Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 16: Manniammai Street

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Where is Maniammai Road?

Maniammai Road is in Palvakkam. It runs parallel to East Coast Road, and in a tiny street, which is perpendicular to Periyar Road.

Who was Maniammai?

Maniammai was Periyar E V Ramasamy’s second wife. Her father was Kanakasabai Mudaliar, a member of the Dravida Kazhagam. Influenced by her father, Maniammai joined the party and became Periyar’s personal assistant. At this time, Periyar was over sixty years old, and Maniammai was in her twenties. She had been a student of the Self-Respect movement since her childhood, and a great admirer of Periyar.

When Periyar was seventy-two, he announced the intention of naming a political heir since his ill-health prevented him from traveling for the movement. In the midst of speculation (C N Annadurai was a popular candidate to lead the party next), Periyar dropped a bomb. In 1949, he announced the Maniammai (not yet his wife) would be his political heir. He said that he planned to make her the trustee of the party funds too. By 1949, she had been his personal assistant for around five years. This announcement created much controversy and shock, both in the party and among others.

At the same time, Periyar and Maniammai had a registered marriage. Many members of the party were repulsed by this marriage, probably due to the age difference. Periyar explained that the sole reason for the marriage was to ensure that Maniammai would be his legal heir, and no more. The party was divided over this issue; some people supported Periyar’s decision and others opposed it. There was even a petition in the party, signed by many prominent leaders, asking Periyar not to go ahead with the marriage. He refused. A DK Committee even passed a resolution to this effect, but by the time the resolution was passed, the marriage had already taken place.

As a result of this marriage, C N Annadurai broke away from the DK along with a group of party workers, and formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

Maniammai was, essentially, Periyar’s caretaker. She ensured that he followed a strict diet (difficult, as Periyar was very fond of food!), and that he took his medicines on time. She accompanied him on all his tours. Maniammai usually stayed in the background of the movement, and was habitually seen selling pamphlets and books outside the venue where Periyar was addressing a meeting.

When Periyar passed away in 1973, Maniammai announced that she was determined to carry on the activities of the Dravida Kazhagam. In 1974, during the general body meeting of the DK, she was unanimously nominated as the leader of the party. Also in 1974, she spearheaded a campaign to set fire to effigies of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita; and a mockery of the Ramlila celebrations where effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Indrajit were burned. She was imprisoned for her share in this protest.

She also donated Periyar’s ancestral home in Erode to the nation.

Maniammai passed away in 16th March, 1978. She was succeeded by K Veeramani.

Sources:

Gopalakrishnan, M.D., Periyar: Father of the Tamil Races. Emerald Publishers (Madras, 1991)

Rathnagiri, R., Periyar E V Ramasamy: The Revolutionary. Periyar Iyyakkam Publications (Thanjavur, 2003)

Nalankilli, T. (December 2005). Periyar Drops a Bombshell. In Tamil Tribune. Retrieved 22 August, 2012, from http://www.tamiltribune.com/05/1201.html

Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 11: Ambujam Ammal Road

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Where is Ambujam Ammal Road?

Ambujam Ammal Road is a small street which leads off Seshadri road in Alwarpet, connecting it with C P Ramaswamy Road.

Who was Ambujammal?

(This was the only photo we could find.  Even prominent women become invisible!)

S. Ambujammal, as Ambujam Ammal was better known, was born on January 8th, 1899, to Ranganayakiammal and S Srinivasa Iyengar, a prominent Madras lawyer and Congress leader. Ambujammal was born in an orthodox family and was home-schooled. She had an Anglo-Indian governess. She became a proficient linguist and veena player.

Ambujammal married S Desikachari in 1910. He was an advocate from Kumbakonam.

Early on in her life, she was fascinated by Gandhiji’s ideas, especially his constructive socio-economic program. This interest was fanned by her contact with Sister Subbalakshmi, Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy, and Margaret Cousins.

Ambujammal qualified as a teacher and taught at Sarada Vidyalaya girls school part time. She was a committee member of Sarada Ladies’ Union from 1929 to 1936. She worked very closely with Sister Subbalakshmi. In 1929, she was nominated Treasurer of the Women’s Swadeshi League, Madras. This League was a non-political wing of the Congress, implementing Gandhi’s social and economic programs.

She joined a number of women who donated their jewelry to support the national movement – on Gandhiji’s request. She was a strong proponent of Swadeshi, and embraced Khadi.

Her entry into political life was in 1930, during the civil disobedience movement. She joined the Salt Satyagraha, and courted arrest. In 1932, she was hailed as the “Third Dictator” of the Congress, and led the Satyagrahis to boycott foreign cloth. She was arrested and sentenced to six months of imprisonment.

A thorough Congresswoman, she was part of the Managing Committee of the Hindi Prachar Sabha from 1934 to 1938. She did a lot of propaganda work for Hindi. As part of her activities with the Hindi Prachar Sabha, she attended the All-India Congress Session in Bombay in 1934. She stayed at Wardha Ashram with Gandhi from November 1934 till January 1935.

As part of the role as Secretary of the Mylapore Ladies Club (a post she held from 1936), she conducted Hindi classes.

She was a significant part of the Women’s India Association (WIA), taking the post of Secretary from 1939 to 1942 and that of Treasurer from 1939 to 1947. With the WIA, the issues she worked of were: Abolition of Child Marriage, Polygamy, and the Devadasi system; and bringing about legislation to protect the rights of women and their property rights. On behalf of the WIA, she was nominated to the Madras Corporation. In 1947, during the All-India Women’s Conference in Madras, she was nominated as the Chairperson of the reception committee.

A dedicated social worker, she was the President and Treasurer of the Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam from 1948, an institute she founded. It provided free coaching to poor girls, had a free dispensary, and also provided training and employment to women in its printing press.

An associate of Vinoba Bhave, Ambujammal toured Tamil Nadu with him to publicise the Bhoodan movement in 1956. Ambujammal was not in favour of too much industrialization; she believed in the Village Self-Sufficiency model – as advocated by Bhave.

She was the Vice-President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee was 1957 to 1962, and the Chairman of the State Social Welfare Board from 1957 to 1964.

Ambujammal was a notable scholar in Hindi and Tamil. She has written three books about Gandhi in Tamil.

Sources:

Ed. Singh, N.K., Encyclopaedia of the Indian Biography Volune 1, A P H Publishing Corp. (2000, New Delhi).

Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 10: St Mary’s Road

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Where is St. Mary’s Road?

St Mary’s road connects Ramakrishna Mutt Road with TTK Road. Important landmarks on this road are Park Sheraton Hotel, Rain Tree hotel, St Mary’s Church, and the Mandevalli Post Office.

Who was St Mary?

Mary was the mother of Jesus. She is also referred to as Saint Mary, Mother Mary and the Virgin Mary (this last refers to her immaculate conception).

There are a number of hypotheses about her birthplace; with some scholars asserting that she was born in Jerusalem to Joachim and Ann; and others opining that she was born in Nazerath. An ancient record indicates that she was born in Sepphoris, a few miles from Nazareth. It is likely that she grew up in the orthodox Jewish settlement of Nazareth, close to the trade routes to Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The Bible tells us that young Mary had a vision of the angel Gabriel, in which he announced that she would be the mother to a Messiah. Soon after this, she went to visit her cousin Elisabeth, and Elisabeth’s husband, Zacharias, in Maon. It is said that as soon as Mary entered Elisabeth’s house, Elisabeth saluted her as the bearer the promised saviour.

Once Joseph came to know of her condition (supernaturally, of course!), he married her. Sources suggest she was approximately 12-13 years old at this time. A short time after, the decree of Augustus (which ordered a census of Rome) forced them to proceed towards Bethlehem. The well-known story tells us that Joseph and Mary found no room to stay in the Inn on Bethlehem, and had to shelter with the cattle. It was here that Jesus was born.

Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth with their child. They remained there for thirty years; during which not much is written about Mary. We hear about Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem when he was twelve years old; but nothing is said about his parents. Not much notice is taken of Mary until the miracle of Cana: where she is noted as being present when Jesus turns water into wine – at Mary’s suggestion.

Mary also had four other sons, and unnamed daughters.

At the crucifixition of Jesus, she is mentioned among the other women mourners, including Mary Magdalene and Mary of Clopas. A popular depiction of Mary and Jesus after he is removed from the cross is immortalized in Michaelangelo’s Pieta.

Opinions differ of when she died, but most religious scholars of the Catholic persuasion agree that she was taken bodily to Heaven; in fact an empty tomb is worshipped as that of Mary’s.

Mary is an important figure in the largely patriarchal cannon of Christianity. She is the only female figure that continues to be a prominent figure in the heart of event.

Sources:

Easton, M.G. (). Mary, the Mother of Jesus. In ChristianAnswers.net. Retrieved May 9, 2012, from http://christiananswers.net/dictionary/mary-motherofjesus.html.

Bond, H., Goodacre, M., Ilan, T., Maunder, C., Peskowitz, M., Charlesworth, J. (August 2, 2011). BBC: Religions: Christianity: Mary. In BBC. Retrieved May 9, 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/virginmary_1.shtml.

Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 9: Annai Nagammai Street

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Where is Annai Nagammai Street?

 Annai Nagammai street is a small street, which leads off from Ramakrishna Mutt Road (to the left), just before the Mandevalli signal.

Who was Nagammai?

Nagammai, or as she was addressed, Annai Nagammai, was E V Ramasamy Naicker’s wife – better known as Periyar.

As a young man, Periyar was vocal in his denunciation of religion, God and ritual. Periyar’s father felt that his constant critique of the sacred texts stemmed from an inner wildness of character, which could be steadied by marriage. Ramasamy was 19, Nagammai was 13. Their families had known each other for years, in fact, she was his maternal uncle’s daughter. She was due to marry an elderly wealthy man since her family was poor. However, Ramasamy insisted on marrying her against his family’s wishes; since there was an attachment between them.

Two years after they married, they had a daughter who passed away as an infant. They had no more children.

When Ramasamy became ‘Periyar’, a public man, Nagammai participated fully in his political activities. However, she was reluctant at first about following atheism and anti-Brahminism. In spite of his later professions that women should be independent in thought and action; during the early years of their marriage, Periyar did persuade or compel Nagammai to embrace his ideology. Once she accepted his philosophy of rationalism and anti-Brahminism, she was very active in all his agitations.

When Periyar was part of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi called upon the party workers to enforce a Prohibition in India. Nagammai was particularly active during this movement. She led groups of women in the picketing of liquor shops in Erode (their hometown) in 1921, along with her sister-in-law Kannamma. They ensured that even if they were arrested (since picketing was prohibited by the British), there would be other batches of women ready to continue the agitation.

It is a testament to Nagammai’s commitment to the cause that the situation in Erode became so tense that Sir Sankaran Nair (a member of the Madras Legislative Council) was sent from Delhi to request Gandhi to call of the picketing in Erode. Gandhi responded by saying that it was out of his hands; and the only people who could decide whether to stop the picketing of toddy shops were Nagammai and Kannamma.

Nagammai was also at the forefront of the Vaikom Satyagraha, launched by Periyar with the aim of ensuring that lower-caste communities gained the right to enter temples. When Periyar was imprisoned for refusing to leave the state, Nagammai toured Travancore state with women volunteers and spoke for the cause, addressing several meetings.

Nagammai passed away on 11th May 1933. In a true rationalist fashion, Periyar refused to mourn her death. He opined that in this way, she would be spared any worry from his future agitations, the results of which might trouble her. On the contrary, he felt he had been released from this domestic bondage. He even went to Thirupur to address a meeting when she was on her deathbed; and left for another rally in Trichy the day after she passed away.

Sources:

Gopalakrishnan, M.D., Periyar: Father of the Tamil Race. Emerald Publications (Michigan, 1991).

Diehl, A. Periyar E.V. Ramaswami: a study of the influence of a personality in contemporary South India. B I Publications (Michgan, 1978).

Arulmozhi, A. (January 25, 2012). Relevance of Periyar Feminism. In The Modern Rationalist . Retrieved May 9, 2012, from http://new.modernrationalist.com/2012/01/relevance-of-periyar-feminism-a-arulmozhi/.

Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 8: Janaki Avenue

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Where is Janaki Avenue?

Janaki Avenue is one of the roads which lead off from Santhome High Road. It is also known as MRC Nagar Main Road. An important landmark on this road is the Sun TV office.

Who was Janaki?

Janaki Ramachandran was born in Vaikom (in Kerela) on November 30th, 1923. Her parents were Rajagopal Iyer and Narayani Amma. She had one brother, Narayanan, who later went on to become an educationist. A prolific actress, she acted in over 25 movies; many of which starred M G Ramachandran also. She went on to marry MGR; and become politically active within the fold of the ADMK (Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam); a breakaway party from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

When the popular and charismatic Chief Minister MGR passed away in 1987, there was a succession crisis within the ranks of the party. Eventually, Janaki took the reins of leadership; and was sworn in as the first woman Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in January 1988. However, the government was dissolved in just 24 days (the shortest tenure in Tamil Nadu). In spite of the fact that her ministry won a vote of confidence in January 1988, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi used article 356 to dismiss her government. The party lost the 1989 elections to the DMK, and in the absence of MGR, infighting broke out. There was a split in the party, with a faction breaking away under the leadership if J Jayalalitha. However, they re-united after only a few months under the leadership of Jayalalitha.

Janaki then stepped down from active politics, and continued with her charitable work. A notable philanthropist, she gifted a considerable amount of property to set up various educational institutions. She set up the Janaki Ramachandran Educational and Charitable Trust, and administered it for many years. She also founded the Satya Educational and Charitable Society, which maintains many free schools in Tamil Nadu.

Janaki passed away in 1996. She willed her property on Avvai Shanmugam Salai (Lloyd’s Road) to the AIADMK (the name given to the reunited factions under Jayalalitha), and it is currently their party headquarters.

(n.d.). Janaki Ramachandran . In MGR Memorial Charitable Trust. Retrieved May 11, 2012, from http://www.mgrhome.org/janaki.html.

(2010). Biography of M G Ramachandran . In Win Entrance. Retrieved May 11, 2012, from http://www.winentrance.com/general_knowledge/mg-ramachandran.html.

Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 7: Blavatksy Avenue

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Where is Blavatsky Avenue?

Blavatsky Avenue is in the Theosophical Society, it is the road which leads from Durgabai Deshmukh road to the famous Banyan Tree. There is a memorial arch to her and Colonel Olcott on this Avenue (both we founders of the Theosophical Society).

Who was Helena Blavatsky?

 

“There is no religion higher than truth.” (Motto of the Theosophical Society)

Helena Petrovna von Hahn was born at Ekaterinoslav, in Southern Russia, on the 12th of August, 1831.  She was an eager learner, interested in linguistics. She had a keen artistic eye, and was also an accomplished pianist.

She was seventeen when she married Nikifor V Blavatsky, Vice-Governor of the Province of Yerivan. However, the marriage soon broke down and she left him to travel. She visited Turkey, Egypt and Greece.

On her twentieth birthday, being then in London, she met the Mahatma Morya. She came under his guidance, and he suggested the nature of the work she could do in the future.

In1874, Madame Blavatsky met Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, who had acquired considerable renown during the Civil War, had served the U.S. Government with distinction, and was at the time practicing law. She also met William Quan Judge, a young Irish Lawyer, who was to play a unique role in the future Theosophical work.

On September 7, 1875, Blavatsky, Olcott and Judge, together with several others, founded The Theosophical Society, as “promulgating the ancient teachings of Theosophy, or the Wisdom concerning the Divine which had been the spiritual basis of other great movements of the past, such as Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, and the Mystery-Schools of the Classical world” (de Zirkoff, 1968)

Though they began with the vague aim of “collecting and diffusing a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe” (de Zirkoff, 1968); their goals soon took a more specific form:

1.  to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.

2.  to encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.

3.  to investigate unexplained laws of Nature, and the powers latent in man.

(de Zirkoff, 1968)

In 1882, a large estate was bought in Adyar, in Madras, and the Theosophical Headquarters were moved there. The Headquarters soon became a centre for world-wide activity in the movement. Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott travelled to many districts, founded branches, spoke to visitors, engaged in reams of correspondence with interested people, and brought out a Journal of scholarly writing to rekindle India’s interest in her own spiritual heritage.

de Zirkoff, B. (Summer 1968). Who is Helena  Petrovna Blavatsky?: A Sketch of her Life and Work for Theosophy. In Blavatsky Archives. Retrieved May 11, 2012, from http://blavatskyarchives.com/longseal.htm.

Madras Week 2012: The Road Project: Day 5: Muthulakshmi Salai

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Where is Muthulakshmi Reddy Road?

Muthulakshmi Reddy Road is also known as Lattice Bridge Road, and as Kalki Krishnamurthy Road. It is an arterial road, starting from Adyar Signal, curving through Indira Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur, and finally connecting up with Rajiv Gandhi Salai (or OMR) after the Thiruvanmiyur post office. Landmarks on this road include IMPCOPS (Indian Medical Practitioners Co-operative Pharmacy and Stores), Kurasani Peer Masjid and the BSNL Office.

Who was Muthulakshmi Reddy?

Muthulakshmi Reddy was born in Pudukkottai to Narayanaswami Iyer and Chandramma – who happened to be a devadasi. Their marriage created a sensation at the time.

Muthulakshmi went to a school in Pudukottai till the age of 13; later she studied at home tutored by teachers. She passed her matriculation in the year 1902. She started dreaming about becoming a graduate. Bur her father could not afford to send her out of Pudukottai and the only college in Pudukottai was for men only. The Maharaja of Pudukottai himself interceded on her behalf, and passed an order allowing her to join the Men’s College- the first ever girl to do so.

Muthulakshmi refused to marry but wanted to continue further studies. It was suggested to her father that medicine would be a suitable course for her to take up. Despite opposition from her mother, she was brought to Madras by her father in the year 1907 for admission into Madras Medical College.  As there was no hostel those days, Mr. PS Krishnaswami Iyer helped her to get a house next to his, and he and his wife took care of the young Muthulakshmi.

In college she was brilliant, stood first in the University and got the MB & Ch. M degree. In April 1914, she married Dr T Sundara Reddy, the first Indian to get FRCS. While in Chennai, she came into contact with freedom fighters Sarojini Naidu and Annie Besant.

Dr Reddy had several firsts to her credit: she was the one of the first woman doctors of the country (1912), the first woman member of the Madras Legislative Council, the first woman to be elected as its Deputy Chairperson, the first president of the Women’s India Association, and the first woman to be elected as alderman of the Madras Corporation.

Muthulakshmi Reddy was concerned about the plight of women and deeply interested in liberating them. She fought for their upliftment in several fields. When one of her cousins died of cancer, she took an interest in cancer studies and pursued it at the Royal Cancer Hospital in the United Kingdom. She was instrumental in starting the Cancer Institute in Adyar, Chennai, and founded the Avvai Home for the benefit of destitute women.

At the top of these achievements, she is known for her political activism in respect of social issues. First she rose in revolt against child marriage and the devadasi system. (Under this system, parents “married” off a daughter to a deity or a temple before she attained puberty. These girls became dancers and musicians and performed at temple festivals).

In 1930, Muthulakshmi Reddy introduced in the Madras Legislative Council a Bill on the “prevention of the dedication of women to Hindu temples in the Presidency of Madras”. The Bill, which later became the Devadasi Abolition Act, declared the “pottukattu ceremony” in the precincts of Hindu temples or any other place of worship unlawful, gave legal sanction to devadasis to contract marriage, and prescribed a minimum punishment of five years’ imprisonment for those found guilty of aiding and abetting the devadasi system.

Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy passed away in 1968.

Sources: 

Vishwanathan, S. . (June 6, 2008). The Pioneers: Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy. In Frontline. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2511/stories/20080606251101400.htm.

Narayana, S.A. (November 5, 2007). Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy. In My Musings. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from http://rajappa-musings.blogspot.in/2007/11/dr-muthulakshmi-reddy.html.

Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 4: Kasturba Nagar

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Where is Kasturibai Nagar?

Kasturibai Nagar is immediately North of Indira Nagar, and to the West of Adyar. It is separated from Gandhi Nagar by Sardar Patel Road, which runs immediately North of Kasturibai Nagar.

Who was Kasturba Gandhi?

 

Kasturba Gandhi, affectionately called Ba, was the wife of Mohandas Gandhi. She was born in Porbandar. When she married Gandhi (at age 13), she was illiterate, and so Gandhi taught her to read and write – an unusual and radical step, considering the low status of women in Indian society at that time. When Gandhi left to study in London in 1888, she remained in India to raise their newborn son Harilal. She had three more sons – Manilal (1892), Ramdas (1897), and Devdas (1900). In 1906, Mohandas Gandhi decided to practice brahmacharya, and the couple became celibate. Though Kasturba supported her husbands activities, she sometimes had to be persuaded to see his point of view. Kasturba was deeply religious. Like her husband, she renounced all caste distinctions and lived in ashrams. Kasturba often joined her husband in political protests.

Her public life began after she joined her husband in South Africa in 1897. From 1904-14, she was part of the ‘Phoenix Settlement’ and began to “mother” all the residents, who began addressing her as “Kasturba”. She continued to be viewed as a motherly figure in various other ashrams in India. During the 1913 protest against working conditions for Indians in South Africa, Kasturba was arrested and sentenced to three months in a hard labour prison.

Later, in India, she sometimes took her husband’s place when he was under arrest. In 1915, when Gandhi returned to India to support indigo planters, Kasturba accompanied him. She taught hygiene, discipline, reading and writing to women and children. Kasturba suffered from chronic bronchitis. Stress from the Quit India Movement’s arrests and ashram life caused her to fall ill. After contracting pneumonia, she died from a severe heart attack on February 22, 1944.

Gandhi mourned – “I can’t imagine a life without Ba. She went away to freedom, imprinting on the heart to work or to die.”

Gandhi, who is generally accepted as the epitome of ahimsa and satyagraha, was heard to confess that Kasturba was really the one who taught him the practice of Satyagraha. She adhered to the principles of sacrifice, silence and dedication to the cause. Gandhi said in his autobiography that she had helped him work through all the major changes in his life.

Sources:

(n.d.).  Kasturba Gandhi. In WhereInCity. Retrieved May 7, 2012, from http://www.whereincity.com/india/great-indians/women/kasturba-gandhi.php.

(n.d.).  Kasturba Gandhi. In RRTD. Retrieved May 7, 2012, from http://www.rrtd.nic.in/kasturbagandhi.html.

(2010). Kasturba Gandhi, Freedom Fighter, Biography. In IndiaVideo. Retrieved May 7, 2012, from http://www.indiavideo.org/text/kasturba-gandhi-1209.php.

Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 3: Indira Nagar

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Where is Indira Nagar?

Indira Nagar is the area flanked by Thiruvanmiyur in the South, Besant Nagar in the East, and Kasturba Nagar in the North.

Who was Indira Gandhi?

Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) was the only child of Kamla and Jawaharlal Nehru. She spent part of her childhood in Allahabad, and part in Switzerland.

In 1964, the year of her father’s death, Indira Gandhi was for the first time elected to Parliament, as Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the government of Lal Bahadur Shastri. Indira Gandhi’s political ability and commitment ensured a meteoric rise within the ranks of the Congress. She held the office of the Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977. Many factors contributed to her popularity: the feeling of national triumph after victory in the 1971 war with Pakistan; the Pokhran tests of 1974, which helped prove India’s nuclear power – these factors captured the interest and support of the middle-class. However, by 1973, demonstrations and protests broke out in Delhi and other areas in North India, fueled by anger at inflation, the poor economic state of the country, corruption, and poor standards of living. In June 1975, the High Court of Allahabad found her guilty of using illegal practices during the last election campaign, and ordered her to vacate her seat. There were demands for her resignation.

Mrs. Gandhi’s response was to declare a state of emergency, under which dissidents  were imprisoned, constitutional rights abrogated, and the press placed under strict censorship. In early 1977, feeling sure of victory, Mrs. Gandhi called for fresh elections, but the Congress was defeated by a newly formed coalition of several political parties. However, she returned as Prime Minister three years later.

In the second, post-Emergency, period of Gandhi’s Prime Ministership, the burning issue was political problems in Punjab. In her attempt to crush the secessionist movement of Sikh militants, led by Jarnail Singh Bindranwale, she ordered an assault upon the Sikh shrine in Amritsar, called the “Golden Temple”. The controversial “Operation Bluestar”, launched in June 1984, led to the death of Bindranwale, and the Golden Temple was stripped clean of Sikh terrorists; however, the temple was damaged. Sikhs viewed this as a desecration of the Temple, and in November of the same year, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated at her residence by her own Sikh bodyguards, who claimed to be avenging the insult upon the Sikh nation.

Gandhi also launched the “Garibi Hatao” (Remove Poverty) campaign.

Today her stint as Prime Minister is viewed as having done irreversible harm to democracy in India. It was during her term that corruption and nepotism flourished; probably encouraged by her streak of authoritarianism – she did not tolerate challenges to her authority. However, it is acknowledged that she was undeniably skilled in the game of politics.

Source:

Lal, V. (n.d.). History and Politics: Indira Gandhi . In Manas. Retrieved May 7, 2012, from http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/History/Independent/Indira.html.

Madras Week 3: The Roads Project: Day 2: Besant Avenue

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Where is Besant Avenue?

Besant Avenue is the stretch from Aavin circle to Rajaji Bhavan in Besant Nagar. Important landmarks on this road are the Theosophical Society, The School – KFI, Olcott Memorial School and Rajaji Bhavan. Besant Nagar is also named after Annie Besant, as is Dr Besant Road near Vivekananda House on Marina Beach.

Who was Annie Besant?

Annie Woods was born in London on 1 October 1847. Reports indicate that her childhood was rather unhappy, especially after her father’s death when she was only five.

In 1867, Annie married Frank Besant, a clergyman, and they had two children. However, Annie’s disenchantment with religion  led to a legal separation in 1873. Besant became a member of the National Secular Society, which preached ‘free thought’, and also of the Fabian Society, the noted socialist organisation.

Besant supported a number of workers’ demonstrations for better working conditions. In 1888 she helped organise a strike of the female workers at the Bryant and May match factory in east London. The women complained of starvation wages and the terrible effects on their health of phosphorus fumes in the factory. The strike eventually led to the management significantly improving their working situation.

In the 1890s Annie Besant became a supporter of Theosophy, a religious movement founded by Helena Blavatsky in 1875. Theosophy was based on Hindu ideas of karma and reincarnation with nirvana as the eventual aim. Besant went to live in India but she remained interested in the subject of women’s rights. She continued to write letters to British newspapers arguing the case for women’s suffrage and in 1911 was one of the main speakers at an important NUWSS rally in London. In India, she was a founder-member of the Women’s India Association (WIA), the first feminist organization in India.

As a member and later leader of the Theosophical Society, Besant helped to spread Theosophical beliefs around the world.  She was an outstanding orator of her time, a champion of human freedom, educationist, philanthropist, and author with more than three hundred books and pamphlets to her credit.

Besant first visited India in 1893 and later settled there, becoming involved in the Indian nationalist movement. In 1916 she established the Indian Home Rule League, of which she became president. She was also a leading member of the Indian National Congress.

In the late 1920s, Besant travelled to the United States with her protégé and adopted son Jiddu Krishnamurti.

Annie Besant died in India on 20th September 1933.

Sources:

(n.d.). BBC : History : Annie Besant . In BBC. Retrieved May 5, 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/besant_annie.shtml.

(2010).  Annie Besant (1847-1933). In The Theosophical Society. Retrieved May 5, 2012, from http://www.ts-adyar.org/content/annie-besant-1847-1933#Sources.

(n.d.).  Annie Besant : Biography . In Spartacus Educational . Retrieved May 5, 2012, from http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wbesant.htm#source.