Annie Besant (1847-1933) was a British socialist, theosophist, women’s rights activist, writer, orator, educationist, and philanthropist. Regarded as a champion of human freedom, she was an ardent supporter of both Irish and Indian self-rule. She was kept in house arrest in Ooty during the Home Rule movement.
The call for Home Rule by Dr. Annie Besant in 1916 had mobilized and galvanized the whole country. The British were alarmed and wanted to silence them. An ultimatum was given to Dr. Besant – either leave India or be interned. Dr. Besant chose the latter.
They were given a choice of six centre for interment- Nilgiris, Coimbatore, Bellary, Kodaikanal or Yercaud. They chose Ooty where the Theosophical Society President had a twin bungalow- ‘OIcott Cottage and ‘Gulistan’. They exit now under the name of Stokebridge, owned by the Birlas.
Dr. Besant arrived in Ooty on June 22 by train. No sooner had she settled down she began her Home Rule propaganda unmindful of the British ban order. A branch of the Home Rule League was opened in Ooty. Fiery resolutions were passed in the meetings.
Inspired by the widespread support, Dr. Besant designed a green and red Indian flag and hoisted it at night times in front of her bungalow to be saluted by her supporters.
Her house arrest attracted widespread condemnation and protest in India and abroad. To secure her release, Gandhiji even proposed a Padayatra from Chennai to Ooty but the proposal was dropped due to practical difficulties. Considering her failing health, she was moved to Coimbatore after sometime.
Owing to public resentment and indignation coupled with the situation created by the nation-wide protests and mass upsurge, the government released Dr. Besant and associates on September 17, 1917. Her release was regarded as the first major victory for Indian Nationalism.