetry that she was awarded the title of Nightingale of India.
4. First female Governor: Naidu was the first-ever woman governor of independent India when she held the title for Uttar Pradesh (then United Provinces). She became the governor soon after British departure in 1947.
5. Indian Woman’s day is to celebrate her birthday: The day dedicated to celebrating women in India is February 13, in honor of her birthday. Contrary to the popular perception that non-domestic women could be freedom fighters, Naidu was married since the age of 19 and still worked as hard, as independently as everyone else.