Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay: Biography, Contribution & More

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Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was a braveheart, an ardent freedom fighter, a social reformer and an advocate of Indian handlooms, handicrafts, theatre and cooperative movements. She was a feminist at heart and has worked tirelessly for the upliftment of women and craftsmanship. Her story as one of the women freedom fighters of India is often unheard of. Let us get to know about Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and her life story through this blog.

Overview of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay
Birth3 April, 1903
Advocated forWomen Upliftment, Widow marriage and against Child marriage.
AwardsPadma Bhushan, Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, etc
BooksThe Awakening of Indian Women, Inner Recesses, Outer Spaces: Memoirs (autobiography), The Glory of Indian Handicrafts, etc
Died29 October, 1988, aged 85

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay: Early Life and Education

Kamaladevi was born on April 3, 1903, in Mangalore( present Mangaluru) to Girijamma and Ananthaya Dhareshwar, who was the District Collector of Mangalore.

  • She completed her primary education at St Ann’s Convent school.
  • Unfortunately, she lost her sister and father at a young age. Due to the inheritance laws of the time, her father’s estate was passed on to his first wife’s son. 
  • Kamaladevi’s mother faced many challenges in raising her alone, but her mother’s independence greatly influenced Kamaladevi’s character and personality.
  • Kamaladevi grew up with her mother at her uncle’s house, where she met several political figures of the time, including M G Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and Annie Besant
  • At the age of 14, she got married, but her husband passed away two years later.
Credits: Pinterest
  • She pursued her education at Queen Mary’s College in Chennai and later married her second husband, Harindranath Chattopadhyay. 
  • This decision was controversial at the time, as widow remarriage was not accepted by the society’s more traditional members. 
  • Despite this, she also earned a diploma in sociology from Bedford College, University of London.
  • However, she had to end her marriage with Harindranath Chattopadhyay and created history by becoming the first person to get a legal divorce through an Indian Court of Law. 

Also Read – Top 7 Famous Female Leaders in Indian History

Kamladevi Chattopadhyay’s Contribution to Freedom Struggle

After hearing about Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, Kamaladevi returned to India in 1923 and joined Seva Dal, an organization focused on social upliftment. 

  • She became friends with Margaret Cousins, who founded the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) in 1927. 
  • With Cousins’ support, Kamaladevi became the first Indian woman to run for a legislative seat in the Madras Provincial Assembly, though she narrowly lost. 
  • She also served as the Organizing Secretary for the AIWC.

She established educational institutions for women and participated in Gandhi’s salt march (salt satyagraha), where she was arrested for selling contraband salt in the Bombay Stock Exchange and spent nearly a year in prison. After World War II, Kamaladevi travelled extensively, meeting leaders in the fight for women’s rights in Europe and the USA. 

Credits: TOI

On January 26, 1930, she gained national recognition for her act of holding onto the Indian tricolour during a protest.

  • In 1936, she became the president of the Congress Socialist Party, joining Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia. 
  • Kamaladevi was a prominent feminist of her time, challenging Gandhi’s policy of excluding women from the Dandi March. 
  • She campaigned for the Central Assembly to pass important bills, including the Child Marriage Restraint Bill and the Age of Consent Bill, and advocated for the recognition of women’s work both inside and outside the home. 
  • She also supported the Uniform Civil Code, aiming to secure women’s rights to property inheritance and children’s guardianship.

Also Read – Indira Gandhi: Know All About the First Woman Prime Minister of India

Role of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay: Post-Independence

After the country was divided, she took on the task of helping people rebuild their lives. She helped create the Indian Cooperative Union to support this effort and established the cooperative town of Faridabad, which was built with the help of the community and no government funding. This town became a home for about 50000 refugees from the Northwest Frontier.

She is best known for her efforts in preserving and promoting Indian art and crafts. 

  • She opened museums dedicated to crafts, like the Theatre Crafts Museum in Delhi, and helped start the National Awards for Master Craftsmen. 
  • She also worked to keep alive several at-risk art forms, such as Kalamkari art, by encouraging its teachers to teach more students. 
  • Kamaladevi also helped create important organizations like the All India Handicrafts Board, the Crafts Council of India, and the National School of Drama. 
  • Additionally, she established the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography in Bangalore.
Credits: Pinterest

Awards and Honours of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

YearAwards and Honours
1955Padma Bhushan
1966Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership
1974Ratna Sadsya (by Sangeet Natak Akademi)
1977National UNESCO Award 
1987Padma Vibhushan
Her other honours include – Desikottama given by Shantiniketan and Member of Honour by UNIMA – International Puppetry Association

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was also honoured by Google with a Doodle on their homepage on her 115th Birthday.

Books by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

Some of her works include – 

BooksPublished in 
The Awakening of Indian Women1939
Inner Recesses, Outer Spaces: Memoirs (autobiography)1986
Uncle Sam’s empire1944
Towards a National Theatre1945
At the Cross Roads1947
Socialism and Society1950
Tribalism in India1978
The Glory of Indian Handicrafts1985
India’s Craft Tradition2000

Her other works also include- America: The Land of Superlatives, Japan-its weakness and strength, Indian Women’s Battle for Freedom, etc. Kamaladvi Chattopadhyay died, aged 85, on 29th October 1988 in Bombay.

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