Is there any woman or man who does not love freedom? Freedom is the birthright of every human being; even beasts and birds love freedom. All lives thrive best when they are free. Freedom and responsibility bring out the best from the individual and the race. Therefore, did we, Indians do penance all these years to free India from foreign yoke. We welcome the day of Independence for India. Because freedom for India means freedom for every man and woman and child. The emancipation of women has always been closely bound up with the struggle for political freedom.
In the-early history of India the women walked the earth the equals of men. But the foreign invasion, a thousand years ago, drove them into a long exile. They had to face men who neiher spared life nor honour. And in adapting themselves to a changing environment they passed into Purdah and the burning pyre, into seclusion and the backyard of history. But the fire smouldered all the same—witness Padmini of Chittoor. Chand Bibi and the Rani of Jhansi.
World history moved on. Britain came into India bringing with it western thoughts and ideals. Western contact began to influence Indian thought. Men like Raja Rammohan Roy arose who took up the cause of women's reforms and emancipation. He fought for the abolition of Sathi in 1829, and the Brahmo Samaj, which he established taught absolute equality of men and women. Raja Rammohan Roy was followed by men like Dayanand Saraswathi, Ishwara Chandra Vidyasagar, D. K. Kharve, Veerasingalingam Panthulu, Sir Hari Singh Gour, Her Bilas Sardha and Subramania Barathi who laboured for freeing women from the bonds and customs and conventions that hampered their growth physically and mentally. The service of the Christian missions in India to the cause of women's education and reform cannot but be remembered with gratitude.
WOMEN'S INDIAN ASSOCIATION
Dr. Annie Besant and her band of women workers who came to India, attracted by Indian religion and philosophy have made a valuable contribution towards the advancement of women in every field of human activity. The Woman's Indian Association, founded in 1917 in Madras (with Dr. Annie Besant as its first President) was the premier women's organisation which banded women together for their self-development and for the service of others. It was the first body which demanded civic and political equality for women and its branches spread throughout India, did valuable service by arousing women to a sense of their duties and responsibilities. Mrs. Cousins with Dr. Annie Besant and Srimathi Sarojini Naidu led the deputation to Mr. Montagu during his visit to India, demanding franchise for women on equal terms with men. Madras led the other provinces in granting votes to women. It was women's organisations like the Women's Indian Association and the A. I. W. C. which prepared women to share with men all the ordeals of public life. Again it was these bodies that have promoted women's education and have worked for the abolition of certain social evils.
The political and social emancipation movements of the women of India lack ed the drama and struggle of the western suffragettes. And why was it so? “Because it was not the coming for the first time to a new consciousness of the ideals of service, but, only as re-awakening and rekindling of that consciousness. It was re-awakening and re-kindling of consciousness in the minds of men of India who had never by word or deed put any difficulties in the way of the women of India, or obstacles in the way of their claims for advancement and emancipation.”
WOMEN IN GANDHIAN ERA
Gandhiji worked a revolution in our hearts as he had wrought it in the hearts of men. His quiet but firm demand Indian independence found an echo in our hearts, his vindication of Indian dignity and self-respect stirred us into vindicating our own. His ahimsa and concept of Satyagraha appealed to our hearts as nothing had ever appealed before. It was the Indian political struggle for freedom that has advanced women to their present status rather than any other single factor. The yearning for freedom could not be the sole monopoly of men. And the yearning was strong. The cry of freedom stirred us as nothing had stirred us before. The spirit was strong within us and Indian women plunged into the freedom fight with all the ardour and perhaps with greater courage than men. Between comrades struggling towards a common goal, between friends facing a common danger no thought of inequality could ever exist. Equality and fraternity were born at the same time as liberty on the Sathyagraha fields of our country. There was no need for a fight, no necessity for wordy debate; it was a silent, spontaneous rebirth. Political freedom meant social and economjc freedom too.
And now freedom's battle has been won. Women are in the forefront in every field. Mrs. Sarojini Naidu leads the way as always and in her wake follow a brilliant galaxy—Rajkumsri Amrit Kaur, Vijayalakshmi Pandit and host of others, as worthy of the highest honour or the greatest responsibility as any man today.
Indian women have a great role to play in the modern world, with its chaos and rumblings of another war. With their background of philosophy and religion, with their apprenticeship under Gandhian leadership, with the sense of motherhood strong in them they can be and should be the ambassadors of love, peace and unity. It is the Gandhian concept of non-violence alone that can save the world from a cataclysm. And it is the women of India alone who can carry the message best so that the world may come together in unity and peace.
Leaf through the pages and experience history in the making as our readers experienced it that day.
On the occassion of the 69th Independence Day, The Hindu presents to you the historic day of India's liberation from imperial rule through our edition dated August 15, 1947. You can leaf through the pages and experience history in the making as our readers experienced it that day. We have extracted select articles by the likes of V.K. Krishna Menon, T.T. Krishnamachari and C.V. Raman for you to read into the thoughts of the great minds of that era. You can click on the red marker on highlighted articles and proceed to the full story.
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