By Prarthana Mitra
The face of Indian-origin spy Noor Inayat Khan may feature on the new 50-pound note post-Brexit. If the idea finds enough gumption, this could be the first instance of an ethnic minority figuring on any UK currency.
Set to be reissued in plastic in 2020, the new £50 note has seen a great deal of debate regarding its face. Here is all you need to know about the unsung war hero who is in the running for decorating the highest denomination of British currency.
About the campaign
Several noted activists and historians have started an online petition to print Noor Inayat Khan’s face on the new note. Activist Zehra Zaidi was the first to broach the idea, but the campaign soon found mass appeal and social media footing with the backing of historian and BBC presenter Dan Snow, chairman of the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee Tom Tugendhat, and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi among others. By the end of the first day, the petition had found hundreds of supporters who seemed to champion the idea of an Indian-origin woman on their highest currency.
“Noor Inayat Khan was an inspirational and complex woman who was a Brit, a soldier, a writer, a Muslim, an Indian independence supporter, a Sufi, a fighter against fascism and a heroine to all. She navigated complex identities and has so much resonance in the world we live in today.” Zaidi stated to The Telegraph.
Why Noor Inayat Khan has such a fan following
Khan was born in 1914, to an American mother and a father who descended from Tipu Sultan, at a time when her parents were guests at the Russian royal palace.
Over her illustrious career in service of the Queen, she worked as a nurse with the French Red Cross before joining the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in England during the Second World War. Fluent in French, she was soon recruited as a radio operator at the exclusive Special Operations Executive (SOE) and in 1943, she became the first woman who went to Nazi-occupied France to operate the Prosper resistance radio network in Paris, under the codename ‘Madeleine.’ She was the last operator between Paris and London before the Nazi regime took over, following which she was exposed and arrested.
In 1944, Khan and three other female SOE agents were transferred to a concentration camp where she was shot on September 13. Her final word, spoken as the German firing squad raised their weapons, was “Liberté” (Freedom). He story is chronicled by several renowned British and Indian historians and her statue graces Gordon Square Gardens in central London.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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