Sunday, August 1, 2010

Who’s Who of Indian Women

The Indian Gender Resource Center has added the following entry on Annie Besant (with a reference to HPB) to their encyclopedic “Who’s Who of Indian Women.” She is one of the few non-Indian women to be included, along with the likes of Mother Theresa.

Besant, Annie: (1847–1933) was a prominent Theosophist, women's rights activist, writer and orator and supporter of Irish and Indian self rule. In 1890 Annie Besant met Helena Blavatsky and over the next few years her interest in Theosophy grew and her interest in left wing politics waned. She traveled to India and in 1898 helped establish the Central Hindu College in India. In 1902 she established the International Order of Co-Freemasonry in England and over the next few years established lodges in many parts of the British Empire. In 1908 Annie Besant became President of the Theosophical Society and began to steer the society away from Buddhism and towards Hinduism. She also became involved in politics in India, joining the Indian National Congress. When war broke out in Europe in 1914 she helped launch the Home Rule League to campaign for democracy in India and dominion status within the Empire which culminated in her election as president of the India National Congress in late 1917. After the war she continued to campaign for Indian independence until her death in 1933. After her death, her colleagues, J. Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley, Dr. Guido Ferrando, and Rosalind Rajagopal, built Happy Valley School, now renamed Besant Hill School in her honour.

Some additions and corrections should be noted. Annie Besant met HPB in 1889, which led her to join the Theosophical Society; she became its President 1907. In 1913 she helped organize Scouting for Indian youth, as the Scout movement in India was only open to British and foreign Scouts. Her founding of the Central Hindu College paved the way for the present Benares Hindu University, the largest residential university in Asia. The Government of India issued a commemorative stamp for her on October 1, 1963.

Commemorative bust of Besant at Central Hindu College, Varanasi

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