Sarojini Naidu: A Poetess in the Constituent Assembly

Sarojini Naidu

I shall now request Bulbul-i-Hind, the Nightingale of India to address usnot in prose, but in poetry.

-Dr. Sachidananda Sinha inviting Smt. Sarojini Naidu to speak on the occasion of the election of Dr. Rajendra Prasad as permanent Chairman of Assembly

The whole Assembly cheered with joy as Dr. Sarojini Naidu started her speech with these lines of a Kashmiri poet,

Bulbul ko Gul Mubarak,
Gul ko Chaman Mubarak,
RangeenTabiaton ko Range Sukhan Mubarak.

Member-Ad hoc Committee on National Flag

Sarojini Naidu is known to us as a freedom fighter, an exceptional poetess, and a woman and civil rights activist. She was appointed to the Constituent Assembly from the State of Bihar. In her vision, the Constitution was going to be an immortal charter of India’s freedom which would restore India back to her rightful place as the torchbearer of liberty, love, and peace.

As a member of the ‘Ad-hoc Committee on National Flag’, she spoke at length in the Constituent Assembly about the importance and meaning of the national flag for India. She recounted how once during the International Conference in Berlin, she was anguished by the fact that India did not have a national flag. On her suggestion, the Indian women delegates cut two strips from their sarees to make the tricolour flag so that the country isn’t humiliated for the lack of a national banner.

Childhood, Education and Marriage

Born in a family of intellectual and creative masters, Sarojini turned out to be a prodigy. She was born in Hyderabad on 13 February 1879 to Sh. Aghorenath Chattopadhyay, who was an educationist and social reformer, and Smt. Varada Sundari Devi Chattopadhyay, who was a poet known for writing poems in Bengali.

At the age of 13, Sarojini topped the matriculation exams from the University of Madras. Her father wanted her to become a scientist or a mathematician. But even he could not escape her poetic charm for long, especially after he read the 1,300-line-long poem ‘The Lady of the Lake’ which Sarojini had written in her Maths book.

A Persian play called ‘Maher Munir’ written by Sarojini won many hearts and proved instrumental in earning her a scholarship to study abroad. Then the young poetess went to study at King’s College, England, and Girton College of Cambridge.

Her encounters with authors like Arthur Simone and Edmund Gausse inspired her to find her own artistic voice and become a genuine Indian poetess of the Deccan.

At the age of 19, she got married to her love, a south Indian physician named Govindrajulu Naidu.

Poetess in the freedom struggle

It was in 1905 when the poetess landed in the arena of freedom struggle. Deeply saddened by the Partition of Bengal, Sarojini decided to become a part of the freedom struggle. Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Gandhi were her mentors, for they urged her to devote her words and intellect to the cause of freedom. Her friendly relationship with Gandhi is no secret. She used to call Gandhi ‘Mickey Mouse’ and it was Gandhi who first gave her the name ‘Bharat Kokila’.

She went across India and gave numerous moving speeches on women’s emancipation, nationalism, social welfare, and dignity of labor. She used to say:

when there is oppression, the only self-respecting thing is to rise and say this shall cease today because justice is my right.

In 1917, she established the Women’s India Association. She also played an important role in Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement, Sabarmati Pact, Satyagraha Pledge, and Civil Disobedience Movement. When Gandhi was arrested in 1930, she led the Dharasana Satyagraha. Her active participation in the freedom struggle led to several stints in prison, the longest being for 21 months in 1942.

Sarojini Naidu was one of the two delegates to attend the East African Indian Congress in 1924. In 1925, she became the first Indian woman to be elected as the President of the Indian National Congress.

Contribution to Indian Literature

Sarojini Naidu is the perfect example of what all women are capable of. She cannot be boxed into one identity as her interests spanned such a variety of areas.

Her poetry collections- The Golden Threshold, The Bird of Time, The Broken Wings, and others, have made a significant contribution to Indian literature.

Progressive Vision

As long as I have life, as long as blood flows through this arm of mine, I shall not leave the cause of freedom…I am only a woman, only a poet. But as a woman, I give to you the weapons of faith and courage and the shield of fortitude. And as a poet, I fling out the banner of song and sound, the bugle call to battle. How shall I kindle the flame which shall waken you men from slavery…

On 22nd July 1947, while addressing the Constituent Assembly Dr. Sarojini Naidu said, “I think that the time has come in the onward march of the world-civilization when there should be no longer any sex consciousness or sex separation in the service of the country“.

It is in honor of this great woman leader that India celebrates February 13 as Women’s Day every year.

Death of the Great Poetess and Leader

Sarojini Naidu was also the first woman to become a Governor in Independent India. Her illustrious political career culminated on March 2, 1949, when she died of cardiac arrest at her office in Lucknow.

On 3rd March, Pt. Nehru gave a tribute to her in the constituent assembly as the woman who “infused artistry and poetry into the national struggle”.

She began life as a poetess. In later years, when
the compulsion of events drew her into the
national struggle and she threw herself into it
with all the zest and fire, she possessed, she
did not write much poetry with pen and paper but
her whole life became a poem and a song.

Indeed, her whole life is a poem and a song for us to cherish and learn from.

Happy Women’s Day!

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