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World War II spy first Indian-origin woman to get Blue Plaque in UK


Press Trust of India London
Britain's World War II spy Noor Inayat Khan was on Monday confirmed as the first Indian-origin woman to be honoured with a Blue Plaque at her former London home.
The Blue Plaque scheme run by English Heritage honours notable people who lived or worked in particular buildings across London. Khan's plaque is set to go up at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, where she lived as a secret agent during the war.
Khan, the daughter of Indian Sufi saint Hazrat Inayat Khan, was an agent for Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II and was captured and killed by the Nazis in 1944 at just 30 years of age.
"It is from this house that she left on her final and fatal mission. Noor gave her life in the fight against fascism and her message of peace and tolerance of all religions is even more relevant today," said Shrabani Basu, Chair of the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust (NIKMT).
"The blue plaque will be a wonderful addition to the area that has a special association with Noor. It will be the first Blue Plaque for a woman of Indian-origin in Britain and is a real honour," said Basu, who has been campaigning for the plaque since 2006 as the author of 'Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan'.
Taviton Street is close to Gordon Square, which the NIKMT chose for the installation of a memorial bust in 2012 of the spy, a descendant of the 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan.
The Blue Plaque at her home is expected to be installed following building approval within the next few years.
"The Blue Plaques Panel have agreed that Noor Inayat Khan should be commemorated with a plaque. Once a nomination has been approved, it can take a further two or three years for a plaque to be unveiled," an English Heritage spokesperson said.
"Noor Inayat Khan has deserved recognition for years. A hero who joined Britain's effort to fight tyranny," said Tom Tugendhat, Chair of the UK Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee.
Born in September 1914 in Moscow to an Indian father and American mother, Khan was raised in both Paris and Britain.
As a Sufi, she believed in non-violence and also supported the Indian Independence movement but she felt compelled to join the British war effort against fascism.
She went on to become the first female radio operator to be infiltrated into occupied France, where she was tortured and killed at Dachau concentration camp.
The SOE was an underground force established in Britain in 1940 by war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill to "set Europe ablaze".
It recruited men and women to launch guerilla war against Adolf Hitler's forces.
Historial records show that despite being repeatedly tortured and interrogated, Khan revealed nothing and was executed by a German SS officer and her last word was recorded as "Liberte" or freedom.
She was later awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian decoration in the UK, in recognition of her bravery.
In recent months, Khan was also a frontrunner of a campaign for an ethnic minority personality to be honoured as the face of a redesigned GBP 50 note until the Bank of England announced that the note would feature a scientific figure.
Major Indian figures to be honoured with Blue Plaques in London include Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and B R Ambedkar, who spent time in the city during the Indian national movement against Britain's colonial rule.

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First Published: Feb 25 2019 | 10:15 PM IST

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