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Friday, August 19, 2011

First Indian woman to be arrested & First Indian woman to win the Ramon Magsaysay award

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (April 3, 1903 – October 29, 1988) was a Gandhian, a social reformer, a freedom fighter, and most remembered for her contribution to Indian independence movement, for being the driving force behind the renaissance of Indian handicrafts, handlooms, and theatre in post-Independence India, and for upliftment of the socio-economic standard of Indian women by pioneering the co-operative movement in India.

Numerous cultural institutions in India today are a gift of her vision, starting with National School of Drama, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Central Cottage Industries Emporium, and The Crafts Council of India, to name a few.The doyen of Indian arts and crafts, a person single-handedly responsible for reviving Indian crafts back from oblivion of 200 years of foreign rule where they went without any patronage, be it government or public, due lack of awareness of its richness as well as its accessibility to the common man.

She stressed the significance which handicrafts and cooperative grassroot movements, play in the social and economic upliftement of the Indian people. To this end she withstood great opposition both before and after independence from the power centres, but managed to leave behind a rich and formidable legacy of thriving Indian handicrafts, theatre forms and arts that have now become an integral of our rural economy, across the nation.

Born on 3 April 1903, Kamaladevi was the fourth and youngest daughter of a Saraswat Brahmin couple in Mangalore. Her father, Ananthaya Dhareshwar was the District Collector of Mangalore, and her mother Girijabai, from whom she inherited an independent streak, belonged to an aristocratic family from Karnataka. Kamaladevi's grandmother was herself, a scholar of ancient Indian texts, and her a mother was also well-educated though mostly home-educated. Together their presence in the household, gave Kamaladevi a firm grounding and provided benchmarks to respect for her intellect as well as her voice, something that she came to known for in the coming years, when she stood as the voice of the downtrodden as well as the unheard.

Kamaladevi was an exceptional student and also exhibited qualities of determination and courage from an early age. Her parents’ befriended many prominent freedom fighters and intellectuals such as Mahadev Govind Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and women leaders like Ramabai Ranade, and Annie Besant, this made young Kamaladevi an early enthusiast of the swadeshi nationalist movement.She studied about ancient Sanskrit drama tradition of Kerala- Kutiyattam, from its greatest Guru and authority of Abhinaya, Nātyāchārya Padma Shri Māni Mādhava Chākyār by staying at Guru's home at Killikkurussimangalam.

Tragedy struck early in life, when her elder sister, Saguna, whom she considered a role model, died in her teens, soon after her early marriage, and when she was just seven years old her father died as well. To add to her mother, Girijabai's trouble, he died without leaving a will for his she is too beautifulvast property, so according to property laws of the times, the entire property went to her stepson, and they only got a monthly allowance. Girijabai defiantly refused the allowance and decided to raise her daughters on her dowry property.Her rebellious streak was visible even as a child, when young Kamaladevi questioned the aristocratic division of her mother’s household, and preferred to mingle with her servants and their children wanting to understand their life as well.

In 1917, when was only fourteen years of age, she was married to Krishna Rao, and within two years she was widowed, while she was still at school. According to orthodox Hindu rules of the times, being a widow she was not allowed to continue her education, yet she defiantly moved to Chennai, and continued her education from St. Mary's School, Chennai and finally completed her high school in 1918.Meanwhile studying at Queen Mary’s College in Chennai, she came to know with Suhasini Chattopadhyay, a fellow student and the younger sister of Sarojini Naidu, who later introduced Kamaladevi to their talented brother, Harin, by then a well-known poet-playwright-actor. It was their mutual interest in the arts, which brought them together.

Finally when she was twenty years old, Kamaladevi married Harindranath Chattopadhyay, much to the opposition of the orthodox society of the times, which was still heavily against widow marriage. Their only son Ramu was born in the following year. Harin and Kamaladevi stayed together to pursue common dreams, which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, and in spite of many difficulties, they were able to work together, to produce plays and skits.Shortly after their marriage, Harin left for London, on his first trip abroad, and a few months later Kamaladevi joined him, where she joined Bedford College, University of London, and later she received a diploma in Sociology.

First Indian woman to be arrested 

In the 1930s, she was arrested for entering the Bombay Stock Exchange to sell packets of contraband salt, and spent almost a year in prison. In 1936, she became president of the Congress Socialist Party, working alongside Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and Minoo Masani. For her, feminism was inseparable from socialism, and where necessary she opposed her own colleagues when they ignored or infringed women’s rights. For instance, when Mahatma Gandhi opposed the inclusion of women in the Dandi March (claiming that Englishmen would not hurt women, just as Hindus would not harm cows), Kamaladevi spoke out against this stand. Some time in the 1920s she and Harindranath separated and divorced by mutual consent; their marriage had largely been one of convenience and they had followed different paths.

When World War II broke out Kamaladevi was in England, and she immediately began a world tour to represent India’s situation to other countries and drum up support for Independence after the war.

The Government of India conferred on her the Padma Bhushan (1955) and later the second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan in 1987, which are among the highest civilian awards of the Republic of India. She also received the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1966) for Community Leadership. She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, Ratna Sadsya, the highest award of Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama, given for lifetime achievement in 1974,.UNESCO honoured her with an award in 1977 for her contribution towards the promotion of handicrafts. Shantiniketan honoured her with the Desikottama, its highest award. UNIMA (Union Internationals de la Marlonette), International Puppetry organization, also made her their Member of Honour.

In 2007, the Outlook Magazine chose Kamaladevi amongst its list of 60 Great Indians. and she was India Today's, 100 Millennium People.Today, the World Crafts Council gives two awards in her memory, the Kamaladevi Awards and the Kamala Sammaan, for exceptional craft persons or to individual for their outstanding contribution to the field of Crafts.Apart from that the Crafts Council of Karnataka, also gives the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay Vishwakarma Awards, each year to noteworthy crafts persons.For over three decades now, Bhartiya Natya Sangha has been awarding the 'Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya Award' for the best play of the year.

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