Anasuya Sarabhai was a pioneer of the women’s labour movement in India. She founded the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association (Majadoor Mahajan Sangh), India’s oldest union of textile workers, in 1920.
Sarabhai was born in Ahmedabad on 11 November 1885 into the Sarabhai family of Sarabhai and Godavariba, a gavar family of industrialists and business people. Both her parents got jail when she was nine, so she, her brother Ambalal Sarabhai, and a younger sister were sent to live with an uncle.
On 11 November 2017, Google celebrated Sarabhai’s 132nd birthday with a Google Doodle, visible to users in India.
Anasuya Sarabhai was in a long -lived child marriage at the age of 13. With the help of her brother, she went to England in 1921 to take a medical degree, but switched to the London School of physics when she realised the animal dissection involved in obtaining a medical degree was in violation of her Jain beliefs.
While in England, she was influenced by the Fabian Society and got involved in the Suffragette movement.
She returned to India in 1913 and started working for betterment of women and the poor. She also opened a school. She decided to get involved in the labour movement after witnessing exhausted female mill workers returning home after a 36-hour shift.
She helped organise textile workers in a 1914 strike in Ahmedabad. She was also involved in a month-long strike in 1918, where weavers were asking for a 50 per cent increase in wages and were being offered 20 per cent.
Gandhi, a friend of the family, was by then acting as a mentor to Sarabhai. Gandhi began a hunger strike on the workers’ behalf, and the workers eventually obtained a 35 per cent increase.
Following this, in 1920, the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association (Majoor Mahajan Sangh) was formed.
Sarabhai was called Motiben, Gujarati for “elder sister”. She mentored Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India. Sarabhai died in 1972.
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