IN 1939, at the age of 36, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay began a journey that took her around the world. Scheduled to attend a conference about women’s rights in Denmark, she travelled right into the beginning of the Second World War, and took nearly two years to return to India. She spent about 18 months of this period in the United States and in Canada, raising support for India’s nationalist movement. “Woman Tells India’s Hopes,” ran a glowing Los Angeles Times headline from 1940, which seems to be typical of the coverage. She travelled the length and breadth of the United States, speaking and writing for American publications, making friends with the country’s feminists and African-American civil rights activists.
“You are fighting the patriarchy,” she told her audiences in the US; “we are fighting imperialism.” She tried to show them how the two were related, and how wrong feminists from this global north were to marginalise or ignore critiques of the imperial mode. Many of the things she said were forgotten for the better part of the century that followed, but her ideas are coming around again.
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