Sarojini Naidu, née Chattopadhyay (Hyderabad, February 13, 1879 – Lucknow, March 2, 1949) was an Indian politician and poet.An advocate of civil rights, women”s emancipation and anti-imperialist ideas, she was an important figure in India”s struggle for independence from colonial rule. Naidu”s work as a poet earned her the nickname Mahatma Gandhi”s Nightingale of India. She was called Bharat Kokila by Rabindranath Tagore.
Sarojini Naidu was born in Hyderabad to Aghorenath Chattopadhyay, a Bengali Brahmin principal of Nizam College in Hyderabad, and Barada Sundari Devi Chattopadhyay, a Bengali poetess.
She was the eldest of eight siblings. Her brother Virendranath Chattopadhyay was a revolutionary, and another brother Harindranath was a poet, playwright, and actor. Their family was well regarded in Hyderabad, not only because they ran Nizam College, but also because they were the most famous artists in the city at that time. Being an artist in the era of British rule in India was considered a risky career, but with their progressive values they pursued it anyway.
In 1895 Mahbub Ali Khan gave her the opportunity to study in England, first at King”s College, London, and then at Girton College, Cambridge.
After her studies, at the age of 19, she married physician Paidipati Govindarajulu Naidu. At that time inter-caste marriages were not as common as they are today, but both their families approved of their union. The fact that Sarojini was from Bengal and Paidipati Naidu from Andhra Pradesh meant that the marriage was based on two different cultures. The couple had five children, one of whom, Padmaja Naidu, joined the independence movement, was part of the Quit India movement, and was appointed governor of the state of Uttar Pradesh soon after Indian independence.
Naidu joined the Indian independence movement in the wake of the partition of Bengal in 1905. She soon met other leaders such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore, and Mahatma Gandhi and was inspired to work to achieve freedom from colonial rule and social reform.
Between 1915 and 1918 she traveled to different regions of India giving lectures on social welfare, women”s emancipation and nationalism. She also helped found the Women”s Indian Association (WIA) in 1917, at which time she accompanied her colleague Annie Besant, president of the Home Rule League and the Women”s Indian Association, to present the case for universal suffrage before the Joint Select Committee in London, a city to which she traveled again in 1919 as part of the All India Home Rule League to defend freedom from British rule. Upon returning to India in 1920, she joined Gandhi”s Satyagraha movement.
President of Congress and greater involvement in the independence movement.
In 1925 she became the first Indian woman and the second ever to preside over the session of the Indian National Congress in Cawnpore (now Kanpur). In her speech she recited, “In the battle for freedom, fear is an unforgivable betrayal, and despair the only unforgivable sin.”
Naidu was arrested, along with other Congress leaders including Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Madan Mohan Malaviya for participating in the 1930 salt march. The Indian National Congress decided to stay away from the first Round Table Conference held in London because of the arrests.
In 1931, however, Naidu and other Congress party leaders participated in the Second Round Table led by Viceroy Lord Irwin in the wake of the Gandhi-Irwin pact.
Naidu was one of the main figures to have led the civil disobedience movement and the Quit India Movement led by Gandhi. She was arrested several times by British authorities during that period and spent more than 21 months in prison.
Governor of the United Provinces
After India”s independence from British rule in 1947, Naidu was appointed governor of the United Provinces (present-day Uttar Pradesh), becoming India”s first woman governor. She remained in office until her death in March 1949.
Naidu began writing at the age of 12. His play Maher Muneer, written in Persian, impressed the Nizam of the Hyderabad Kingdom.
In 1905 his first collection of poems, entitled The Golden Threshold, was published. The volume contained an introduction by Arthur Symons. His poems received praise from prominent Indian politicians such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale.
Naidu”s poem In the Bazaars of Hyderabad was published as part of The Bird of Time with his other poems in 1912. The work was well received by critics, who noted in various ways Naidu”s visceral use of rich sensory imagery in his writing.
The Feather of The Dawn, which contained poems written in 1927 by Naidu, was edited and published posthumously in 1961 by his daughter Padmaja Naidu.
Naidu died of cardiac arrest in 1949 at Government House in Lucknow. On her return from New Delhi she was advised to rest by her doctors and all official engagements were canceled. Her health deteriorated considerably and a bloodletting was performed after she complained of a severe headache. She died after collapsing following a coughing fit. The funeral was held at the Gomati River.
Analyzing her political legacy, the English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley wrote: “It was our good fortune, while we were in Bombay, to meet Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, newly elected president of the All-India Congress, a woman who combines in the most extraordinary way great intellectual power with charm, gentleness and courageous energy, broad culture with originality, and seriousness with humor. If all Indian politicians are like Mrs. Naidu, then the country is indeed lucky.”
Naidu received the Kaisar-i-Hind medal from the British government for his work during the plague epidemic in India, which he later returned in protest of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of April 1919.
For his work in the field of poetry writing, Naidu received the title Nightingale of India.
Naidu was listed as one of the “150 Women Leaders” by the University of London to celebrate 150 years since women gained access to higher education in the UK in 2018.
Asteroid 5647 Sarojininaidu, discovered by Eleanor Helin at Palomar Observatory in 1990, was dedicated to her.