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Radhabai Subbarayan

Full nameKailash Radhabai Subbarayan (née Kudmul) (aka Radhabhai Subbaroyan)
Born22 Apr 1891, Place unknown
Died02 Jun 1960, New Delhi, India

Born in Mangalore, Radhabai Kudmul was the daughter of a lawyer and prominent social reformer. After attending school in Mangalore she studied at Presidency College, Madras, then in 1912 spent a term at Somerville College, Oxford. Having been widowed at a young age, in 1912 she remarried out of caste to the barrister and politician P. Subbarayan, who later became Chief Minister of Madras (1926-1930). In 1923 she was the first woman to be elected to the Madras University Senate, subsequently being elected by the Senate to the Syndicate. She was involved in various women’s and social reform groups, presided at the Madras Women’s Conference of 1928, and was chair of the Women’s Purdah Clubs in Madras and Ootacamund.

Subbarayan was a member of the British Indian delegation, speaking to the concerns of Indian women specifically at the conference.

For additional biographical information, see the official delegate Who's Whos. See also Emery Kelen's caricature, from his portfolio of delegates at the Round Table Conference.

First Session

  • 24th October 1930: RJ Stopford, Secretary to the Conservative Delegation, hosted Subbarayan for dinner at his central London flat, having been hosted by Subbarayan herself at Ooty (Ootacamund) during his tour of India with the Simon Commission. (British Library E346.2)
  • Subbarayan sat on the Franchise and Minorities Sub-Committees.
  • 29th November 1930: Moonje noted in his diary that: “2.30pm saw Mrs Sobrayan (sic). She told us that differences have cropped up between her and Mrs Shah Nawaz. Latter wants provinces completely independent of states, Mrs Subrayan (sic) wants strong central government so Shah Nawaz suggested both ladies keep quiet during general discussion. We advised her to be bold in her support of us.” (NMML: Moonje diary)
  • 20th December 1930: Shah Nawaz and Subbarayan submitted a joint memorandum to the franchise committee asking for full adult franchise, arguing against the property qualification. In later discussions it was agreed that this was not immediately practicable, and emphasis was placed on increasing female franchise. (Mukherjee, 2018:206)
  • 1st January 1931: Moonje noted in his diary “Mrs Subrayan [sic, Subbarayan] just like every other Hindu is meek and docile and completely under the thumb of Mrs Shah Nawaz. She has no communal [leanings?] while the Shah Nawaz is just quite the reverse. She is very sweet but firm, intensely communal but very successful in camouflaging of Mrs Sobrayan by tall talk of nationalism and love of Mother India, very cunning and aggressive though she conceals the aggressiveness in words [of] sweet sentimentally. Consequently appearance of unity is kept in between the two lady members by one of them[,] the nebulous Hindu Mrs Subrayan completely subordinating herself to the virile and overpowering personality of Mrs Shah Nawaz.” (NMML: Moonje diary)
  • 5th January 1931: an “at home” was co-hosted by the two female delegates at the first session, Begum Shah Nawaz and Mrs Subbarayan, at the Indian Social Centre at No.8. Chesterfield Gardens, at which visitors would have the opportunity to meet both the Prime Minister and his daughter, Ishbel MacDonald.
  • On 19th January Subbarayan addressed the concluding plenary session, stating that: “We have a very grave responsibility to our country, and I personally do not believe that India will accept a form of Government which, while conceding general principles of responsible self-government, contains details and reservations which might make it in reality something different from that. Sir, we want to take back with us to India the hope of a scheme which will contain the essential details as well as the general principles of responsibility. Nevertheless, we understand the anxiety of some of our British friends on certain heads, and we think that such anxiety should be met, as far as is consistent with our national aspirations, in a sympathetic and conciliatory spirit... [Lord Sankey] asks us to take [the plan for federation] to India, to transfer it to the kindly Indian soil, there to tend and nurture it; but, Sir, may I point out that if it is to be suitable to the soil of India it must be a plant of quick growth, and the prospect of the fullgrown tree, under which we are all to find peace, prosperity and contentment, must not be long deferred. That such a tree may be the lasting emblem of friendship between our two nations must be our earnest hope, and it is on such a note of hope that I wish to conclude my remarks.” (Indian Round Table Conference, Proceedings)
  • In the spring of 1931 Indian women’s organisations made clear their support for full adult franchise, about which Subbarayan expressed her doubts. She encouraged Rathbone to campaign for the reservation of seats for women. (Mukherjee, 2018:212)

Second Session

  • 31st August 1931: ahead of the second session RJ Stopford submitted report of an interview with Subbarayan to the Conservative delegates, suggesting that it reflected the views of moderate Hindus more generally. Her fear was that the new National Government (formed the week before) might fail to honour the three main principals of the first RTC session, namely federation, responsible government, and safeguards. On communal matters Subbarayan felt that Hindus were less minded to compromise with Muslims than they had been before. She also reported that many in India felt that Patiala’s opposition to federation was being fuelled by the Political Department in India, and the Churchill and his supporters were behind it. (British Library: E346.9)
  • 18th September 1931: Subbarayan delivered a speech to the Federal Structure Committee, emphasising that the joint plea with Shah Nawaz the previous year for reservation of seats had been made in consultation with as many women’s organisations as had been possible. She stuck to her original proposals, while Shah Nawaz and Naidu submitted new proposals. (Mukherjee, 2018:214)
  • Subbarayan served on the Indian tour of the Franchise Committee, chaired by Lothian, to the ire of many Indian women’s organisations. (Mukherjee, 2018:218)
  • 30th November 1931: in her speech at the concluding plenary Subbarayan returned to her theme from the first session: “The plant has now grown stronger, and India is anxiously awaiting the transplanting of that plant to her soil. We want that plant to be transplated as early as is possible, and in its entirety, roots and all, and not partially. It is only then that this plant will flourish and grow up into a large tree, under whose cool and deep shade all our people will live in prosperity and contentment. As I said last year I am sure that this tree will be an emblem of wise statesmanship and permanent friendship between Great Britain and India” (Indian Round Table Conference (Second Session), Proceedings, p. 321)
  • 2 September 1932: Subbarayan had written to Eleanor Rathbone protesting at the inclusion of reserved electoral seats in the “Communal Award”. (Mukherjee, 2018:223)


  • 1933: Subbarayan published an article defending her initial request at the RTC for special voting privileges for women, given that immediate adult franchise had been ruled out. (Mukherjee, 2018:210)
  • 1938: became the first female member of the Council of States.

Sources used

Selected publications

  • Mrs. Subbarayan & Begum Shah Nawaz, “Women’s History: Extracts from Memorandum of Mrs. Subbarayan and Begum Shah Nawaz, circulated to the Franchise Sub-Committee. It was circulated at their request to the members of the Minorities Sub-Committee of the Round Table Conference held in 1930”, Pakistan Journal of Women's Studies = Alam-e-Niswan, 17:2 (2010), pp. 111-113
  • Radhabai Subbarayan, “Convocation address”, Stri Dharma (August 1933)
  • Mrs. P. [Radhabai] Subbarayan, The Political Status of Women Under the New Constitution (Madras; n.d.)

Secondary literature

  • Manchester Guardian, “Peace Appeals at the Round Table: Hindu-Moslem Problem: Premier’s Effort for Agreement: Powerful Support from Women Delegates” (24 Dec 1930), p. 12
  • The Times, “Deaths”, Issue Number 54792 (6 Jun 1960), p.1
  • Times of India “Mrs. Subbaroyan Dead” (3 Jun 1960), p. 6
  • Geraldine H. Forbes, “Votes for Women: The Demand for Women‘s Franchise in India 1917-1937”, in Vina Mazumdar (Ed.), Symbols of Power: Studies on the Political Status of Women in India (Bombay: Allied Publishers Private Ltd; 1979), pp. 3-23
  • Sumita Mukherjee, “Eleanor Rathbone and Radhabai Subbarayan: Debate on Indian Female Franchise in the 1930s”, Women's History, 2:6 (Autumn 2016), pp. 10-14:
ImagesPhotograph of Radhabai Subbarayan, from the published biographical guide to delegates at the second session of the Round Table Conference, 1931

"Mrs. Subbarayan, Zamindarni of Kumaramangalam, Daughter of the late Rai Saheb K. Rangarao, the well-known Brahmin social reformer of South Kanara, who worked earnestly for the advancement of women and the uplifting of the Untouchables." From Indian Round Table Conference Second Session 1931: Biographical Notes and Photographs of the British and Indian Delegates (London: St. James's Palace). By permission of the British Library (shelfmark T 11187). Reproduced under Open Government Licence v3.0 (

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