'Work of nation-building must begin from women'
(February 13 marks the birth anniversary of Sarojini Naidu. To mark the occasion here is an address delivered by her on 16th January, 1916.)
Ladies I think it is a real privilege to preside at this meeting. I have great respect and reverence for the founder of this Club. During the last twenty-two years, this Club has done much useful work and has passed through many changes. In the normal life of a human being, we know well what sufferings and changes happen during such a long period and what is true in the case of a human being is true of an institution. Knowing our social conditions and traditions - and we are suffering for centuries - you will know what determination must have been necessary for the founders of this club in its early days. When I was in Poona, my friend Mrs Ramabai Ranade, told me through what trying circumstances the Club passed its early days. The most enduring work of her husband, the late Mr Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, who founded this institution, was to serve the cause of womanhood. Mr Ranade believed that, unless women took their responsible share in political life, India will never realize its goal. This Club has inaugurated a new era in the life of social progress. It cannot be denied that this institution has taken many expressions. Not only are the mental qualities fostered but the artistic too.
Every quality that is elevating to a woman is encouraged and every opportunity is given for its development. I spent three weeks in Bombay and have learnt many lessons of life. Many important movements are taking place daily in Bombay; yet it is a question whether anything solid is done towards progress. Fashions in dress and other matters are set and are newly coming; but the fundamental question of the cause of womanhood has remained. The real test of nationhood is the woman. If the women has taken her proper place in the society, then the central problem is solved. The goal of society depends upon the unit of the woman. In India, this problem can be solved by bringing upon the woman the sense of responsibility and impressing upon her the divinity and the conscientiousness of her power and work of motherhood. The work of nation-building must begin from the woman unit. It should be brought to the mind of an Indian woman that she is not a toy, nor a chattel, nor an instrument of pleasure or amusement, but the inspirer of the spirit. Why are the names of Sita, Savitri, and Damayanti so sacred and commonplace in every household and the cause of inspiration? What were the qualities that made them so great? They had no stupidity, quarrelsomeness, idlenes, timidity, and so on. Damayanti had no terror of death though she was separated from her husband. It was spiritual understanding and intellectual development that made them great. When women lost their self-reverence, degeneration came in. It is said in our Sastras, "Where women are respected, there the Goddesses are pleased." So also it is said by a sage, "One who conquers his spirit is greater than the king who builds a city." So spiritual development is the thing that is required.
No one can be greater than a good woman; sisterhood of woman is a nation-building work; so also cooperation and help to suffering humanity are nation-building works, and these works have been undertaken nobly and humbly by the members of this Club. Now the time has come to recognize the sisterhood of women of all religions and nations. Women are not so different from one another as man is from another man. Women may form a sisterhood more easily because they are bound to every woman in the world by the common divine quality of motherhood. We must remember that one individual may not do great things alone but by unity in this Club we may do service to all. I see before me women of all kinds, Deccan, Gujarat, Christian, and Muhammadan assembled together in this hall indicating the unity of sex, the sisterhood of woman.
(Source: Speeches and writings of Sarojini Naidu: G A Natesan and Company)