Sarojini Naidu was an Indian political activist and poet. A proponent of civil rights, women’s emancipation and anti-imperialistic ideas, she was an important figure in India’s struggle for independence from colonial rule. She was the eldest of the eight siblings. Her brother Virendranath Chattopadhyay was a revolutionary.
Naidu’s work as a poet earned her the nickname ‘Nightingale of India’ by Mahatma Gandhi. She was called ‘Bharat Kokila’ by Rabindranath Tagore.
She was born in a Bengali family in Hyderabad on 13 February 1879 and was educated Madras, London and Cambridge. She worked as a suffragist during her time in England.
Naidu was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal by the British government for her work during the plague epidemic in India. (which she later returned in protest over the April 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre)
She joined the Indian independence movement in the wake of partition of Bengal in 1905. Between 1915 and 1918, Naidu travelled to different regions in India delivering lectures on social welfare, emancipation of women and nationalism. She also helped to establish the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) in 1917.
Naidu presided over the 1925 Annual Session of the INC at Kanpur. She was the first Indian woman and second woman overall (after Annie Besant) to do so. She also presided over East African and Indian Congress’ 1929 session in South Africa.
She was arrested, along with other INC leaders including for participating in 1930 Salt March. She was one of the major figures to have led the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Quit India Movement led by Gandhi and she even spent over 21 months in jail.
Following India’s independence from the British rule in 1947, Naidu was appointed as the governor of the United Provinces, making her India’s first woman governor.
She also used to write poems. Published in 1912, “In the Bazaars of Hyderabad” remains one of her most popular poems.
Naidu died of cardiac arrest on 2 March 1949 at the Government House in Lucknow.