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Biography: Sarojini Naidu, the Nightingale of India

By Anusha Ravi

The first ever woman to become the Governor of an Indian state, Sarojini Naidu was born on February 13, 1879, in Hyderabad of British India. Born as Sarojini Chattopadhyay in a Bengali family in Hyderabad, she went on to become a poet, a politician and most importantly an Indian independence activist. Her father Aghore Nath Chattopadhyay held a doctorate of Science from Edinburgh University while her mother Sundari Devi was a Bengali poet.

Sarojini Naidu

Eldest of eight siblings, Sarojini Naidu studied at King's college London and Girton college, Cambridge. She wrote a play "Maher Muneer", as a child and it earned her a scholarship to study abroad. Sarojini was proficient in English, Bengali, Urdu, Telugu and Persian. While her father wanted her to become a scientist or a mathematician, Sarojini Naidu took to poetry. At the age of 19, Sarojini met Dr Govindarajulu Naidu and went on to marry him at a time when inter-caste marriages were taboo.

Sarojini Naidu joined the Indian national Movement during 1905 partition of Bengal. Her interactions with stalwarts of the Indian Independence Movement like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Annie Besant, C P Ramaswami Iyer, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru inspired her to tour the length and breadth of the country.

Between 1915 and 18, she delivered lectures on social welfare, women's empowerment and nationalism in various parts of the country. She helped to establish the Women's Indian Association in 1917. Sarojini Naidu along with Annie Besant was sent to London to present the case for women's vote to the Joint Select Committee.

She took part in the Dandi Satyagraha alongside Mahatma Gandhi in 1930. Sarojini Naidu religiously followed Gandhi's example. She supported all his campaigns including the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, the Khilafat movement, the Sabarmati Pact, the Satyagraha Pledge and the Civil Disobedience Movement. Her involvement in the freedom movement led to many instances of imprisonment. Sarojini Naidu was jailed in 1930, 1932 and 1942 when she spent 21 months in jail.

Sarojini Naidu was elected as the President of the Indian National Congress Party in 1925, the first ever woman to assume that position. She believed in non-violence, much like Mahatma Gandhi. Sarojini Naidu was instrumental in disseminating Gandhian principles to the rest of the world and was partly responsible for establishing Gandhi as this icon of peace.

Post independence, Sarojini Naidu became the first Governor of United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) and remained in office until her death in 1949. "As long as I have life, as long as blood flows through this arm of mine, I shall not leave the cause of freedom. I am only a woman, only a poet but as a woman, I give to you the weapons of faith and courage and the shield of fortitude. And as a poet, I fling out the banner of song and sound, the bugle call to battle. How shall I kindle the flame which shall waken you men from slavery," are Naidu's famous verses.

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