President: 1879 - 1949 (1925 - Cawnpore ; 40th Session)
A poet, women’s rights activist and a freedom fighter, Sarojini Naidu is recognised and remembered for her multi faceted contribution to Indian society and the freedom movement. She was born on 13 February 1879 in Hyderabad. She studied initially in the University of Madras and completed her higher studies from Kings College London and Girton College, Cambridge.
Sarojini Naidu joined the Indian National Movement in the wake of the 1905 partition of Bengal. Her interactions with stalwarts of the Indian Independence Movement like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi inspired her to actively work towards the cause of freedom and social development. Between 1915 and 18, she delivered lectures on social welfare, women's empowerment and nationalism in various parts of the country. She helped to establish the Women's Indian Association in 1917. The same year, along with Annie Besant she went to London to represent the case for women’s franchise before the Joint Select Committee. As a part of her struggle to free India from British rule, she went to London in 1919 as a part of the All India Home Rule League. In 1920, she returned to join Gandhi ji’s Satyagraha Movement amidst the growing national movement.
Her increasing political prominence along with her vocal opinions on the colonial government and active involvement in the freedom movement led to her arrest on several occasions. Sarojini Naidu was jailed in 1930 first for her participation in the Salt Satyagraha where the protesters were subjected to the brutal repression by the British. In 1931, she participated in the round-table conference with Gandhi and Madan Mohan Malaviya. She was later arrested again in 1932 and 1942 when she spent 21 months in jail.
Sarojini Naidu was elected as the President of the Indian National Congress Party in 1925, the first ever woman to assume that position. In an expression of hope and courage, she said, “ In the battle for liberty, fear is one unforgivable treachery and despair, the one unforgivable sin”. She believed in the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence and was instrumental in disseminating Gandhian principles to the rest of the world. She was appointed the governor of Uttar Pradesh after India achieved independence in 1947. She was India’s first woman governor and remained in that position till her death in 1949.
One of the political critics of that time wrote in 1940 that Sarojini Naidu had “contributed more towards the cause of women empowerment and social development than all the sermons of the social workers”. She died on 2 March 1949 while working in her office in London.