At the stroke of midnight on 14th of August, in 1947, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, delivered the historic speech titled ‘Tryst with Destiny’. In his speech, he said: “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance…”
The speech resonated with fellow countrymen, for that night marked the end of the British rule in the country after 200 years. It was the beginning of a new era, an independent India. And freedom had not come easily. For decades, men and women of the subcontinent had to go to great lengths to free the land from the British. Thousands of people, irrespective of caste, creed, and race, fought unitedly to free the country from the imperialistic rule. This year–2017–marks an important milestone in the country’s history, as India gears up to celebrate its 71st Independence Day.
On this special occasion, Soulveda salutes the heroes who may not have fought with a gun or a sword, but certainly brought about a revolution in the Indian society, even as the struggle for freedom was on. They were ordinary people who evolved into heroes, when they could no longer bear to live in a society plagued by social evils. They were catalysts of change–social reformers, educationists, thinkers and activists who heralded a new wave in the Indian society.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the reformer
When the British set foot in India, they brought with them their culture and education, which deeply influenced the people of India. With the advent of the British system of education, Indians began to question the ancient social evils–the tradition of sati, child marriage, female infanticide and casteism–that still plagued the society. Hence, the need for social and religious reforms arose. This period in the country’s history came to be known as the era of Indian Renaissance. Social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who spearheaded this social awakening, came to be known as the father of Indian Renaissance. Roy fought relentlessly against the evil social practices. He ended the menace of sati and proved to be the saviour of many widows of the time.
Ghosh firmly believed that a soul, irrespective of the body it resides in, is an entity that needs freedom for evolution.
Savitribai Phule, the educationist
In a time when women were married off as children and confined to the four walls of the house, Savitribai Phule set an example by becoming the first teacher in the country. She was a pioneer in girls’ education and strived for equal rights for women. Though she was married at the young age of nine, Phule was educated by her husband Jyotirao, who was all of 13 then. Savitribai set up the first school for women in Pune when she was barely 17, and then another one for ‘untouchable’ girls when she was 21. Apart from educating girls, Savitribai also championed women’s rights. She was the country’s first feminist. She set up a committee called Mahila Seva Mandal to make women aware of their rights.
Aurobindo Ghosh, the thinker
Aurobindo Ghosh was a leader of a different stature. He was a revolutionary, a poet, and mystic. Though Aurobindo was educated in England, he did not forget his roots. Upon his arrival in India, he learnt Bengali and read the works of Anandmath, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and others. Their works influenced him and he began questioning the meaning of freedom and spirituality. Initially, he had perceived freedom through the lens of a revolutionary. However, later on, he went on to understand and propagate the idea of freedom as a spiritual leader. Ghosh believed in striking a balance between an individual’s freedom and the collective interests of a society. He firmly believed that a soul, irrespective of the body it resides in, is an entity that needs freedom for evolution. It is this new idea of freedom that made Ghosh a great leader.
Sarojini Naidu, the activist
Known as the Nightingale of India, Sarojini Naidu was an accomplished poet and activist who strived to empower women. She was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and Gopal Krishna Gokhale, two stalwarts of the Indian freedom movement, and she often used poetry to influence the masses during the struggle. She travelled across the country, delivering speeches on topics like empowerment of youth, nationalism, and welfare of women. This inspired people, especially women, to take part in the freedom struggle. This way, Naidu managed to create awareness about the movement among women across the country.