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The Irish Trainer Who Battled Plague, Famine & British Rule in India


    Margaret Elizabeth Noble, an Irish educationist of Scottish descent, first met Swami Vivekananda in November 1895, whereas the thinker and social reformer was on a go to to London. 

    Sitting within the drawing room of an aristocratic household, Swami Vivekananda was explaining the intricacies of Vedanta philosophy on a chilly winter afternoon. Mesmerised by his teachings, Margaret Noble turned his disciple. 

    He even gave her the title of Nivedita (that means ‘devoted to god’) after she turned a disciple. 

    From Margaret Noble, she modified her title to Bhagini Nivedita, however many would famously know her as ‘Sister Nivedita’. Given her skilled background, she was tasked by Swami Vivekananda to coach Indian girls. He believed that formal training introduced a treatment to all of the social evils plaguing Indian society on the time. 

    In his letter to her, Vivekananda wrote, “Let me let you know frankly that I’m now satisfied that you’ve an awesome future within the work for India. What was wished was not a person however a girl, an actual lioness, to work for the Indians, girls particularly.” 

    What got here within the subsequent decade and a half from Sister Nivedita was the very definition of social service. 

    She wouldn’t solely serve the underprivileged residents of erstwhile Calcutta throughout the bubonic plague of 1898-99 with the utmost dedication, but additionally elements of undivided Bengal by the flood, famine, and at last, the liberty wrestle until her premature loss of life on the age of simply 43.

    Swami Vivekananda's protégé Sister Nivedita helped Calcutta deal with the plague, helped Bengal during the famine and fought during the freedom struggle
    Swami Vivekananda, September 1893, Chicago: On the left Swami Vivekananda wrote in his personal handwriting:
    “One infinite pure and holy – past thought past qualities I bow all the way down to thee.”

    Tackling a lethal plague 

    The bubonic plague reached the ports of Calcutta (present-day Kolkata) on the backs of disease-carrying rodents swarming the buying and selling ships that docked there. 

    Though there have been rumblings of an epidemic within the metropolis by 1896 following an outbreak in areas like Howrah, the colonial authorities performed down the character and severity of it. Moreover an insufficient understanding of the illness, some historians imagine that authorities performed down fears of an epidemic to guard the pursuits of the Imperial authorities and the mercantile class, who feared {that a} lockdown would end in an embargo of commerce and commerce.       

    By Could 1898, nevertheless, the plague had begun ravaging town. 

    At the moment, just a few sannyasis of the Ramakrishna Mission (RKM) banded collectively to assist these by the plague in and round Calcutta. Such main aid operations have been spearheaded by Swami Vivekananda and his religious proteges, together with Bhagini Nivedita. 

    The RKM additionally revealed a ‘Plague Manifesto’, which urged folks to not give into worry, however take motion by taking preventive and precautionary measures to maintain the illness at bay. Additionally they promised the general public to assist anybody in want.  

    As a coordinator, Sister Nivedita not solely organised aid work, however devoted herself completely to the reason for aiding the underprivileged. In spite of everything, she was residing at Bosepara lane, which wasn’t very removed from the shanties of Bagbazar, which suffered dearly throughout the plague.  

    Throughout one night time in these slums, in keeping with Monidipa Bose Dey writing for Stay Historical past India, Sister Nivedita heard a “loud wailing from a close-by hovel”. 

    When she rushed over to see what had occurred, she discovered {that a} youngster in the home had simply died. In accordance with Dey, she put the useless child in her lap and remained silently seated, “a gesture that unusually appeared to present nice consolation to the grieving household”. 

    Suffice to say, the incident moved her deeply.

    Sister Nivedita, the Irish teacher, who saved Calcutta from the plague and Bengal from the famine and fought during the freedom struggle
    Sarada Devi (left) and Sister Nivedita

    ‘All of us stand and fall collectively’ 

    Moreover organising aid efforts, she additionally started making loud appeals for monetary help by among the nation’s main newspapers. It goes with out saying that she even castigated the colonial administration’s insufficient response to tackling the plague state of affairs. Alongside Swami Sadananda of RKM, she started delivering lectures on the plague on the streets of Calcutta and at completely different social gatherings. In these lectures, she emphasised the necessity for cleanliness and the completely different precautions residents may take to keep away from getting contaminated.   

    In these speeches, she additionally impressed many younger Indians to turn into volunteers for the aid effort. 

    Throughout one such speech on the metropolis’s Traditional Theatre on Beadon Avenue titled, ‘The Plague and the Obligation of College students’, she requested, “What number of of you’ll volunteer to come back ahead and assist in the labour of cleaning huts and bustees [spelt Bastis or called slums]? In such issues, all of us stand and fall collectively, and the person who abandons his brother is taken by despair himself. The reason for the poor is the reason for all as we speak — allow us to assert it by sensible motion.” 

    This speech was directed extra in the direction of male college college students who have been in attendance on at the present time. In spite of everything, a number of girls had already proven exemplary braveness by popping out of the protection of their houses to affix the RKM’s drive to wash the plague-infested elements of town. 

    In accordance with Monidipa Dey writing for Stay Historical past India, “The RKM’s aid work underneath Sister Nivedita’s strict supervision was extremely organised. Each day, she distributed handbills that listed precautionary and preventive measures to combat the bubonic plague, to the widespread folks. On one event, whereas distributing handbills, she observed that the streets have been filthy, and with no volunteers that day, she herself cleaned the roads. Seeing her doing the job of a sweeper, the younger males within the locality got here out with brooms and pitched in.” 

    Her aid work even obtained reward from the District Medical Officer in his official report.  “Throughout this calamity the compassionate determine of Sister Nivedita was seen in each slum of the Baghbazar [also spelt Bagbazar] locality. She helped others with cash with out giving a thought to her personal situation. At one time when her personal weight-reduction plan consisted solely of milk and fruits, she gave up milk to fulfill the medical bills of a affected person.”

    What stood out about her aid efforts was her willpower to nurse and supply consolation for sufferers ailing from the illness with no regard for her personal well being. Dr RG Kar, an eminent doctor on the time, paid tribute to her braveness and compassion for victims of the epidemic, and talked about one occasion when she nursed a baby by the plague. 

    “That morning I had been to see a plague-stricken affected person in a slum in Baghbazar. Sister Nivedita had come to investigate concerning the preparations made for the affected person and to take upon herself the duty of nursing him. I advised her that the affected person’s situation was important. Having mentioned together with her the probabilities of hygienic nursing within the slums of the poor folks, I requested her to take precautions,” he recalled. 

    “Once I went to go to the affected person once more within the afternoon I noticed Sister Nivedita sitting with the kid on her lap within the damp and weather-beaten hut in that unhealthy locality. Day in and time out, night time after night time, she remained engaged in nursing the kid within the hut, having deserted her personal home. When the hut was to be disinfected, she took a small ladder and started white-washing the partitions herself. Her nursing by no means slackened even when loss of life was a certainty. After two days, the kid lay in everlasting sleep within the affectionate lap of that merciful girl,” he mentioned.

    Serving the folks

    When Nivedita was tasked by Swami Vivekananda with imparting training to women, she toured England and America to boost cash for a women faculty. 

    After a lot backwards and forwards, on 13 November 1898 throughout the auspicious Kali Puja, she opened a college for ladies at 16 Bosepara Lane within the Bagbazar space of North Calcutta.

    The varsity was inaugurated by Sarada Devi, the religious consort of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, and within the presence of Swami Vivekananda and different disciples of RKM. 

    Sister Nivedita, an Irish nurse, battled plague, famine and took part in the freedom struggle
    A memorial plaque in the home of Bagbazar the place Sister Nivedita began her faculty

    Previous to beginning this faculty, nevertheless, she would go to houses of the underprivileged and educate their daughters regardless of dealing with cases when the male family members would refuse her entry. Amongst her college students weren’t simply younger women, but additionally widows and grownup girls. 

    Except for common programs, she additionally taught them nursing, stitching and primary guidelines of hygiene, amongst different expertise.  

    Her service to the folks of Bengal didn’t finish with the plague or faculty. Throughout an enormous flood in East Bengal in 1906, she organised aid efforts as effectively. In accordance with some accounts, she walked miles “by knee-deep water and dust” to ship aid materials and console folks of their second of grief. Following the flood, the area suffered an enormous famine in July 1906. 

    Regardless of her personal fragile well being, she as soon as once more made her approach to East Bengal for aid work alongside the sannyasins of Belur Math. The Bengal famine had an incredible impression on her, which she wrote extensively about in her e book, Glimpses of Famine and Flood in East Bengal in 1906. Following her return from aid work, she suffered a severe bout of malaria.

    ‘…Sister Nivedita, who gave her all to India’

    Deeply embedding herself within the plight of India’s underprivileged, Sister Nivedita noticed up shut the injustices perpetrated by the British colonial administration. She turned extra engaged with the nonetheless nascent wrestle for independence. 

    Beginning out, she maintained shut ties with most of the area’s revolutionaries, together with these of Anushilan Samiti, a secret organisation that supported revolutionary violence because the means for ending British rule in India. By means of her numerous lectures, she exhorted India’s youth to combat for the reason for Indian independence. A significant turning level on this regard was the Partition of Bengal organised by Lord Curzon, which proved to be a significant catalyst within the freedom wrestle.  

    She not solely supplied logistical and monetary help for activists of the liberty wrestle, but additionally used her contacts within the administration to acquire info and difficulty warnings to these within the crosshairs of the British Raj. 

    She additionally supplied her help to the likes of Subramania Bharati, the Tamil poet and independence activist, Annie Beasent, an ardent supporter of home-rule for India, and was very near Aurobindo Ghosh, a significant determine within the early nationalist motion. She was additionally an editor at Karma Yogin, a nationalist newspaper began by Ghosh. 

    In reality, in an editorial for Karma Yogin, she as soon as wrote, “The entire historical past of the world reveals that the Indian mind is second to none. This have to be proved by the efficiency of a activity past the facility of others, the seizing of the primary place within the mental advance of the world. Is there any inherent weak point that will make it not possible for us to do that? Are the countrymen of Bhaskaracharya and Shankaracharya inferior to the countrymen of Newton and Darwin? We belief not. It’s for us, by the facility of our thought, to interrupt down the iron partitions of opposition that confront us, and to grab and benefit from the mental sovereignty of the world.”

    She handed away on 13 October 1911, aged 43, at Roy Villa in Darjeeling. As we speak, one can witness a memorial for her beneath the Railway station on the way in which to Victoria Falls (of Darjeeling). The phrases inscribed in her epitaph learn — “Right here lies Sister Nivedita, who gave her all to India”.

    (Edited by Divya Sethu)

    (All pictures courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Sister Nivedita)

    Sister Nivedita: Calcutta’s Anger of Mercy’ by Monidipa Dey; Printed on 7 April 2020 courtesy Stay Historical past India
    A ministering angel’ by Kabita Ray; Printed on 2 February 2017 courtesy The Statesman
    The 1899 Calcutta Plague: By means of the Accounts of the Literature on and by Swami Vivekananda and Bhagini Nivedita’ by Sreejit Datta; Printed in 2021, Writing the Pandemonium: Views on Pandemic Literature (Ed. by Dr. Rakhi Vyas)