Kamaladevi, the Activist for All

Remembering Kamala Harris’s alleged namesake, whose fight against injustice transcended borders and causes.

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay saturated Kamaladevi
Graphic by Macy Sinreich for The Juggernaut

Isha Banerjee


June 19, 2024


10 min

The year was 1941, and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was on a train heading to the American South. The conductor, following protocol, ordered her to leave the “white-only” carriage. She refused. Realizing she wasn’t Black, he interrogated her, demanding to know “which land” she came from. “It makes no difference. I am a colored woman,” she responded. Under his breath, the conductor whispered, “You are an Asian,” but didn’t disturb her again. 

While Kamaladevi — an Indian pro-independence activist whom people call by her first name — could have easily identified herself as not Black, she chose not to. She believed that all power struggles were intertwined, making her a student of intersectionality long before scholars coined the term.

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