Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay: The Leader of Indian Crafts

April 3, 2018 Author: munishmishra04_3od47tgp
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Writer. Social reformer. Freedom fighter. Feminist. Actor. Politician. Proponent of handicrafts. Promoter of performance art. So many powerful roles would seldom be used to talk about one single person. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (1903-1988) was a remarkable woman of many passions and gifts. She played an important role in the struggle for Indian independence and was similarly a key figure in the international socialist feminist movement.



She was India’s ambassador to Asia and Africa, an articulate and unflinching exponent of the idea of decolonization, and one of the earliest advocates of the idea of the global South. A staunch champion of women’s rights, she held views on women’s equality that continue to resonate in our times.

She was India’s ambassador to Asia and Africa, an articulate and unflinching exponent of the idea of decolonization, and one of the earliest advocates of the idea of the global South. A staunch champion of women’s rights, she held views on women’s equality that continue to resonate in our times.

Recognized as the leader of Indian arts and crafts Kamaladevi was the driving force behind several initiatives such as the Crafts Council of India and the Central Cottage Industries Emporium. Born in 1903, Kamaladevi was married off at a very young age. She became involved in India’s freedom movement and worked alongside several prominent freedom fighters for India’s independence.

kamala

Early Life

Born on April 3, 1903 into a Saraswat Brahmin family in Mangalore, Kamaladevi was the fourth and youngest daughter of Ananthaya Dhareshwar (a district collector in South Kanara district of the then-Madras Presidency) and his wife Girijamma.

Kamaladevi’s early childhood was dotted by a succession of tragedies. The first of these were when Kamaladevi’s elder sister, Saguna, whom she was very close to, died in her teens soon after an early marriage. Soon after, at the age of seven, she lost her father. To compound the tragedy, he left no will and the ownership of all his properties were transferred to his son from his first marriage, leaving his second wife and surviving daughter in the lurch.

So Kamaladevi grew up at the home of her maternal uncle who was a notable social reformer. He was often visited by political luminaries and public figures, like Gopalkrishna Gokhale, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Mahadev Govind Ranade, Srinivasa Sastri, Annie Besant and Pandita Ramabai.

Kamaladevi’s interactions with these eminent personalities sowed the seeds of political consciousness in her mind when she was still a young girl. However, it was her educated mother and enterprising grandmother who left the deepest impression on her mind. It was from them that she inherited her independent streak and lifelong love for books.



In 1917, 14-year-old Kamaladevi was married off but her husband died within a year of the marriage, leaving her a widow. However, her father-in-law was liberal-minded and encouraged her to continue to education. She took his advice to heart and for the next few years, she devoted herself to studies.

After finishing her school education in Mangalore, Kamaladevi joined Queen Mary’s College in Madras, where she developed friendship with Suhasini Chattopadhyay.

Suhasini was the younger sister of Sarojini Naidu and it was through her that Kamaladevi met Harindranath ‘Harin’ Chattopadhyay (Suhasini’s elder brother).

in Shimla conference

Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay and Sarojini Naidu at the Shimla Conference in July, 1945

It was Kamaladevi’s impassioned belief in the artistic heritage of India, that India owes the revival of its handicrafts post-independence. With exceptionally varied contributions to different spaces of socio-cultural-political spheres in India from 1920 to the late 80s, she, above all, pioneered a range of feats.

  • She was among the first to break orthodox society rules against widow marriages. (1the 920s)
  • She was the first woman in India to run for a legislative seat. (1926)
  • She founded the All-India Women’s Conference (AIWC) and became its first Organizing Secretary. (1927)
  • She was the first Indian woman to be arrested. (1930)
  • She was among the first women to participate in the Salt Satyagraha.
  • Hers was the first legal divorce granted by the courts of India. (1933)

Awards and Recognition

  • 1955, the Padma Bhushan of the Government of India.
  • 1966, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.
  • 1974, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Ratna Sadasya.
  • 1977, the UNESCO Award for promotion of handicrafts.
  • 1987, the Padma Vibhushan of the Government of India.
  • Charles Eames’ Award for contributing to the Quality of Life in India.




References

[1] “Inspiring Woman of The Day: Kamaladevi Chattopadhay”, available online at: http://www.womensweb.in/articles/inspiring-woman-kamaladevi-chattopadhyay/

[2] Sanchari Pal, “A Freedom Fighter with a Feminist Soul, This Woman’s Contributions to Modern India Are Staggering!” available online at: https://www.thebetterindia.com/94158/kamaladevi-chattopadhyay-feminist-freedom-fighter-cooperatives-faridabad/

[3] Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, “A Passionate Life: Writings by and on Kamladevi Chattopadhyay”, August 15, 2017, available online at: https://www.amazon.com/Passionate-Life-Writings-Kamladevi-Chattopadhyay/dp/9384757837

[4] “Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay – the Torchbearer of Indian Crafts”, March 8, 2018, available online at: https://www.sarangithestore.com/blogs/rustle-of-silk/kamaladevi-chattopadhyay-the-torchbearer-of-indian-crafts

[5] Photo Resource,  https://twitter.com/pib_india/status/763629136753590272?lang=en

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