English Heritage honours Indian independence figure, thanks to Croydon campaigner

Croydon campaigner Sarada Basu at ceremony after unveiling of the Sister Nivedita plaque Pic: Pradipta Das

A heritage plaque marking the London home of a key Indian independence movement figure, Sister Nivedita, was unveiled this month thanks to the tenacity of one Croydon resident.

The English Heritage plaque was unveiled November 12 at 21A High Street, Wimbledon, where the Irish-born education reformist lived with her mother, sister and prominent monk Swami Vivekananda, and celebrates the 150th anniversary of Nivedita’s birth.

English Heritage plaque honours Indian independence figure Sister Nivedita at her family home on Wimbledon High Street Pic: English Heritage

Sarasa Basu, a Croydon resident, led the campaign to honour Nivedita in England with help from the Croydon Bengali Connection, a local group.

Basu, whose grandmother studied at Nivedita’s school in then-Calcutta, said she first wrote to English Heritage two years ago.

“Lots of people discouraged me at first because there was a belief that as a campaigner for Indian independence, Sister Nivedita is not viewed positively in England.

“But I just applied, I didn’t listen to anyone,” she told Eastlondonlines.

Sister Nivedita Pic:Live Mint

Basu said the idea to honour Nivedita in England sparked after she and Nivedita’s descendants installed a statue of her in her birth place of Dungannon,  in Ireland, last year.

Nivedita’s gave their support to Basu’s campaign in 2015. Although met with skepticism at first, Basu’s campaign to honour Nivedita in England has gained support from the Croydon Bengali Connection and the Ramakrishna Mission in the UK and India, with whose founders Nivedita had a close connection.

‘An outspoken critic’

Born Margaret Noble, Nivedita was an outspoken critic of the British Empire and is credited with proposing the design of the Indian flag.

Anna Eavis, English Heritage’s curatorial director,  said: “Although her opinions were unpopular with some at the time, she was fearless in her efforts to promote the cause for Indian independence, believing it would improve the lives of the poor, and of women in particular.”

“Sister Nivedita is widely celebrated in India but less well known in the UK – our blue plaque at her family home is a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman and we hope will make more people aware of her story,” said Eavis.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the first public recognition of Nivedita in London would prove a “popular addition to the iconic London Blue Plaques Scheme.”

The ceremony was attended by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, along with other dignitaries.

Mayor of Merton Agatha Akyigyina receiving a statue of Sister Nivedita from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee Pic: English Heritage

Nivedita, who died of dysentery in 1911, worked mostly in West Bengal, where her school still operates today.

Banerjee said English Heritage’s decision to place a Blue Plaque at Nivedita’s family home is a “unique honour”.

“It is indeed a historic and proud moment for all of us,” Banerjee said.

Banerjee also presented a statue of Nivedita and Vivekananda to the Wimbledon History Museum. They were received by Merton Mayor Agatha Akyigyina.

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