Yay for Anasuya Sarabhai’s Doodle, But Why a Shoddy Wiki Entry?
1917. Ahmedabad. A city famous for its textile mills and their rich owners. And populated by thousands of languishing, overworked and underpaid workers. One of the mill owners, who is also the president of the mill owners’ union, has a sister and her name is Anasuya Sarabhai. She goes against her own brother, works alongside Mahatma Gandhi and ensures that the mill workers get a much needed increase in their wages.
The book Mahatma Gandhi: The Man and His Message by Donn Byrne gives us more context to this story.
“A dispute had broken out between the millowners – the same ones who had helped to finance his (Gandhi) ashram – and the workers, who were asking for higher wages and better working conditions. In Gandhi’s view, the workers had a very strong case. It was agreed, however, to set up a commission to arbitrate. But then, before the commission could start work, the mill owners backed out,” writes Byrne.
They (mill owners) offered a 20% increase and threatened to sack any worker who refused to accept it. Gandhi felt a minimum of 35% was needed, so he advised the workers to go on strike. Gandhi’s help in directing the strike was Ansuya Sarabhai, the sister of his mysterious benefactor who had come to his rescue when he needed money for the ashram. Her brother was now on the opposite side.Mahatma Gandhi: The Man and His Message, by Donn Byrne
But as the book goes on to add, the workers, who were growing impatient, began to indulge in violence. And that was something Gandhi could not tolerate, so he decided to go on a fast himself. Within three days, the mill owners agreed to a 35% increase in wages.
Anasuya Went Against Her Brother to Fight For Labour Rights
Anasuya Sarabhai was a woman born to privilege. Her own brother, Ambalal Sarabhai, was an influential mill owner. But you know what, she wasn’t afraid to take a stand for the working class. Three years after the strike, she set up the Textile Labour Association, one of India’s biggest trade unions for textile workers in 1920.
Yes, she was a woman and she was badass. Besides their rights, her activism extended to providing sanitation facilities and education to working class families. The labourers placed their faith in her to fight for their cause.
Anasuya Sarabhai – The Feminist
Besides her devotion to the cause of labour rights, Anasuya Sarabhai was also a feminist who, after getting involved in the Suffragette movement while studying in England, did many great things for the betterment of women back home in India.
Through her efforts, the Textile Labour Association got a women’s wing in 1954. Ela Bhatt, who led TLA’s women’s wing and later started the organisation Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) in 1972, considered Sarabhai a mentor. In fact, SEWA itself owes its ideological bearings to the women’s wing of the TLA that was founded by Sarabhai.
With a Shoddy Wikipedia Entry
All great things, right? Now let’s move on to discuss a tiny gripe. Such a fascinating life and such little information on Wikipedia?
Do you think that this tiny bio does justice to this woman’s legacy? I mean, half of the bio talks about her family when she herself has such a fascinating story. Is it because we have conveniently forgotten our real life heroines? Can our shrinking attention spans only remember a woman for her husband, brother or father?
Just to draw a comparison, Mika Singh, the singer, has a pretty up to date bio. Not to say that Mika is not an important guy, but like... some more collective effort to update bios of women like Anasuya?
This is important because Wikipedia is our first source of information these days. And a lot of people have pointed out how female heroes do not have adequate representation on Wikipedia.
So while it’s great that we have a Google doodle to remember Anasuya Sarabhai, it’s time we fight for stronger Wikipedia biographies of women like her.
Because it’s not like we have a lack of women leaders, it’s just that we need to invest more time and effort in their stories.