Among architects of modern India few have been so broadly effective as
KAMALADEVI CHATTOPADHYAY in challenging orthodoxy and then giving substance
to the innovation. She has shown that women from a traditional society,
while winning equality of acceptance in community affairs can also build
needed new social institutions, graced with their more delicate touch.
In an era when great traditional crafts and artistry often are submerged by
mass production of standardized products, KAMALADEVI has led in mobilizing
for new generations these ancient skills. In her view, "development of any
country's handicrafts rests primarily on the women."
While "modern taste is restless and prepared to renew and replace articles
more easily and quickly," she has written, handicrafts "speak of an age when
dignity lay in silence and beauty in subtlety." In them "one instinctively
senses the unity of all arts." To her they are "the ensemble of flowers,
fruits, birds and animals, leaves and creepers, gods and human beings."
The vehicle for translating this concept into reality became the Indian
Cooperative Union, which she founded in 1948, initially to assist refugees
uprooted by Partition who were demoralized and often destitute. The first
cooperative, a farm, was formed at Chattarpur, some 12 miles from Delhi. The
Union joined in building the new city of Faridabad to rehabilitate 30,000
refugee Pathans from the Northwest Frontier, providing tools, loans and
directions in a new way of living.
With rehabilitation largely accomplished, the Union over which she presides
turned to establishing consumer and handloom cooperatives which multiplied
with remarkable success. The Central Cottage Industries Emporium in New
Delhi developed as a marketing outlet for some 700 cooperatives, private
dealers and individual producers. Through it, designs were introduced,
buyers attracted, and products achieved Indian and international sale.
Commercial success led to creation of credit cooperatives and other
services—always buttressed by education—to meet family needs of both rural
folk and urban craftsmen.
The woman who guided this enterprise was born in 1903 at Mangalore, India,
into the family of a District Collector. After receiving a diploma in
sociology from London University, she was among the first educated women in
India to appear on the public stage, popularizing the theater arts. As an
organizer of the 1930 Civil Disobedience Movement, she was arrested and
jailed for five years. An accomplished writer, her interests have ranged far
beyond her homeland to participation in international conferences.
While many nationalist leaders have been content to coast with old causes
and slogans, KAMALADEVI has had the perception and courage to discover and
develop solutions to contemporary needs of her society. Thus she has helped
realize the hopes of her countrymen that independence would be more than
political, allowing them that added dimension of greater freedom in total
In electing KAMALADEVI CHATTOPADHYAY to receive the 1966 Ramon Magsaysay
Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes her
enduring creativity with handicrafts and cooperatives, as in politics, art
and the theater.