Noor Inayat Khan, an Indian-origin World War II spy, may get featured on a redesigned British 50-pound note. The Bank of England made the announcement recently. This possibility emerged as a campaign for the same is gaining momentum in the UK.

Inviting public nominations

  • The Bank of England had recently revealed plans for a new polymer version of the large denomination note to go into print from 2020.
  • The bank indicated it would invite public nominations for potential characters to appear on the new note.

  • An online petition in favour of the campaign started earlier this week.
  • The petition seeks Noor Inayat Khan, as the first ethnic minority British woman, to be considered for this feature.
  • Khan’s memorial bust now has a permanent home at Gordon Square in central London. The trust is also lobbying for a commemorative blue plaque to mark the house nearby where she spent time with her family.

Who is Noor Inayat Khan?

  • Noor, born in 1914 in Moscow, was the daughter of Indian Sufi saint Hazrat Inayat Khan. Her mother was American. Noor’s father is also the descendant of Tipu Sultan.
  • Her parents raised her in Paris and Britain, as a Sufi. She believed in non-violence and also supported the Indian Independence struggle.
  • As per the petition, Noor started her career as a children’s writer in Paris.

When World War 2 broke out, Noor’s family moved to the UK and she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF)

  • The Special Operations Executive (SOE) recruited her two years later.
  • Noor joined the British war effort against fascism. She became the first female radio operator to be infiltrated into Nazi-occupied France.
  • Noor was betrayed and captured by the Nazis. Despite repeated torture, she refused to give out any information, the petition says.

In 1944, the Nazis abruptly captured and transferred Noor to Dachau concentration camp with fellow agents. They executed her at dawn the next morning

  • She died at the age of 30.
  • It is said that her final word, spoken as the German firing squad raised their weapons, was “Liberté” – ‘Freedom.’
  • Journalist-author Shrabani Basu narrated Noor’s story through the book, Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan, in 2008.
  • Princess Anne unveiled Noor’s statue at Gordon Square Gardens in November 2012.

Many prominent political leaders, historians and academics in the UK are backing the campaign seeking Khan’s honour. The campaign is generating higher momentum with even Shashi Tharoor sharing the details now.

Apart from the Queen, only three women have featured on the note so far. None of them have been from an ethnic minority or from the armed forces of the country.

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