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(1847 – 1933)
Mrs. Annie Besant was an English lady who accepted India as her mother country, one who lived there for more than forty years and fought for the social and cultural renaissance and for Indian freedom. She declared that freedom was not Britain’s concession, but India’s right. A first class master’s degree holder in Botany, she wanted to have her epitaph like this: “She tried to follow truth”. Her contemporaries hailed her as the embodiment of truth, courage, and sincerity. And she wished to be the symbol of the unity between India and Britain.
Annie Wood was born in London in 1847 as the only child of Anglo-Irish parents. Her father, William P. Wood, was a linguist and of liberal ideologies. He died when she was just five and the mother, a devoutly religious person, found the money for her daughter’s education at the Harrow School, by running an inn. Annie met a young priest called Frank Besant in 1866 and in the next year they were married. The husband was a conservative priest, but the wife a revolutionary who saw God in love and compassion. They had two kids, a boy and a girl. But the relationship did not last for long and they separated in 1873. And the newfound freedom helped her to move closer to politics. Her first phase in public life was as an agnostic. She joined the editorial board of ‘National Reformer’, and began to write vehemently on topics like the difficulties the British farmers faced because of the conservative land acts then in force, the administrative freedom for the colonies, the foolishness in the policies towards Ireland and India and scores of similar other topics. She had opportunities to familiarize herself with the philosophical and literary traditions of ancient India. In the meanwhile she found time to work with organizations like ‘Committee for Free thinking’, ‘National Secular Society’, ‘Soviet Friendship Society’ and ‘The Fabian Society’. She also founded an organization styled ‘Brotherhood’ to work with the slogan “Service of Humanity instead of the service of God”.