Annie Besant, brave Irish woman and Indian freedom fighter

Participation of women in politics centuries ago was a taboo and rare. In India, it was much worse than the situation in other countries. Despite the hurdles caused by men, in India  many women became freedom fighters and social reformers in their own ways. As for England, though conservatism was not as bad as it was in India, the class distinction was very much there and there was a big gulf between the working classes  and the aristocrats or capitalists who looked down upon the poor. Just like men, women workers did not enjoy full freedom in many fields. Nor did 
they get decent wages from their masters in their place of work commensurate with their skill or talents. A courageous and talented Irish woman by the name of Annie  Besant took the cudgels against the authorities and voiced numerous reforms in the realm of women's rights, trade unions, workers rights, birth control for women, etc. She became a powerful voice of the voiceless and won the heart of the British Society. Fate had it that she had to become one of the important leaders in the Indian subcontinent in their  struggle for freedom from the corrupt British rulers.

Young Annie
Besant was a British social activist, campaigner for women's rights and a  staunch supporter of Indian nationalism. Annie  being Irish, she  supported the cause of Irish self-rule throughout her adult life  and also Irish self-rule. 

 Photo credit: Hindu archive

Above image: The golden jubilee of Theosophical Society, at Madras, the capital of the southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu. Seated in the middle of the front row is Annie Besant and to her right are Bishop Leadbeater and Jittu  Krishnamurthi. adopted son of Annie Besant and philosopher of international repute..........

Annie Besant was born to William Wood and Emily Morris in 1847. When she was five years old, her father, who was a doctor, passed away leaving her alone with her mother. Her mother  Emily, helpless and poor, had to take care of Annie  with the help of her friend  Ellen Marryat,  so she took up a job with a boarding school. Under the care of Ellen,  Annie received a good education.

In 1867, she married Rev. Frank Besant,  a clergyman, and she  had two children by the age of twenty-three. Highly opinionated and independent, her anti-religious views impacted on her marriage  with a religious man, and in 1873 she got the legal separation.

She became a member of  National Secular Society, which preached 'free thought', and also of the Fabian Society, the noted socialist organization. In 1870, she worked for the weekly  'National Reformer' run by Charles Bradlaugh, a well- known social activist,  that actively supported  trade unions, national education, womens' right to vote, and birth control. She and the editor Charles Bradlaugh faced all kinds of problems over their articles on various reforms, but unmindful of them, they ran the weekly with better vigor and vitality.

Commemoration Annie Besant (1847-1933)

For unknown reason, she took keen interest in Theosophy, a   religious movement founded in 1875 and based on Hindu ideas of ''Karma and Reincarnation" and became its main exponent  in 1890 and gave speeches across India and abroad. She got a degree in English literature and Sanskrit from Banares Hindu university and 1893 on wards she began to live in India. 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."

At the time of her long sojourn in India she  herself  saw the freedom struggle going on against the British and  the way  the natives were treated by  the  British  rulers. She was  terribly saddened  by the way the once fairly self-dependent prosperous people had been driven to the edge of poverty and helplessness by the British  and was motivated by the Indian freedom movement.  Undaunted and sympathetic with the native Indians' and their cause for self-rule, in 1916 along with the Lokmanya Tilak,  she established the Indian Home Rule League, of which she became the president. The purpose of this league was to get India freed from the British and reestablish her lost culture and  heritage. She was also a leading member of the Indian National Congress,  attended the 1914 session and presided over it in 1917 (the Calcutta session).  She won the heart of the Indians by her fiery speeches, excellent leadership qualities, utter devotion and integrity. In 1920s she went to the US on tour.

Even though she did not fully endorse the view of Gandhiji on Satyagraha or non cooperation with the government( Annie Besant thought this would create disorderly society later), she took active role in all other phases of freedom struggle  and was  instrumental in drafting the Commonwealth of India Bill  with help from Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru. She believed in children's education who were the pillar of  future society.

Besant died in India on 20 September 1933. After her death she was cremated in what was known as the garden of remembrance in Chennai. The posh suburb of  Chennai - Besant Nagar, near Adyar is  in honor of her selfless dedicated social services not only done for the Indians but also for the other humanity. Her work on the early social reforms for the poor British workers - both  men and women boosted their  morale.


01. Besant and Bradlaugh became household names in 1877 when they published a book by the American birth-control campaigner
Charles Knowlton. Indeed, a daring act in those days of conservatism.

02. Her  marriage was, however, a disaster. Politics further  created a wedge between  the couple. Annie  supported  farm workers who were fighting to unionize and to win better conditions. Frank was a Tory and sided with the landlords and farmers.  Frank was rude and incompatible and this forced  Annie to leave and return  to London.

 03. With Bradlaugh maintained good relationship, She also had good friendship with Bernard Shaw  who sponsored Annie to join the Fabian Society. And her relationship with G.B.S.  deepened the split between Annie and Bradlaugh, who was an individualist and opposed to Socialism of any sort and militancy by the labor class.

04. During the Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society in Adyar and Benares, she was nominated for the president of Theosophical Society after the death of the H.S. Olcott (an America and  president of the Society) in 1906. Finally she became the Theosophical Society’s president and continued until her death in 1933.

05. The world famous Philosopher and spiritualist Jittu Krishnamurthy was her adopted son. Her Theosophical society is quite popular and is   still functioning in many countries.