3d April, 1903 is a date which does not have much importance in the Indian history. But this was the day when a freedom fighter and the driving force behind the existence of the very famous National School of Drama, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Central Cottage Industries Emporium was born. She was the first woman to run for a Legislative seat in India, to file for a divorce, and also the first Indian woman to be arrested. An unknown figure with such high prominence – Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay.
Her life started by her birth in Mangalore as the youngest daughter to a District Collector. She always had a rebellious streak at the time and era when women did not even dare to leave their houses. She got married at the age of 14, but got widowed two years later. Considering those times when a woman couldn’t stand up for herself, she luckily got a lot of support from her father-in-law. She started studying, and as all college romances happen, she also fell in love, and strangely to the brother of Sarojini Naidu, Harin. She got married to Harindranath Chattopadhyay, when she was twenty years old, again starting a new trend against resistance to widow remarriage. So was her love for art that she acted in films, when it was considered unsuitable for women of respectable families to do so.
She again broke the tradition of forcibly living in a relationship, which had no future, by unconventionally filing for a divorce, and amicably separating. Kamaladevi again came up with a different decision when she participated in Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement; this began a woman’s journey in politics. She became the first woman to run for a legislative seat in India, and only lost by a minute margin of 55 votes.
She became a light of hope as she promoted the concept of educational institutes which were run for the woman, and by woman. This has its evidence in the origin of Lady Irwin College of New Delhi.
She always had the guts to give words to her thought and to stand up against opinions supported majorly by dogmatic and orthodox men; during Salt Satyagraha in 1930s she entered Bombay Stock Exchange to sell packets of contraband salt, and was arrested and kept in prison for a year, hence becoming the first woman to be arrested.
After Independence, when all the politicians were looking for positions to sit and rule in, she left positions like that of the ambassador, Union Minister, governor and even Vice- President and was finding places to relocate post-partition refugees in, and it is only by her efforts that Faridabad was established. Her major contributions led to the township and reduction of deaths of people.
The famous National School of Drama, All India Handicrafts Board, Sangeet Natak Akademi and Central Cottage Industries Emporia all have her support in their creation because she, as a woman in India did not want the dance, drama, music and handicrafts of this rich culture to vanish.
This is a story about a woman who stood up against male voices at a time when women did not have the courage to remove their veils. A story about a woman, who became a pioneer in such diverse fields, it is her courage and effort which saved lives of people, which saved the culture of our nation, and which stood up for all those women who were not ready to stand up for themselves.
The Government has honoured her with Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, and Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. She was titled with Ratna Sadsya by Sangeet Natak Akademi, Desikottama by Shantiniketan, the highest awards of both institutes. But, unfortunately this rare woman with such great vision, a powerful and a sensitive mind, who lived all her life for this nation after her death on October 29, 1988, was forgotten by the people of this nation. Former President, R. Venkataraman said on her death, “Hers was, and will always be a palpable presence.”
Google on her birthday this year gave her due respect by creating a doodle, and that is exactly the source from where I got my opportunity to recreate her memories, and to remind everyone about the very first feminist of our nation.
This article was written by Dilisha Nair (1st year)
Image tweeted by @ashokgehlot51