Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay established the Crafts Council of India (CCI) in 1964. She also laid the foundation for Sangeet Natak Akademi and National School of Drama.
A freedom fighter, social reformer and feminist, champion for India’s women and her Handloom and Handicraft communities, this lady from Mangalore was awarded the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibushan – the country’s highest civilian awards. She was also a Magsaysay Awardee.
A widow at 16, she married Harendranath Chattopadhyay against the will of elders as widow remarriage was looked down upon at their time and age. She acted in films and is also remembered with respect for clinging on the Indian tricolour on 26th January, 1930, during a British police attack on the peaceful congregation. She was a rebel.
It is because of her persistence that Mahatma Gandhi allowed women to be part of the Salt March at Dandi.
When setting up the CCI, she wrote:
“CCI must always be ready to let others take the credit for its achievements and remain anonymous in favour of the artisan.
Those who work for the Council must remember that it is the artisan to whom we wish recognition to be directed.
Those who serve the Council must accept their role as facilitators not patrons of the artisans. Humility is therefore as important as sensitivity if CCI is to generate the national movement for which it is founded.”
She would have been happy to know of a young generation of students – mostly women – keenly learning of the Indian subcontinent’s handloom and handicrafts at the youngest National Institute of Design, at Vijayawada. All the photographs have been taken with permission of the faculty of the Institute.
On National Handloom Day, let’s remember this great lady and her passion for continuing traditions and ascertaining their survival.