Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) was an Indian political activist and poet, often referred to as "Bharat Kokila (The Nightingale of India)." Naidu studied at the University of Madras, King's College, London, and Cambridge. While in Britain she became involved in the women's suffrage movement, and she also advocated throughout her life for Indian self-government alongside such other celebrated Indian political leaders as Mohandas Gandhi, Jawahalarl Nehru, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. She was a participant in the Constituent Assembly which drafted the first Constitution of India after independence, and served as the governor of the province of Uttar Pradesh from 1947 until her death in 1949. In the speeches excerpted below, she argued for Indian women's emancipation, unity between Indian Hindus and Muslims, and, in an address to the Constituent Assembly in 1946, tried to assuage the fears of minority group leaders such as Jinnah and B. R. Ambedkar by proclaiming a vision of justice and equality for all Indians, regardless of race, religion, or caste.


Address on the Emancipation of Indian Women (1918)


Narrow-minded people say that the education of women is to be condemned, because it makes them bold! Brothers, have you forgotten the heroic stories and scriptures of your own Motherland? It was the privilege of India to possess women who were bolder and braver than men. Yes, even to-day the need is that we the women of India should be bold and go to Yama Savitri-like and beg of him a new life for Mother India. I say, if you condemn boldness, the lack of dependence, and manliness in women what do your homages to Chand Bibi and Ahalya Bai signify? Read Mahabharata and Ramayana, and read of those brave Indian women who accompanied their husbands in the wars and the wilderness of the jungles.

You demand political rights, you say, you are fit enough to manage things for yourself. Pray do not forget that a lame person can but walk slowly, a one-eyed man sees only one side, and that a carriage with one wheel cannot move properly. By force of habit, you have begun to think that women were made to cook food for the families and that they have no rights. Remember one thing, that is, education makes a person more intelligent than she is. An educated woman can look after her house better than her illiterate sister. In Europe, too, a type of critics similar to that in India today was once met with who cried— "Who would look after children? Who would light the lamps? Will the women be allowed to bring dishonour to us, menfolk?" Where is that type of critics gone? Hundreds of thousands of European men go to the battlefield with this consolation in their hearts that their educated wives will look after the house in their absence. Could Indians have the same consolation? Japan founded universities for women, and benefits from these universities have been reaped by others than the Japanese also. . . .

People of the Punjab! I humbly beseech you to understand your rights and along with that your responsibilities also. If you possess the wealth of knowledge, you have grave obligations towards womankind. Tell me honestly that you are discharging them properly. What reply have you got to give to the questioning humanity, you who possess the treasured heritage of India's past learning and noble traditions. Oh! you cannot obtain true liberty, until you are charged with the spirit of liberty spirit that knows no prejudices, — a spirit that spurns all false and foolish trammels. Break open the cage of bigotry and fly out with a sacred fire in your hearts. Yes, that sacred fire will undo all the fetters that bind you. With that sacred fire of liberty in your hearts, you will march towards the goal apace. Woman will be your guardian angel. She will cheer you up when you are gloomy. She will be your support in desolation. She will be a light when you are in darkness. The liberty of the soul will be India's share only when woman is free. The woman, whom you try to keep in subjugation, will be the cause of your salvation when they are free.


Address on Hindu-Muslim Unity (1917)


Centuries ago, when the first Islamic army came to India, they pitched their caravans on the banks of the sacred Ganges and tempered and cooled their swords in the sacred waters. It was the baptism of the Ganges that gave the first welcome to the Islamic invaders that became the children of India as generations went by. And today, in speaking of
the Hindu-Muslim Unity, we should bear in mind that historic circumstance, that historic culture, that historic evolution for which the Gangetic valley has stood in bringing about the Hindu-Muslim relationship age after age. . . .

It is only because we are ignorant that we are divided and it is the sacred mission of enlightenment to bring not the lesson of quarrel but the lesson of peace [Hear hear]. That is the problem with which we have to deal to-day. For what is the Hindu-Muslim Unity! We hear it spoken of vigorously, we hear it spoken of unceasingly, we hear it spoken of passionately. But we have defined to ourselves its practical issues? What is the meaning, what is the significance of the Hindu-Muslim Unity? There is so much misconception abroad that, if a Muslim shows sympathy towards a Hindu, he becomes a traitor and that if a Hindu shows sympathy towards a Mussalman, he becomes an outcaste. But what is the reason of this mistrust of those who stand as links between the two races ? Nothing save our misreading of the entire purpose of national history. The problem of the Hindu-
Muslim Unity stands like this: there are in India two communities (I will not say two races), two communities that are separated by what they consider the difference of creeds. But when you come to analyze this difference of creed, you begin to find that after all, fundamentally, the teaching that came in the wake of the Muslim conquerors was the same as the teaching that arose in the great hymns in the sacred mountain regions of the Himalayas and on the sacred Ganges five thousand years ago. It means essentially the love of truth, the love of, purity, the service of humanity, the search for wisdom, the great lessons of self-sacrifice, the worship of the same transcendent Spirit, no matter whether in one language it was called Allah and in another Parameshwar. [Applause], After all, what is this antagonism between creed and creed? Antagonism is merely the asset of the ignorant. They are not the weapons of the wise [hear hear] who realize that after all it is only the misunderstanding of the essential truth wherein lies the difficulty in launching across that golden bridge of sympathy that brings together the two great communities whose fundamental teaching is the love of God and the service of men. And then in this great country the Muslims came to make their home not to carry spoils and to go back to their own home but to build permanently here their home and create a new generation for the enrichment of the Motherland. How can they live separate from the people of the soil? Does history say that in the past they have so lived separate? Or rather it says that once having chosen to take up their abode in this land, they became the children of the soil, the very flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. Gentlemen, history has said that the foreign emperors sought not to divide and rule, but to unite the people and so build an imperishable guarantee of their own power and administration. . . .

India is so complex in the problems of her civilization, in her races and her creeds that it is impossible, that it is even very undesirable — nay, psychologically false, — were we to say that we desire a unity that means the merging of the separate races to make one kind of common life for the common weal of the country. What we want is this: that for the
evolution of national life we want the Mussalmans to bring their special characteristics and so we want the Hindus to contribute theirs and considering the chivalry of the past
allow no minority to suffer. We are not limiting ourselves to the contributions of the Hindu-Muslim culture alone, but we want the special contributions which the Zoroastrians and the Christians and other races scattered over this land can bring us. Gentlemen, do not for a moment entertain any idea of exclusion, harbour any thought of isolation of one group from another, of one sect from another. But let each bring its own quota of special contributions as free gifts offered lovingly and generously At the feet of the great Motherland for the swelling of the national Commonwealth. . . .

The way is so simple that when it is put to you in terms of daily life, the glamour, no doubt, becomes less dazzling in your daily action, when you hear it said in the advertisement of lectures on the Hindu-Muslim Unity. That is a magnificent phrase but in daily action, what does it mean? It means the simple fact that you love your neighbour as yourselves, you realize his humanity as common with your experiences and aspirations of life, his failures, his triumph, his hopes and fears, his culture and ignorance which are the common inheritance between you and him [Cheers], There is no difference [hear, hear] because of your common aspirations, your common destiny of humanity.

It becomes a very simple thing to say that all men are neighbours of one another, brothers, blood ties, because they have the same tears and the same laughter. Therefore,
perhaps, they may have the same kind of aspirations; the same quality of men may have the same kind of aspirations; why make difference between the tillers of the soil whether he is a Muslim or a Hindu ? Does he not suffer from drought, from the failure of harvest, from pestilence from locusts? The schoolmaster, whether he be a Hindu or a Mussalman, has he not the same responsibility of creating within his hands (is he not a sharer of a common responsibility, I ask) a bond between brother and brother whether he be a Hindu or a Mussalman ? Then, when floods come, and famines come, and plagues come, do not all of us suffer equally? Why make difference between men? Are there different angels of death for the Hindus and Mussalmans to carry them off? Does not every man feel that he must co-operate with each other, what matters if he be a Hindu or a Mussalman? . . . .

Once more we turn to the sacred river flowing beneath us; what has been the symbolism of that river through the centuries? What has been the symbolism of that river ? What is the symbolism, I say, that age after age has made it sacred not merely in Sanskrit but in Persian verses as well, that flows giving gift to the land, that waters the fields of both the Hindu and Mussalman alike. It has been the inspiration of the Hindu and Mussalman geniuses as well. The sacred water of this sacred river, with the solemn music flowing through city after city has washed away sins after sins of the Hindu people and has given cold waters to the thirsting armies of the Mussalmans. And when the great river arrives where it meets another river, in sacred Prayag, there is the union with mystic music, soul to soul and heart to heart, of the two great rivers, the Ganga and the Jumna — a Sangam of two rivers each without losing its own characteristics and qualities. And yet it is a perfect union. And that should be the symbol of the Hindu and Muslim Unity, each keeping its own culture, its own individual characteristics, its own purity, its own special colour of its own waters, the music of its own deed even at that point of Union.



Address to the Indian Constituent Assembly (1946)

Chairman Rajendra Prasad: I shall now request bulbul-i-Hind, the Nightingale of India, to address the House [laughter and cheers] not in prose but in poetry.

[Mrs. Sarojini Naidu then went up to the rostrum amidst acclamation.]

Mrs. Sarojini Naidu: Mr. Chairman, the manner of your calling me is not constitutional. [Laughter].

Chairman Rajendra Prasad: Order, order. No reflection on the Chair please [continued laughter].

Mrs. Sarojini Naidu: It reminds me of some lines of the Kashmiri poet who said:-

       "Bulbul ko gul mubarak, gul ko chaman mubarak,

          Rangeen tabiaton ko range sukhan mubarak

[Nightingale is happy to be with the flower, the flower is happy to be in the garden, People with colourful personalities are happy with poetry.]”

and today we are steeped in the rainbow coloured tints of speeches in praise of my great leader and comrade Rajendra Prasad. [Cheers] I do not know how even poetic fancy can add yet another tint to the rainbow. So I will be modest, emulating the example of Rajendra Babu himself and confine myself, as a woman should, to purely domestic issues. [Laughter].
. . .

I see gaps in this House and my heart is sore because of the absence of those Muslim brothers to whose coming I am looking forward under the leadership of my old friend Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah. I think if any persuasion were necessary, if any fine wand of magic were necessary to bring them in, it would be the essential sweetness, the essential wisdom, the essential creative faith of 
Dr. Rajendra Prasad. I am hoping and I believe I am right in hoping that my friend Dr. [Bhimrao Ramji] Ambedkar who is so bitter today will soon be one of the most emphatic supporters of this Constituent Assembly in all its purposes and that through him his adherents of many millions will realize that their interests are as safe as the interests of more privileged people.

I hope those that call themselves the original masters of this land, the tribal people will realize that there is no distinction of caste, creed, ancient or modern, status in this Constituent Assembly. I hope the smallest minority in this country will, whether represented politically, or I do not know by what other means they may be represented,--I hope they will realise that they have a jealous, vigilant and loving guardian of their interests who will not permit the more privileged to encroach by, a hair's breadth on their birth-right of equity and equal opportunity in this country. I hope also that the Princes of India, many of whom I count among my personal friends, who are so hurried, so anxious, so uncertain or so afraid today, will realise that the constitution for India is a constitution for the freedom and emancipation of every human being in India, whether Prince or peasant. I want that realisation to be carried home, and in no better manner, in no more convincing manner can it be carried than through the guidance and guardianship of 
Dr. Rajendra Prasad. I have been asked to speak-for how long? But I believe that I must disprove the age old proverb that woman has not only the last but the longest word. I have the last word not because I am a woman but because I am acting today as the hostess of the Indian National Congress which has so gladly invited those who are outside its fold to come and participate with us in framing the constitution, that is to be the, immortal charter of India's freedom.


Sources: Speeches and writings of Sarojini Naidu, Madras, Natesan,1919 (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044024157315&view=1up&seq=1);
https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_assembly_debates/volume/1/1946-12-11