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Friday, October 2, 2020

Irish Congress woman's Triplicane connection !!

 There are many roads that lead to Mount Road  (aka Anna Salai) from Kamarajar Salai (aka Beach Road) – Flag Mast Road near Island Grounds, Sivanandha Salai (TV Station road), Wallajah Road, Bharathiyar Salai (Pycrofts Road) .. .. and this road – from near Vivekananda House towards Royapettah Hospital (with the other half called Peters Road); Dr Radhakrishnan Salai (housing IG Office) .. .. this is no post on Chennai Roads but the name of this Road or the person after whom it is named after is .. .. 

The woman was born this day  173 years ago in London and now stands forlorn on the Beach road at Thiruvallikkeni,  giving the road its name.  Earlier there was a traffic island or park uncared for and she was not all that recognisable – now with the park cut in size making way for a busbay – she could be seen well and yet, not many would have noticed that the statue had been garlanded and a few flower petals strewn around ! 

In 1867, Annie, at age 20, married Frank Besant, a clergyman, and they had two children. However, Annie's increasingly unconventional religious views led to their legal separation in 1873.  She then became a prominent speaker for the National Secular Society (NSS), as well as a writer, and a close friend of Charles Bradlaugh. In 1877 they were prosecuted for publishing a book by birth control campaigner Charles Knowlton. The scandal made them famous, and Bradlaugh was subsequently elected M.P. for Northampton in 1880.  The book claimed  that working-class families could never be happy until they were able to decide how many children they wanted. It also suggested ways to limit the size of their families. The Knowlton book was highly controversial, and was vigorously opposed by the Church.    

The pair were arrested and put on trial for publishing the Knowlton book. They were found guilty, but released pending appeal. As well as great opposition, Besant and Bradlaugh also received a great deal of support in the Liberal press. Arguments raged back and forth in the letters and comment columns as well as in the courtroom. Besant was instrumental in founding the Malthusian League during the trial, which would go on to advocate for the abolition of penalties for the promotion of contraception.  The scandal cost Annie  custody of her children. Her husband was able to persuade the court that she was unfit to look after them, and they were handed over to him permanently. 

Indian National Congress is going through its worst phase in the history of Independent India.  It is evaporating and does not have a base in many States.   The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has taken suo motu cognisance of the Hathras incident and issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh government.  High drama prevailed  after Uttar Pradesh Police personnel after the claims and ridicule following the claim of  former Congress President Rahul Gandhi being pushed  to the ground on the Yamuna Expressway.  He was later  detained  .. .. .. 

The day  [1st Oct] has some connection to Congress and Triplicane too….. through the daughter of William Wood and Emily Morris, born in 1847. Her  father, a doctor, died when she was only five years old. Without any savings, her mother found it difficult to care and  persuaded a friend, Ellen Marryat, to take responsibility for her upbringing.  This girl married a clergy in 1866 when she was 19 – years later, her spirit clashed with the traditional views of her husband – a legal separation followed.  She reportedly rejected Christianity and in 1874 joined the Secular Society. 

It may not be easy to relate what is written above to the statue that stands nearer Vivekakandar Illam on the Marina beach ~the road that starts from there is also named after her.  It is Annie Besant (1847 – 1933) a prominent British socialist, theosophist, women's rights activist, writer and orator and supporter of Irish and Indian self-rule.  A few years  back, when I took this photo, the statue looked forlorn and uncared for.

In 1890 Besant met Helena Blavatsky and over the next few years her interest in theosophy grew while her interest in secular matters waned. She became a member of the Theosophical Society and a prominent lecturer on the subject. As part of her theosophy-related work, she travelled to India. In 1907 she became President of the Theosophical Society, whose international headquarters is  in Adyar, Madras, (Chennai).  She joined the Indian National Congress. When World War I broke out in 1914, she helped launch the Home Rule League to campaign for democracy in India and dominion status within the Empire. This led to her election as president of the India National Congress in late 1917.  After  the All India Home Rule League, Annie was imprisoned by the authorities. A campaign began to see her released, one of the most prominent of these campaigners was Mahatma Gandhi.   

She wrote many and was concerned about the health of young women workers at the Bryant & May match factory. In 1988, Annie published an article White Slavery in London where she drew attention to the dangers of phosphorus fumes and complained about the low wages paid to the women who worked at Bryant & May.Three women who provided information for Annie's article were sacked.  After strikes, the company was forced to make significant concessions including the re-employment the three victimized women.  

She founded the Central Hindu College at Benares (Varanasi) in 1898. She herself received a degree in Sanskrit literature, English literature and Indian history from this institution. She continued to write letters to British newspapers arguing the case for women's suffrage (i.e. voting rights) and in 1911 was one of the main speakers at an important Suffrage rally in London. President of the Theosophical Society from 1907, she wrote an enormous number of books and pamphlets on theosophy. She travelled to England and the United States with her protégé Jiddu Krishnamurti, whom she announced as the new Messiah.   

Annie Besant died in Adyar in Madras  in 1933 at the age of 86.  After her death, colleagues Jiddu Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley, Guido Ferrando, and Rosalind Rajagopal, built Happy Valley School, now renamed Besant Hill School in her honour. Besant opined that for centuries the leaders of Christian thought spoke of women as a necessary evil, and that the greatest saints of the Church were those who despised women the most.  

With the passage of time, if we are to ask say 100 people who we might meet on Besant Road at Ice House, Triplicane today – possibly a very high % may not know the reason for the name of the street nor of the statue ! – ask Congressmen of this leader of their party, even a smaller % is  not likely to know her !!


So Annie Besant stands at Triplicane, this time garlanded but !! ~ a couple of photos taken today are posted here .. …  

With regards – S. Sampathkumar


1 comment:

  1. Nice திருவல்லிக்கேணிக்கு இதுவும் ஒரு பெருமைதான்.ஆனால் இந்த வரலாற்று செய்திகள் நம்மால் அறிய படாதது...
    Very nice informations...