Annie Besant, born Annie Wood in Ireland on 1 October 1847, was a renowned political activist, freedom fighter and a champion of the anti-Church movement and women’s rights. In the 1870s Besant became a member of the National Secular Society and the Fabian Society which championed freedom of thought and liberation from the tyranny of the Catholic Church in England.
Her quest for socialist movement and search for spiritual solace led her to join the Theosophical Society. During her stint as a member of the society, she became attracted to Hinduism and its spiritual ideals. With the aim of preaching the ideals of the Theosophical Society, she came to India in 1893. A few days after landing in India she became inspired by the ongoing struggle for freedom against British rule and slowly became an active part of it.
The most notable contribution of Besant towards the Indian freedom movement was the founding of Home Rule League in 1916. Besant, along with Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, carried on the landmark movement which became a turning point in the decades-long Indian freedom struggle. Conceived along the lines of the Irish Home Rule movement, the aim of the crusade was to attain Dominion status for India like Australia and Canada. The movement went on for two years, with the Indian Home Rule League’s activities playing a significant role in empowering the freedom struggle.
In 1917, Besant was put under house arrest for her participation in the Home Rule movement. Her arrest led to widespread protests and later she was released. While in imprisonment, she remained defiant and raised the green and red flag which was the symbol of the Home Rule movement.
Besant died in India on September 20, 1933. Throughout her life, she was a brave and outspoken woman who donned many hats-social worker, a crusader for religious freedom and an active participant in the freedom struggle of a country she made her home.