Google doodle on Tuesday celebrated the 115th birth anniversary of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, a freedom fighter, actor, social activist, art enthusiast, politician and free-thinking feminist all rolled into one. The doodle shows her multifaceted talent very well, with her surrounded in art forms of music and dance and also small figurines indulging in weaving hand-looms.Doodle is designed by Finland-based Desi artist Parvati Pillai.
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was born in Chitarpur Saraswat Brahmin community of Mangalore to Ananthaya Dhareshwar and Girijabai. A succession of tragedies befell Kamaladevi early in life. First, her elder sister, Saguna, whom she adored as a role model, died in her teens soon after an early marriage. Not long after, her father passed away.
To reduce the responsibilities of the widow, Kamaladevi was married even when she was a child, and she herself became a widow, before understanding the meaning of a marriage! Her father-in-law was unusually liberal-minded. He enabled Kamaladevi to pursue her studies and also advised her to re-marry.
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). A highly personable poet, playwright and actor, Harin shared many common interests with Kamaladevi such as a passion for arts and a love of music and theatre. The duo soon married.
It was the time in India when Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for freedom not only from colonialism but also India's own problems of untouchability, and poverty. He called upon women to fight side by side with men. She promptly returned to India, enrolled herself in the Indian National Congress and joined Seva Dal (a Gandhian organisation that worked towards social upliftment of the poor). Her dedication saw her soon being put in charge the organisation's women's department that recruited and trained women of all ages across India to become voluntary workers.
Three years later, Kamaladevi earned the unique distinction of becoming the first woman in India to run for political office. She also pressed for a uniform civil code as a means to promote gender justice, worked hard for the prevention of child marriage and emphasised on the need to consider women's unpaid household labour an economic activity.
In 1930, Kamaladevi participated enthusiastically in Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha movement, even entering the Bombay Stock Exchange to sell packets of 'freedom' salt and was sentenced to a prison term for violation of the salt laws.
Love for crafts
Kamaladevi was greatly influenced by Gandhi's use of Khadi as a political weapon to signify the importance of indigenous craftsmanship. She was committed to helping the survival of traditional arts and crafts. She espoused the notion that working with one's hands serves to decentralize social and economic from an industry-oriented state and also creates a culture of plurality.
Several cultural institutions in India today exist because of her vision, including the National School of Drama, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Central Cottage Industries Emporium, and the Crafts Council of India. She stressed the significance which handicrafts and cooperative grassroots movements play in the social and economic upliftment of the Indian people. To this end, she withstood great opposition both before and after independence from the power centres.
In 1974, she has awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship the highest honour conferred by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama.
Kamaladevi was also honoured with Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1966 for Community Leadership. She, being a prolific writer, wrote 20 odd books depicting her wide array of intellectual and political interests, and a global.
Chattopadhyay 's ideas, from feminism and egalitarian politics to her abiding confidence in Indian handicrafts, continue to remain relevant even today.