Anasuya Sarabhai was a pioneer of the women’s labour movement in India. She founded the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association, India’s oldest union of textile workers, in 1920.⁣

She was born in Ahmedabad on 11 November 1885 into the Sarabhai family, a family of industrialists and business people. She lost both her parents when she was only nine. She and her two younger siblings were brought up by their uncle.⁣

At the age of 13, an unwilling Anasuya was married off by her uncle. Her marriage was brief and unhappy; she divorced her husband and returned to her own family.⁣

She went to England in 1912 to take a medical degree, but switched to the London School of Economics when she realised the animal dissection involved in obtaining a medical degree was in violation of her Jain beliefs. ⁣

Whilst in England, she was influenced by the Fabian Society, and got involved in the Suffragette movement.⁣

She returned to India in 1913 and started working for betterment of women and the poor, particularly among mill workers. She also started a school. She decided to get involved in the labour movement after witnessing exhausted female mill workers returning home after a 36-hour shift. ⁣

She helped organise textile workers in a 1914 strike in Ahmedabad. She was also involved in a month-long strike in 1918, where weavers were asking for a 50 per cent increase in wages, whereas they were being offered 20 per cent. ⁣

Mahatma Gandhi, a friend of the family, was by then acting as a mentor to Sarabhai. Gandhi began a hunger strike on the workers’ behalf. During the time, Sarabhai organized daily mass meetings of the workers that Gandhi addressed. ⁣

Following this, Sarabhai organized assorted craft unions early in her career and by 1920 was instrumental in establishing the conglomerate Textile Labour Association (Majdoor Mahajan Sangh). ⁣

⁣Sarabhai was called Motaben, Gujarati for “elder sister”. She mentored Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA). Sarabhai died in 1972.⁣

Anasuya Sarabhai was the aunt of Indian scientist Vikram Sarabhai who is regarded as the father of the Indian space program.⁣