news Friday, June 19, 2015 - 05:30
Recently, the United States government has said that it is considering using one of its women icons on the 10 dollar bill, making this the third woman to be featured on the country’s currency notes. India however, may only have considered only once whether any other person other than M K Gandhi should be considered for the Indian currency notes. In December, to a question in Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that a Reserve Bank of India panel had been constituted to look into whether or not any other Indian icon’s image could be used on banknotes, but after deliberations, the panel said that no other personality could better represent ethos of India other than Gandhi. In a country of 1.1 billion, really? Of course, at this point people would start to point out that each party in power would sanction its own leaders / slash ideologues. But designing currency notes is not like introducing a new government scheme, and the Indian Postal department has done exceedingly well in selecting persons, events, objects, days, monuments, and even concepts to feature on Indian stamps. Any philatelist will tell you that. So why not have someone other than Gandhi on our currency notes? A website called Banknotes has an interesting collection of the images used in Indian currency notes. It is unclear if this list is comprehensive, but it starts with the British ruler King George V, whose image appeared Rs 50, Rs 10, Rs 5 and Re 1 notes from the 1930s-50s. Gandhi’s image was introduced in Indian currency notes in 1996 (some reports say 1997) and have remained there since. In remembering the past one often tends to glorify it, forgetting that it then slips into distortion. One also tends to forget that history is made every day, and Gandhi’s Salt March is not the only revolutionary act of the Indian peoples. The Indian sub-continent has a mind-boggling level of diversity – geographic, climatic, ecological, linguistic, cultural, spiritual / religious, economic, artistic, culinary, political, social, and even of skin colour. It is almost criminal to limit this heritage to just person, no matter if he was widely travelled. It makes even less sense, when all our school text books have called him the Father of the Nation, a teenager forced the government to wrack its brains and finally admit that India had no such title. Here is a list of five women – and obviously everybody is not going to be agreeable to it – who have been very, very randomly chosen (there are no parameters in selecting them at all, except that they were outstanding at what they do and did) as possible candidates for the Indian currency note. Savitribai Phule Born in 1831, Savitribai was a remarkable and radical woman. Standing with our feet in the present-day modern world, we often have a vague notion that the people of the past were somehow backward. Back when caste hierarchies were possibly more rigid than they are today, Savitribai and her husband Jotirao Phule started the first school for girls from untouchable communities. Formally uneducated child herself, Savitribai studied on her own as an adult and went to teach the children studying in the school. She was determined to teach – she endured the mud flung on she, the insults hurled at her, as she made her way to school. During the 1876-1898 famines, she and Jotirao worked to help those in need, distributing food where necessary. She died in 1897, afflicted by the plague she contracted when nursing others who had the infection. Mahasweta Devi This is one writer whom one would call an organic intellectual – one who combines grassroots politics with intellectual writing, although in her case, she is perhaps better known for fiction. Born in Dhaka in 1926, she obtained a degree in English from Calcutta University. Her work has had an influence beyond the sphere of Bengal and its culture. Although she is well-known for fiction, her writing has been rooted in her work with the tribal people of the region, and in one instance, has even earned her the title “Mother of Sabars” (Sabars are a tribal community). One of her stories Hajar Chaurasi Ki Ma was made into an internationally acclaimed film. In 40 years, Mahasweta Devi has written over 100 novels and 20 collections of short stories. She still continues to work with tribals and says she will write if she gets the time. Ismat Chughtai It takes a moment to make the connection between Badayun, the place where Chughtai was born and Badaun, which became news as the place where two Dalit girls were found hanging from a tree. Chughtai got engaged to her cousin to avoid being married at the age of 15. She also had to fight to be educated. (Image courtesy: Penguin Books) In 1941, she wrote a story titled ‘Lihaaf’ (The Quilt) about a lesbian relationship between a rich woman and her servant, scandalizing the British government. However, when the case went to court, she won it, as her lawyer argued that only those who already knew of lesbianism would understand it, and therefore, it could not corrupt people. Homai Vyarawala She was India’s first photo-journalist, and damn good one at that. Google her name and some really stunning black and white images pop up. A Parsi woman born in Navsari inn Gujarat, she lived in Bombay and then Delhi before settling in Vadodara after her husband’s death. She retired from the profession after having spent 40 year chronicling some of independent India’s most momentous milestones. M S Subbulakshmi Subbulakshmi delighted people with her voice, which could transport people into emotional words of their own. As a child, she was fascinated by the gramophone and would roll a paper and sing into it for hours. Born in Madurai in 1916, at the age of 16, she was said to be a cult figure for a whole generation. In 1932, her mother decided to move to Chennai and this move perhaps gave the life the direction we know it took. She was an actor in her youth, and a glamorous one at that, having acted in several films. Although she married Thiyagaraja Sadasivam, a politician known to be C Rajagopalachari’s protégé, a biography by TJS George says that she later fell in love with GN Balasubramaian and wrote many love letters to him. Subbulakshmi gave up acting 1945 to take up singing full time. (All the brief biographies of the five women have been compiled from sources for which links have been provided.)
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