Annie Besant was the first woman president of indian national congress
Annie Besant was a British theosophist, socialist, writer and women’s right activist. She was an ardent supporter of Indian as well as Irish self-rule. She also helped launch Home Rule League. She was the first woman to have presided the Congress session held at Calcutta in 1917 and was elected as its first woman president.
Born on October 1, 1847, Annie Besant was the first woman president of the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1917. She was a multi-faceted individual and had a wide range of interests from politics and writing to theosophy. She was also the president of the Theosophical Society and held her own in any institution she was part of, questioning and challenging beliefs and practices which did not conform to her views.
Annie Besant biography
Privately educated in England, Germany and France, Besant was a devout Christian in her early years and was married at the age of twenty to a clergyman. Soon, however, she began questioning her faith, leaving behind the church in 1872, and, subsequently, her husband and young son too.
She was co-editor of the ‘National Reformer’ and a prolific writer between 1874 and 1888, writing political books and pamphlets during that period. A member of the Fabian Society and the Social Democratic Federation, she was active in socialist and trade union movements.
Besant joined Theosophical Society in May 1889, later becoming its second president and representing it at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.
The same year, Besant came to India and was taken by the spirituality, philosophy and religiosity of the country. She soon began her work to empower women and kept pushing for changes in their social situation in a pre-Independence India. She soon gained a band of followers, with the likes of Dr Bhagavan Das, Govinda Das and Gyanendra Nath Chakravarti taken in by her enthusiasm.
She was also one of the 5 founders of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), then Central Hindu College, in 1916, and founded the Indian Scout Movement in 1918 after Lord Baden-Powell had earlier dismissed Indians as being unfit for the cause.
The sight of turbaned Indians taking part changed his view, however, and India was made part of the world movement later, with Besant made the Honorary Scout Commissioner for India.
Annie Besant Foray into politics
By 1913, Besant was actively involved in Indian politics and soon became a vocal advocate for Indian self-governance, uniting Congress factions under the banner of the ‘All India Home Rule League’. She was the first woman Congress president and was later followed by the likes of Sarojini Naidu, Nellie Sengupta, Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
However, Besant soon found herself on the sidelines after being opposed to Mahatma Gandhi’s plans of non-cooperation and civil disobedience. She was not in favour of opposing laws, wanting constitutional solutions that would aid reforms despite holding Gandhi in high regard. However, despite her political career being derailed, she continued working for the people of a country she had adopted as her own. After falling sick in 1931, Besant died on September 20, 1933, at the age of 85 at Adyar in Madras Presidency.
First Indian Woman president of indian National Congress party
Mrs. Sarojini Naidu was elected as the President of the Indian National Congress Party in 1925, the first ever Indian woman to assume that position.
Sarojini Naidu presided the Indian National Congress at Kanpur session in 1925.
A poet, women’s rights activist and a freedom fighter, Sarojini Naidu was recognised and remembered for her multi faceted contribution to Indian society and the freedom movement. She was born on 13 February 1879 in Hyderabad. She studied initially in the University of Madras and completed her higher studies from Kings College London and Girton College, Cambridge.
Sarojini Naidu joined the Indian National Movement in the wake of the 1905 partition of Bengal. Her interactions with stalwarts of the Indian Independence Movement like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi inspired her to actively work towards the cause of freedom and social development.
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. The same year, along with Annie Besant she went to London to represent the case for women’s franchise before the Joint Select Committee.
As a part of her struggle to free India from British rule, she went to London in 1919 as a part of the All India Home Rule League. In 1920, she returned to join Gandhi ji’s Satyagraha Movement amidst the growing national movement.
Her increasing political prominence along with her vocal opinions on the colonial government and active involvement in the freedom movement led to her arrest on several occasions.
Sarojini Naidu was jailed in 1930 first for her participation in the Salt Satyagraha where the protesters were subjected to the brutal repression by the British. In 1931, she participated in the round-table conference with Gandhi and Madan Mohan Malaviya. She was later arrested again in 1932 and 1942 when she spent 21 months in jail.