The Most Famous

SOCIAL ACTIVISTS from India

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This page contains a list of the greatest Indian Social Activists. The pantheon dataset contains 544 Social Activists, 37 of which were born in India. This makes India the birth place of the 3rd most number of Social Activists behind United States and United Kingdom.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Indian Social Activists of all time. This list of famous Indian Social Activists is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Indian Social Activists.

Photo of Mahatma Gandhi

1. Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)

With an HPI of 91.71, Mahatma Gandhi is the most famous Indian Social Activist.  His biography has been translated into 184 different languages on wikipedia.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (; 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India's independence from British rule and in turn to inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. The honorific Mahātmā (Sanskrit: "great-souled", "venerable"), first applied to him in 1914 in South Africa, is now used throughout the world.Born and raised in a Hindu family in coastal Gujarat, Gandhi trained in the law at the Inner Temple, London, and was called to the bar at age 22 in June 1891. After two uncertain years in India, where he was unable to start a successful law practice, he moved to South Africa in 1893 to represent an Indian merchant in a lawsuit. He went on to live in South Africa for 21 years. It was here that Gandhi raised a family and first employed nonviolent resistance in a campaign for civil rights. In 1915, aged 45, he returned to India. He set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women's rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, and above all for achieving swaraj or self-rule.Also in 1921, Gandhi adopted the use of a short dhoti woven with hand-spun yarn as a mark of identification with India's rural poor. He began to live in a self-sufficient residential community and to eat simple food; he undertook long fasts as a means of both introspection and political protest. Bringing anti-colonial nationalism to the common Indians, Gandhi led them in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930 and in calling for the British to quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned many times and for many years in both South Africa and India. Gandhi's vision of an independent India based on religious pluralism was challenged in the early 1940s by a Muslim nationalism which demanded a separate homeland for Muslims within British India. In August 1947, Britain granted independence, but the British Indian Empire was partitioned into two dominions, the Hindu-majority India and the Muslim-majority Pakistan. As many displaced Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs made their way to their new lands, religious violence broke out, especially in the Punjab and Bengal. Abstaining from the official celebration of independence in Delhi, Gandhi visited the affected areas, attempting to alleviate distress. In the months following, he undertook several hunger strikes to stop the religious violence. The last of these, begun on 12 January 1948 when he was 78, also had the indirect goal of pressuring India to pay out some cash assets owed to Pakistan. Some Indians thought Gandhi was too accommodating to Pakistan. Among them was Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist who assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 by firing three bullets into his chest.Gandhi's birthday, 2 October, is commemorated in India as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and worldwide as the International Day of Nonviolence. Gandhi is commonly, though not formally, considered the Father of the Nation in India and was commonly called Bapu (Gujarati: endearment for father, papa).

Photo of Bal Gangadhar Tilak

2. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856 - 1920)

With an HPI of 73.11, Bal Gangadhar Tilak is the 2nd most famous Indian Social Activist.  His biography has been translated into 44 different languages.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak (pronunciation ; born Keshav Gangadhar Tilak; 23 July 1856 – 1 August 1920), endeared as Lokmanya, was an Indian nationalist, teacher, and an independence activist. He was one third of the Lal Bal Pal triumvirate. Tilak was the first leader of the Indian independence movement. The British colonial authorities called him "The father of the Indian unrest." He was also conferred with the title of "Lokmanya", which means "accepted by the people (as their leader)". Mahatma Gandhi called him "The Maker of Modern India".Tilak was one of the first and strongest advocates of Swaraj ("self-rule") and a strong radical in Indian consciousness. He is known for his quote in Marathi: "Swarajya is my birthright and I shall have it!". He formed a close alliance with many Indian National Congress leaders including Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghose, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Photo of Kasturba Gandhi

3. Kasturba Gandhi (1869 - 1944)

With an HPI of 71.36, Kasturba Gandhi is the 3rd most famous Indian Social Activist.  Her biography has been translated into 36 different languages.

Kasturbai Mohandas Gandhi (listen , born Kasturbai Gokuldas Kapadia; 11 April 1869 – 22 February 1944) was an Indian political activist. She married Mohandas Gandhi in 1883, with her husband and son, she was involved in the Indian independence movement in British India. She was, to a great extent, influenced by her husband. National Safe Motherhood Day is observed on April 11 every year. The day also marks the birth anniversary of Kasturba Gandhi. Mohandas affectionately called her 'Ba' and in letters referred to her as 'Mrs. G[andhi]'

Photo of Syed Ahmad Khan

4. Syed Ahmad Khan (1817 - 1898)

With an HPI of 71.23, Syed Ahmad Khan is the 4th most famous Indian Social Activist.  His biography has been translated into 41 different languages.

Syed Ahmad Taqvi bin Syed Muhammad Muttaqi KCSI (Urdu: سید احمد خان‎; 17 October 1817 – 27 March 1898), commonly known as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (also Sayyid Ahmad Khan), was an Islamic pragmatist, Islamic reformer, philosopher, and educationist in nineteenth-century British India. Though initially espousing Hindu-Muslim unity, he became the pioneer of Muslim nationalism in India and is widely credited as the father of the two-nation theory, which formed the basis of the Pakistan movement. Born into a family with strong debts to the Mughal court, Ahmad studied the Quran and Sciences within the court. He was awarded an honorary LLD from the University of Edinburgh in 1889.In 1838, Syed Ahmad entered the service of East India Company and went on to become a judge at a Small Causes Court in 1867, retiring from 1876. During the War of Independence of 1857, he remained loyal to the British Raj and was noted for his actions in saving European lives. After the rebellion, he penned the booklet The Causes of the Indian Mutiny – a daring critique, at the time, of various British policies that he blamed for causing the revolt. Believing that the future of Muslims was threatened by the rigidity of their orthodox outlook, Sir Ahmad began promoting Western–style scientific education by founding modern schools and journals and organising Islamic entrepreneurs. In 1859, Syed established Gulshan School at Muradabad, Victoria School at Ghazipur in 1863, and a scientific society for Muslims in 1864. In 1875, founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, the first Muslim university in Southern Asia. During his career, Syed repeatedly called upon Muslims to loyally serve the British Raj and promoted the adoption of Urdu as the lingua franca of all Indian Muslims. Syed criticized the Indian National Congress.Syed maintains a strong legacy in Pakistan and among Indian Muslims. He strongly influenced other Muslim leaders including Allama Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. His advocacy of Islam's rationalist tradition, and at broader, radical reinterpretation of the Quran to make it compatible with science and modernity, continues to influence the global Islamic reformation. Many universities and public buildings in Pakistan bear Sir Syed's name.Aligarh Muslim University celebrated Sir Syed’s 200th birth centenary with much enthusiasm on 17 October 2017. Former President of India Pranab Mukherjee was the chief guest.

Photo of Gerald Durrell

5. Gerald Durrell (1925 - 1995)

With an HPI of 70.42, Gerald Durrell is the 5th most famous Indian Social Activist.  His biography has been translated into 35 different languages.

Gerald Malcolm Durrell, (7 January 1925 – 30 January 1995) was a British naturalist, writer, zookeeper, conservationist, and television presenter. He founded the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Jersey Zoo on the Channel Island of Jersey in 1959. He wrote approximately forty books, mainly about his life as an animal collector and enthusiast, the most famous being My Family and Other Animals (1956). Those memoirs of his family's years living in Greece were adapted into two television series (My Family and Other Animals, 1987, and The Durrells, 2016–2019) and one television film (My Family and Other Animals, 2005). He was the youngest brother of novelist Lawrence Durrell.

Photo of Lal Bahadur Shastri

6. Lal Bahadur Shastri (1904 - 1966)

With an HPI of 69.04, Lal Bahadur Shastri is the 6th most famous Indian Social Activist.  His biography has been translated into 57 different languages.

Lal Bahadur Shastri (pronounced [lɑːl bəˈhɑːd̪ʊɾ ˈʃɑːst̪ɾi] (listen), 2 October 1904 – 11 January 1966) was an Indian statesman who served as the second Prime Minister of India. He promoted the White Revolution – a national campaign to increase the production and supply of milk – by supporting the Amul milk co-operative of Anand, Gujarat and creating the National Dairy Development Board. Underlining the need to boost India's food production, Shastri also promoted the Green Revolution in India in 1965. This led to an increase in food grain production, especially in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Shastri was born to Sharada Prasad Srivastava and Ramdulari Devi in Mughalsarai on 2 October 1904, sharing his birthday with Mahatma Gandhi, who was born on 2nd October, 1869. He studied in East Central Railway Inter college and Harish Chandra High School, which he left to join the non-cooperation movement. He worked for the betterment of the Harijans at Muzaffarpur and dropped his caste-derived surname of "Srivastava". Shastri's thoughts were influenced by reading about Swami Vivekananda, Gandhi and Annie Besant. Deeply impressed and influenced by Gandhi, he joined the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. He served as the president of Servants of the People Society (Lok Sevak Mandal), founded by Lala Lajpat Rai and held prominent positions in Indian National Congress. Following independence in 1947, he joined the Indian government and became one of Prime Minister Nehru's key cabinet colleagues, first as Railways Minister (1951–56), and then in numerous other prominent positions, including the Home Minister. He led the country during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. His slogan "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan" ("Hail to the soldier; Hail to the farmer") became very popular during the war. The war formally ended with the Tashkent Agreement on 10 January 1966; he died the following day, still in Tashkent, with the cause of his death in dispute; it was reported to be a cardiac arrest, but his family was not satisfied with the proffered reason. He was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna.

Photo of Mangal Pandey

7. Mangal Pandey (1827 - 1857)

With an HPI of 68.16, Mangal Pandey is the 7th most famous Indian Social Activist.  His biography has been translated into 30 different languages.

Mangal Pandey was an Indian soldier who played a key part in the events immediately preceding the outbreak of the Indian rebellion of 1857. He was a sepoy (infantryman) in the 34th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) regiment of the British East India Company. In 1984, the Indian government issued a postage stamp to remember him. His life and actions have also been portrayed in several cinematic productions.

Photo of Gopal Krishna Gokhale

8. Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866 - 1915)

With an HPI of 68.03, Gopal Krishna Gokhale is the 8th most famous Indian Social Activist.  His biography has been translated into 31 different languages.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale (listen [ˈɡoːpaːl ˈkrɪʂɳə ˈɡoːkʰleː] 9 May 1866 – 19 February 1915) was an Indian liberal political leader and a social reformer during the Indian Independence Movement. Gokhale was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and the founder of the Servants of India Society. Through the Society as well as the Congress and other legislative bodies he served in, Gokhale campaigned for Indian self-rule and for social reforms. He was the leader of the moderate faction of the Congress party that advocated reforms by working with existing government institutions.

Photo of Vinoba Bhave

9. Vinoba Bhave (1895 - 1982)

With an HPI of 67.68, Vinoba Bhave is the 9th most famous Indian Social Activist.  His biography has been translated into 33 different languages.

Vinayak Narahari "Vinoba" Bhave (pronunciation ; 11 September 1895 – 15 November 1982) was an Indian advocate of nonviolence and human rights. Often called Acharya (Sanskrit for teacher), he is best known for the Bhoodan Movement. He is considered a National Teacher of India and the spiritual successor of Mahatma Gandhi. He was an eminent philosopher. The Gita has also been translated into Marathi language by him with the name as Geetai means mother Geeta.

Photo of Vandana Shiva

10. Vandana Shiva (1952 - )

With an HPI of 66.22, Vandana Shiva is the 10th most famous Indian Social Activist.  Her biography has been translated into 49 different languages.

Vandana Shiva (born 5 November 1952) is an Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, ecofeminist and anti-globalisation author. Based in Delhi, Shiva has written more than 20 books. She is often referred as "Gandhi of grain" for her activism associated with anti-GMO movement.Shiva is one of the leaders and board members of the International Forum on Globalization (with Jerry Mander, Ralph Nader, and Jeremy Rifkin), and a figure of the anti-globalisation movement. She has argued in favour of many traditional practices, as in her interview in the book Vedic Ecology (by Ranchor Prime). She is a member of the scientific committee of the Fundacion IDEAS, Spain's Socialist Party's think tank. She is also a member of the International Organization for a Participatory Society. She received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, an award established by Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, and regarded as an "Alternative Nobel Prize".

Pantheon has 37 people classified as social activists born between 1778 and 1990. Of these 37, 9 (24.32%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living social activists include Vandana Shiva, Kailash Satyarthi, and Anna Hazare. The most famous deceased social activists include Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Kasturba Gandhi. As of October 2020, 5 new social activists have been added to Pantheon including Dhondo Keshav Karve, Mohammad Ali Jauhar, and Nirmala Deshpande.

Living Social Activists

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Deceased Social Activists

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Newly Added Social Activists (2020)

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Which Social Activists were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Social Activists since 1700.