A bust of Noor Inayat Khan was unveiled by Princess Anne in London’s Gordon Square Gardens in 2012. (AFP)
While Britain has come in for applause for opening its arms to refugees fleeing the conflict zone, taking in more than 10,000 Syrian immigrants since 2014, it may for the first time see an ethnic minority Muslim woman of Indian descent as the face of its new 50 pound note. A campaign is gaining momentum in the country for having the face of Noor Inayat Khan, a secret agent who worked for Britain during World War II, printed on the new, post-Brexit polymer note, which will be issued in 2020.
Steam engine pioneers James Watt and Matthew Boulton appear on the current 50 pound note, issued in 2011.
Raised in Britain and France, Khan was a descendant of Tipu Sultan and daughter of Indian Sufi saint Hazrat Inayat Khan. Also known as the Spy Princess, she was the first female wireless operator sent to Nazi-occupied France during the war at just 29. Despite evading capture for three months, she was eventually arrested and subject to torture by the Nazis.
Honour to lend support to a great campaign led by @zehra_zaidi supported by @SayeedaWarsi @horton_official @TomTugendhat to recognise a brave British Muslim woman-Noor Inayat Khan as the face of £50 note – she served our nation with courage against Nazi tyranny https://t.co/9JpbW7sCIt
— Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (@tariqahmadbt) October 17, 2018
However, she refused to reveal any information and was transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Germany, where she was killed in 1944. Her final word before being executed was “Liberte” and narratives of her bravery have been etched in the annals of history.
She was posthumously awarded the George Cross for her bravery, while in France she was honoured with the Croix de Guerre and an annual ceremony marking her death. She has steadily gained recognition in the UK after her bust was unveiled by Princess Anne in London’s Gordon Square Gardens in 2012, a stamp was issued in her name in 2014, and several books have been published on her. Most recently, she featured in a book titled Bloody Brilliant Women.
The other contenders to feature on the 50 pound note, the highest-denomination note in the UK, include former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Clement Atlee, scientist Stephen Hawking and Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole, who cared for wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War.
The petition for Khan to feature on the note has already attracted more than 3,500 signatures, according to BBC. Those supporting the campaign include Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat and former Minister and member of the House of Lords Sayeeda Warsi.
Even Congress MP Shashi Tharoor egged people to sign the petition, saying, “Want to see an Indian woman, a war hero, on the new British £50 note? Sign this petition!”
Want to see an Indian woman, a war hero, on the new British £50 note? Sign this petition! https://t.co/L0JVlXQjH6.
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) October 21, 2018
Tariq Ahmad, a minister in the Foreign Office, also supported the nomination of Khan, saying she served Britain with courage against Nazi tyranny. “Honour to lend support to a great campaign…to recognise a brave British Muslim woman — Noor Inayat Khan as the face of £50 note — she served our nation with courage against Nazi tyranny,” he tweeted.
Activist Zehra Zaidi, who began the campaign, said Khan was a fighter against fascism and a heroine to all. “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 told The Telegraph.
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