Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, a freedom fighter, art enthusiast, social activist, actor, youth leader, and champion of women’s movement
A key figure in the international socialist feminist movement, became not only an emissary and spokesperson for Indian women and political independence, but for larger transnational causes, such as the emancipation of coloured people around the world from colonial rule and political and economic equity between nations.
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, born on 3 April 1903 into a Saraswat Brahmin family in Mangalore, contributed for the country on diverse fronts; her ideas, from feminism and egalitarian politics to her abiding confidence in Indian handicrafts, continue to remain relevant even today.
Her scanty memoirs on early dates and details inform that she lost her father when she was only seven years old. Her father had not written a will and therefore all family wealth and property went to her stepbrother who was not in contact with the family.
As Kamaladevi and her mother were left disinherited, she wrote in her memoirs on the precariousness of women's lives as "women had no rights" at that time. Kamaladevi, with her mother, shifted to her maternal uncle's place, who was a notable social reformer and visitors to the home included eminent lawyers, political luminaries, and public figures. Kamaladevi's mother and grandmother were educated women and these two ladies left the deepest impression on her. Kamaladevi inherited her love of books from them.
She entered into politics in the 1920s and 1930s like many educated upper-caste Hindu women of her generation. Indian Novelist Raja Rao wrote her memoirs and described her as "perhaps the most august woman on the Indian scene today. Firmly Indian and therefore universal, highly sophisticated both in sensibility and intelligence, she walks with everyone, in city and country with utter simplicity."
By 1923, Kamaladevi enrolled herself in the nationalist struggle as a member of the Congress party. Three years later, she earned the unique distinction of being the first woman in India to run for political office.
Kamaladevi competed for a seat in the Madras Legislative Assembly. Along with the rest of the nation, she was also enthusiastic about Salt Satyagraha, commonly known as Dandi marrch.
However, she differed with Gandhi's decision to exclude women among the initial group of marchers. She was charged with violation of the salt laws and sentenced to a prison term. It was her scuffle over the Congress flag, on which she clung to resolutely brought her to the nation's attention.
In 1926, she met the Irish-Indian suffragette Margaret Cousins, who founded the All India Women's Conference and remained its president until Kamaladevi assumed that role in 1936. Also, in 1936, she took over leadership of the Congress Socialist Party.
Her first writings on the rights of women in India date to 1929 while one of her last books, Indian Women's Battle for Freedom, was published in 1982. Kamaladevi championed the cause of Indian women in her dozens of writings and speeches with a distinct position, one that was mindful of the liabilities faced by Indian women that were both peculiar to them and common to women everywhere.
She was a fierce advocate of modern-day positions that are now commonplace to women's movements all over the world such as equal pay for equal work while she repelled the idea that the women's movements in India were cut-out by the experience of the West.
Kamaladevi, being a key figure in the international socialist feminist movement, became not only an emissary and spokesperson for Indian women and political independence but for larger transnational causes, such as the liberation of coloured people around the world from colonial rule and political and economic equity between nations.
She, being a prolific writer, wrote 20 odd books depicting her wide array of intellectual and political interests, and a global.
Google Doodle is celebrating her 115th birthday. Doodle is designed by Finland-based Desi artist Parvati Pillai depicting Chattopadhyay surrounded by many of the cultural objects and practices she fought to elevate and protect, including the bhangra, the sitar, the sarangi, Karthak dance, Chhau dance, embroidery, basket weaving, and Kathaputli.