December 1926 — Open air public lecture, Clock Tower Maidan, Mangalore, India
If you peep into the dim unknown history of India, the history of which is written not on palm leaves or papers, but is alive in the hearts of everyone of us, you will find that the position of women was indeed an enviable one. Never in the history of any country, at any time, has woman been so honoured as she has been in this country. Though apparently she seems to have lost her voice, she has always been the vital element in the evolution of the country and the nation. When I was travelling abroad, I was often asked how the suffragist movement in India was progressing. I could only tell them that there was no suffragist movement in India. In fact, there was no need for such a movement. The last few years have proved this. As soon as the new reforms came in the franchise was granted, and closely following upon its heels came the removal of the ban on sex-disqualification. The time has now come when women should come forward and share the responsibilities equally with men. All over the world women are now taking a keen and an active part in all departments of life.
I stand now as an Independent. I stand for no party or community. I stand as a representative of women. I am not a Swarajist candidate and I am not a member of the Swarajya Party. I do not believe in the policy of obstruction and walk-out. What the Swarajya programme for this year is, I do not know. Whether it is going to accept office or not, does not concern me. That temptation does not come in my way.
People have been questioning me what my political precedents are. I have been interested in politics for several years now. When the great Non-Co-operation Movement was started, my husband and I were pursuing studies in England. The great message came to us over the waters. Our hearts throbbed to the cries of the great nation. Gandhi’s message of love thrilled us, and we felt that we should not be led away by the glamor of foreign degrees. A golden opportunity had been offered to us to do our bit for our country. By the time we had completed our tour and landed in India, Mahatamaji had been imprisoned for some time. When we landed in India we were met by Mrs. [Sarojini] Naidu. The first question we asked her was: What was the condition of the country? She said there was no condition at all. Death had already set in. Our burning spirits were as defeated with this reply We enlisted ourselves as Congress members and and tried to do our bit, but a good many difficulties arose in our way.
We soon found much of our precious time getting scattered. We then decided to do the same work through the arts and achieve the same end. So at the Belgaum Congress, we consulted consulted Mahatamaji. He gladly assented to our plans and with his blessings we started upon our work. We have been trying to wake up the political consciousness of the country through poetry, through music and through drama. It was just a month ago that we met Mahatama Gandhi in Bombay and he said: “Thought I am pressed with heavy work, I have found time to watch with pleasure your progress. Though I cannot be with you in person, let me admire you from a distance. When you have a little leisure come to my Ashram and show my boys the beauties of your art.” Even on the day I was leaving for Magalore we received two wires asking us to go to him. It was indeed a great temptation I had to resist. All these three years, thought I have not been active in the political field, all the time I have been in close touch with politics.
As to what work I shall do in the council, though no doubt I shall try to tackle problems tht are intimately connected with women and children, I feel confident that with time and study I shall be in a position to handle general questions as well. During the course of my tour I have been observing and studying the local grievances. I have been trying to get first-hand information as to the Forest and Land Act. Some of the main problems agitating the public mind just now are the abolition of the old Rent Recovery Act without the introduction of any new compensating one and the Revenue Settlement Act. I have enough of leisure at my disposal to devote it to this work. I appeal to you to give me a chance. If women in other countries have proved competent enough to handle these problems I do not think an Indian woman will prove an exception. For years you have been sending men to the councils. Some of them have done something for this district. Others have done nothing. So even if a woman fails to fulfill your expectations you have not much to regret. Some of you may have some conscientious objections in supporting my candidature either on the ground of sex or otherwise. I appeal to them in that case, at least, to remain neutral as far as possible.
For, remember, when you work against me, you insult all womankind, you work against your own mothers, your sisters, your daughters.
When you lend me your support, it is not merely a personal favour you do to me, but you pay your homage to womankind. If the first Indian woman who has come forward in spite of all difficulties and obstacles is not helped, it will greatly discourage the women who in the future might stand for elections. So the privilege granted to women will be hardly of any service. I am not concerned very much with the result. I shall do my best. I wish to prove to the world that woman can fight and fight well in spite of everything. Woman in India has always stood for strength and weakness. She is the Divine Shakti. Whether it is a mere sentiment or a living flame, will be proved by the elections.
Source: New India in Equal Rights, December 25, 1926, pp. 365-366.
Also: A Passionate Life: Writings by and on Kamaldevi Chattopadhyay, eds. Ellen Carol Dubois and Vinay Lal (New Delhi: Zubaan), 2017.