An Indian princess who was Muslim,a war hero, a refugee and fought the Nazis during the Second World War is how history documents Noor Inayat Khan. A descendant of the powerful Muslim dynasty that ruled large chunks of Indian peninsula from its capital Mysore, Khan was born to an Indian father and an American mother in Moscow in 1914. She was brought up in France and Britain, where her family fled when Nazi Germany invaded France during the early stages of World War 2.
“She was a citizen of the world,” her biographer, Shrabani Basu, was quoted as saying by news website PRI. Basu also heads the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust.
According to Basu, Khan joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1940 before being noticed by her superiors who transferred her to Special Operations Executive as secret agent in 1943. The Special Operations Executive was reported to have been conceptualized by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as a guerrilla force against the Nazis, who had overran large tracts of Europe by then.
Historical records indicate that Khan was “too idealistic” to be a secret agent in the scheming environment of WW2 Europe. A Sufi who was a believer in Gandhian philosophy of non-violence, she once reportedly said that she found it hard lying to others. However, her biographer Basu cited government records which revealed that the “steel” in her character was why she was recruited.
The beginning of Khan’s end started after she was captured by enemy forces in France around Oct 1943. Basu reckons she was betrayed by one of her own colleagues’ sister who had fallen in love with the same man as Khan. “Noor was very beautiful. Everyone was in love with her. And this sister was jealous of Noor. And she betrayed her.”
Khan reportedly said that it took six “burly” men to capture Khan, after they broke into her apartment. A couple of attempts to flee from detentions proved futile for Khan, who is believed to have tortured pretty badly.
“But she never broke. She wouldn’t even tell them her real name, and they never discovered the fact she was Indian,” Basu has been quoted as saying. The only blunder that she is accused of committing is not destroying her notebooks, which apparently led to the Nazis capturing several of her colleagues.
Khan breathed her last at the notorious Dachau concentration camp, where she was transferred after an year of interrogation.
At just 30, Khan was shot dead in Dachau.