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Noor Inayat Khan, an Indian-origin spy honoured in the UK

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Noor Inayat Khan, a World war II spy, was recently honoured with a blue plaque at her former residence on Taviton Street in Bloomsbury district, London.

The London blue plaque scheme, run by the English Heritage, links “the people of the past with the buildings of the present.”  

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Noor’s biographer Shrabani Basu said: “When Noor Inayat Khan left this house on her last mission, she would never have dreamed that one day she would become a symbol of bravery. She was an unlikely spy. As a Sufi she believed in non-violence and religious harmony. Yet when her adopted country needed her, she unhesitatingly gave her life in the fight against fascism”.

Image source: Geo News

Noor Inayat Khan: an ‘unlikely spy’

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After completing her education, Noor was working as a children’s story writer. In 1940, however, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, a wing of the Royal Air Force, where she trained as a wireless operator. 

Khan, who is Britain’s first Muslim war heroine, is remembered for her role in the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret service established by Winston Churchill which she joined in 1942.

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In 1943, She was the first female radio operator to be sent to Nazi-occupied France. “She knew how dangerous her mission was and she knew she could get killed… Eventually, her circuit collapsed around her and she remained the last link with London, but refused to abandon her post despite the dangers,” said Basu.

Khan was eventually captured and killed at the Dachau Concentration camp in 1944. She had refused to reveal any information to the enemy despite repeated torture.

The Indian Connection

 Noor Inayat Khan was born to an Indian father and an American mother in 1914. Noor’s father, Inayat Khan, was born in Baroda. He was a Hindustani Classical musician and a Sufi preacher who had moved to the West. 

Inayat Khan’s maternal grandmother, Qasim Bibi, was a granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the 18th-century ruler of Mysore. 

Other Awards and Honours

Noor Inayat Khan’s statue in Gordon Square (Image source: The Independent)

Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1949. In 2012, her statue was unveiled in Gordon Square by Princess Anne in London. In 2014, Britain’s Royal Mail issued a postage stamp in her honour as a part of its ‘Remarkable Lives’ series, according to The Indian Express.

Books, Movies and documentaries 

Author Shrabani Basu wrote Noor’s biography – Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan which was published in 2006. Films like Enemy of The Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story and Netflix’s Churchill’s Secret Agents: The New Recruits have also told Noor’s story. A Call to Spy, based on the lives of female spies of Special Operations Executive, with Radhika Apte playing Noor Inayat Khan, will also be released later this year.   

Cover Image credits: The Print

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