Who is Noor Inayat Khan, the Indian Spy Who Could Feature On Britain’s 50 Pound Note?

While the exploits of Bollywood heroes is largely noted and celebrated, India is also home to many real life heroes who remain unnoticed and unsung. They do their job without asking for anything in return and often don’t get the recognition they deserve. One such unsung hero is the Indian-origin British spy – Noor Inayat Khan.

With Britain currently debating the person that will be featured on the new, post-Brexit 50 pound note, the highest-denomination note in the UK, and set to be reissued in plastic from 2020, activists and historians have started a petition for having the face of Noor Inayat Khan printed on the note.

The campaign, which was started by activist Zehra Zaidi and backed by historian and BBC presenter Dan Snow, as well as Tom Tugendhat who is chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Parliament and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, has already gathered mass appeal with hundreds of supporters in its very first day.

“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 toThe Telegraph.

Khan’s face on the new note could be the face of the first ethnic minority on any UK currency.

But who is the woman everyone is petitioning for?

Khan was born in 1914 in the Kremlin in Moscow while her parents were the guests of the Russian royal family. Her mother was American, her father Indian and a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan.

During World War 2, she worked as a nurse with the French Red Cross and later joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in England before the eventual surrender of France. Owing to her French-speaking abilities, she was recruited by the elite Special Operations Executive (SOE) as a radio operator.

In June 1943, she became the first female to be sent into Nazi-occupied France by the SOE where she became the radio operator for the Prosper resistance network in Paris, with the codename ‘Madeleine.’ As the Nazi regime took over, hers became the last radio operating between Paris and London. After her cover was blown in October 1943, she was arrested. In September 1944, Khan and three other female SOE agents were transferred to Dachau concentration camp, and on 13 September, was shot. Her final word, spoken as the German firing squad raised their weapons, was “Liberté” – ‘Freedom.’

Khan’s story was set out in a book by journalist-author Shrabani Basu in 2008, Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan. A statue of hers was unveiled by Princess Anne at Gordon Square Gardens in November 2012.

The campaign for her to be on the new note seems to be gathering momentum, with even Shashi Tharoor sharing details.

Shashi Tharoor


Want to see an Indian woman, a war hero, on the new British £50 note? Sign this petition! https://www.change.org/p/zehra-zaidi-put-noor-inayat-khan-on-the-new-50-note .

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