Role of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay in Freedom Struggle and Independent India

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (1903-1988) was a freedom fighter, social reformer and was driving force behind renaissance of Indian handicrafts, handlooms and theatre in post-independence India. She was born in Mangalore in 1903 in an orthodox aristocratic family. She was married off at 14 years but widowed two years later. When she was 20, she married to Harindranath much against the family. In early 1930s, she acted in a Kannada movie Mrichhakatika {based on Sudraka’s play of same name} and in a Hindi movie Tansen. In 1940s she acted in Shankar Parvati (1943) and Dhanna Bhagat (1945).

Role in Freedom Struggle

In early 1920s, when she was in London with her Husband, she came to know about the Non-cooperation Movement and returned back to join the Seva Dal.

Seva Dal

Seva Dal was established as Hindustani Seva Mandal within the Indian National Congress in 1924 due to efforts of N S Hardikar. Its first president was Jawahar Lal Nehru while founding president of its women’s wing was Umabai Kundapur. Kamaladevi was closely associated with this organization and served as in charge of its women’s wing.

In Seva Dal, she was in charge of the women’s wing and recruited, trained and organized the Sevikas.  In 1926, she met Margaret E. Cousins, the founder of All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) and with her inspiration; she contested elections for Madras Provincial Legislative Assembly, thus becoming the first woman to contest election for a legislative seat, although she lost this election.

In 1926, she represented the Indian women delegation to the Women International Conference at Berlin and hoisted the nag there. As a result, she was awarded rigorous imprisonment for 9 months.

In 1927, she led the All India Women’s Conference, which was earlier founded by Margaret E. Cousins, and her efforts made it a national organization of repute.

During the Salt Satyagraha, she was member of seven member lead team created by Mahatma Gandhi to prepare salt at the Bombay beachfront. She and Avantikabai Gokhle were only two women members of this team. She not only prepared salt  but also went to High Court nearby and offered the judge to buy this “freedom salt”. While trying to enter into the Bombay Stock Exchange to sell the “Freedom Salt”, she was arrested and spent a year in prison. Thus, she was the first woman to be arrested in freedom struggle. In 1936, she became president of Congress Socialist Party.

Role in Independent India

Immediately after India’s partition and freedom, she actively took part in rehabilitation of the displaced. She established Indian Cooperative Union to help with the rehabilitation. Due to her efforts, a cooperative housing unit was established near Faridabad rehabilitating over 50,000 refugees from North-West Frontier.

In 1950s, her focus turned to Indian handicrafts, arts, handlooms and traditional artisans especially the women artisans. She established a series of “crafts museums” to preserve and protect India’s arts and crafts; and also instituted the National Awards for Master Craftsmen; Central Cottage Industries Emporia throughout India. For drama, she started Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography (NIKC), Bangalore in 1960s. She was also instrumental in setting up All India Handicrafts Board and worked as its first chairperson. Kamaladevi made it fashionable to wear hand-woven sarees and adorn homes with handicrafts.

She also set up Bhartiya Natya Sangh in 1954 and worked as second chairperson of National School of Drama.

Awards

Padma Bhushan (1955), Padma Vibhushan (1987), Ramon Magasaysay Awards (1966), Sangeet Natak Academy Fellowship, Desikottama by Shantiniketan etc.

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