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Do you know who designed the Param Veer Chakra, the highest military honour, as well as the lesser ones? It was a woman, Savitribai Khanolkar, who is not even of Indian origin by birth.
Param Veer means ‘Greatest of the Ultimate Brave’. This is the highest honour given to distinguished acts of valour during wartime. The award was first awarded on 26th January 1950, and is also awarded posthumously. This honour is equivalent to the American Honour and the Victorian Cross of the United Kingdom.
The credit to design the Param Veer Chakra goes to a woman names Eva Yonne Linda, who is known better by her Indian identity. Other than the Param Veer Chakra, she has also designed the Ashok Chakra, Mahaveer Chakra, Keeri Chakra, Veery Chakra and Shaurya Chakra.
Eva was born to a Hungarian father and a Russian mother in 1913. Her father was the head librarian at the League of Nations, and thus she was engulfed in books all day. This is where she first felt inclined towards Indian culture and tradition.
If you yearn for something, it definitely does come to you. She once met some students from Sandhurst Military College at the beach and one of them was Vikram Khanolkar. She was engaged in a long conversation with him and they even started writing to each other. Once Vikram got posted in Aurangabad, Eva and Vikram got married.
After getting married to Vikram in 1932, she changed herself completely and started calling herself Savitribai. She transformed her eating, drinking and other habits.
After Vikram was transferred to Patna, she started reading the Vedas, Upanishads, Sanskrit plays etc., and also started delivering sermons in the Ramakrishna Mission. In addition to this, she mastered sketching and painting.
In a few years, she had transformed herself completely into an Indian. She believed that her soul was Indian and she disliked being called a foreigner.
The Indian Army was planning to honour the soldiers who displayed extraordinary valor in the war of 1947. The responsibility of creating the symbol of this honour was given to Major General Atal. When Major General Atal met Savitribai Khanolkar, he was awestruck by her command over the culture, language and tradition, and by her sketching skills. When he made her the offer to design the Chakra, Savitribai not only gladly accepted, but also created the design in a few days.
Putting her unending knowledge of Indian tradition to use, Savitribai crafted a medal that depicted valour, sacrifice and peace. The chakra has symbols of Indra and Dadhichi. It also has the national symbol in the centre, and has a lotus on the other side.
By wholeheartedly accepting the country, its traditions, culture, and language, a woman made her place in its history. Her inclination towards Indian culture not only transported her to India, but also made her an Indian. Despite being a foreigner, her name and her personality were totally Indian.
Although the recipients of this Chakra have been only men, and traditionally as well, valour has been seen as a masculine trait, women have time and again displayed their valour and bravery too. Sadly, it has seldom been accounted for given the patriarchal nature of history.
Even in the Indian independent struggle, women have played a pivotal role but never achieved their due credit. Similarly, Savitribai Khanolkar also played a pivotal role in designing the highest military honour in a land she wasn’t born in. She died in 1990 but her name shall be etched forever in the history of Param Veer Chakra.
The name of Savitribai Khanolkar has been lost in the deep sea of patriarchal accounts and we need to recover it. But, we also need to recover similar accounts of women who have remained lost in the bygone days.
Translated from the original in Hindi.
Image source: Bharat Discovery/ YouTube
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Political Science Research Scholar. Doesn't believe in binaries and essentialism.
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