H.Maheshwari on Kamaladevi Chhattopadhyay

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KAMALADEVI CHATTOPADHYAYAN INSTITUTION IN HERSELF

by

H. Maheshwari

At the age of sixteen in 1919 a young girl took a formal and personal initiation to involve herself in the Freedom Movement. After attending a Satyagraha Sabha addressed by Gandhi she is said to have hawked copies of his banned book, Hind Swaraj. For a sixteen year old girl to daringly go and sell literature forbidden by the then government is not a small act.[1] She was Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay . From the 1930s till the late 1980s she  was all over India. She laid a path of her own and there were a legion of people who followed her path.

She was determined and fearless as a freedom fighter who stood out in the history of our freedom struggle with her trailblazing personality.

“Kamaladevi in April 1930 was one among a few chosen to defy the Salt Law at Bombay. In the police attack on the people making salt on portable stoves at the Chowpatty sands, Kamaladevi received  a lathi blow on her back. She fell on the blazing coals and received severe burn injuries. But she refused to be escorted by the police to a hospital and preferred continuing to defy the Salt Law.”[2]

She even went inside the premises of a High Court and held up a packet of salt and asked a startled magistrate if he would not buy “the salt of freedom”, and even urged him to resign from his job and join the freedom movement. That was Kamaladevi all over- defiant and daring![3]

She was a fighter who brought back to life the traditional Indian arts and crafts that had weakened at the wake of  colonialism She said there could be no Swaraj without addressing this need for restoration of pride in the cultural dimension of the national life.[4]

She traveled to the nooks and corners of the country , to hunt for craft traditions. She studied their specialities and brought them back to the notice of the urban milieu. She collected a myriad varieties of artifacts to set up museums. She took measures to ensure training was imparted to young boys in the skills to keep the tradition of handicrafts alive. National awards for craftsmen were instituted for the first time in the modern history of the country .[5] Kamaladevi was instrumental in doing so.

Weaver Chandramouli remembers how once a group of weavers came to her wearing China silk shirts. She took one look and told them, “you are silk weavers. Why can’t you wear your own silk? Next time I will eat in your house only if you weare your own cloth !” She was fully, fiercely, firmly and proudly Indian in every fibre of her being ![6]

She engaged herself in a wide spectrum of activities . A true crusader and champion of women’s rights and  a valiant revolutionary  Kamaladevi  Chattopadhyay has touched millions of hearts with her earnest speaking, writing and working.

On one occasion when President Fakruddin Ali Ahmend was giving away the annual awards to eminent artistes, when the organizers were giving the vote of thanks saying “Sir it is a great honour for us and for the artistes that you have come here to give away these awards,” Kamaladevi could not take it and said aloud and impulsively right there in the presence of the President, “ I don’t know who’s honouring whom? It is the artistes who are honouring us by their presence here…” in her hierarchical estimation presidents, prime ministers and politicians came lower down than the gifted artistes-and she did not hesitate to say so, protocol or no protocol ![7]

Widowed at a very young age and after a not so successful second take on marriage with Harindranath Chattopadhyay she threw herself body and soul into the mission dedicated exclusively for the cause of the nation  She was so sure of herself and so complete in herself as a person that externals did not touch her. There was no call for pettiness.[8]

She was a great one for breaking rules if she feels it leads for good. A staunch campaigner she was ,against racial discrimination.

Once while she was passing through Lousiana state, a ticket inspector ordered that she move from that compartment where she was seated and go to the reserved section meant for non-whites. She refused to budge declaring that she had been given that seat when she purchased the ticket and that she had no intention of moving out. With that she returned her attention to the book she was reading. With such unexpected defiance the man left angrily. After sometime he returned to ask where she was from and Kamaladevi could not help rubbing it in to show her outrage at such racist discrimination. She refused to answer him and told him it was unnecessary for him to further disturb her. She must have been around thirty-seven years old at that time and was traveling alone in an alien land ![9]

Like how she was known and received fondly by a colossi of  freedom fighters of those days she was equally well known and given a warm welcome at gatherings of artistes, social workers and craftsmen. In spite of her eminence , the international recognitions she had received  and the access she had to the highest authorities in the country and abroad she remained a simple unassuming person.

With her share of weaknesses and foibles she was extremely flexible, brave, humble, and dynamic .The indelible aspect of this most revered lady is her ever youthful spirit and her hunger to serve as the best to her people. Wish I were born when she was alive!

Dreams and wishes apart, I take this opportunity to record my obeisance to this wonderful human being !!

 ***

Source: Sakuntala Narasimhan , 1999 , Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay- The Romantic Rebel, First Edition, Sterling Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi, India. (This book is an excellent attempt that brings to the forefront the phenomenal work done by a simple human being which is highly inspirational and influential. It is a must read!)


[1] Sakuntala Narasimhan , 1999 , Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay- The Romantic Rebel , Pg No. 33.

[2] Sakuntala Narasimhan , 1999 , Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay- The Romantic Rebel , Pg No. 32.

[3] Sakuntala Narasimhan , 1999 , Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay- The Romantic Rebel , Pg No. 41.

[4] Sakuntala Narasimhan , 1999 , Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay- The Romantic Rebel , Pg No. 78

[5] Sakuntala Narasimhan , 1999 , Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay- The Romantic Rebel , Pg No. 80

[6] Sakuntala Narasimhan , 1999 , Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay- The Romantic Rebel , Pg No. 94

[7] Sakuntala Narasimhan , 1999 , Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay- The Romantic Rebel , Pg No. 157

[8] Sakuntala Narasimhan , 1999 , Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay- The Romantic Rebel , Pg No. 154

[9] Sakuntala Narasimhan , 1999 , Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay- The Romantic Rebel , Pg No. 158,159

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