[This is a post by Diksha Dadu, Contributing Member]
This is a series of articles wherein I will be dealing with the heroism and contribution of women in the framing of the Indian Constitution and their honour in the Constituent Assembly. Parlance will be drawn regarding the initiatives and reforms brought about by women in the Constituent Assembly.
“Boycott the future legislation of India if it doesn’t comprise of enough women in all levels, for, women are the centre stage of our freedom struggle and I do not wish to accept a legislation without enough Women leaders”critiqued Mahatma Gandhi in early 1930s.
Our Indian Constitution is one of the lengthiest and well-written Constitutions of the world. It is considered to be an all-inclusive constitution which surfaces itself to the institution of the Constituent Assembly which in turn led to the making of our constitution. While addressing the framework or the committee of our drafting committee, we come across many notable members who were responsible for the ultimatum, however, no significant light has been centred towards the involvement of women and their wit grit which led to a revolutionary and reformatory change in our overall socio-economic and socio-political political system.
Therefore, this article analyses the distinct importance of women in the framing of the constitution of India and their significant role in the Constituent Assembly. The vital essence and the main purpose of this article are to remember and pay respect to the reforms brought out by women in political and legislative roles in the Post-Independence Era via contemplating the historical background, famous speeches and work, difficulties due to Indian societal structure and an overall theoretical approach to the social issues which stunted the empowerment of women in politics as well as in other legislative roles.
Making of the Constitution: Women’s Contribution and Reforms in Constituent Assembly
Throughout the India’s Freedom Struggle for Independence, the role of women has been shadowed even though their sacrifices amidst the torture, hardships and exploitations carried out a huge impact on the overall movement. In the early 1817’s, that is, 30 years before the First War of Independence, women came forward to fight against the British atrocities when most of the Indian men were thrown in jail for their opposite interest from that of the Britishers. Heroism and acts of rebellion against the wrongful acts is said to be initiated by the infamous Bhima Bai Holkar who fought against Colonel Malcolm and defeated him in Guerilla warfare. Many other women including Rani Channama of Kittur, Rani Begam Hazrat Mahal of Avadh fought against British East India company in the 19th century and had laid an outstanding example of real patriotism. This historical appreciation gives us an insight into the role and position of women in our societal fabric which will help us entail the broad canvas with regard to the contribution of women in the making of the constitution within the sphere of complex social and political boundaries.
In December 1946, the constituent assembly came together to debate and draft a constitution for an independent India. It took place over 2 years, 11 months and 17 days. Among the 299 members of the assembly, 15 were women who had either been voted or chosen to represent their provinces. The assembly was a platform from which they could assert their equality and craft a politically balanced republic. The under-currents beneath the drafting of constitution and rhetoric reformations brought out by women formulated a new hope for women with regard to the issue of gender roles and has strived women to be voluble in their speech and fight for their rights. The representation of women in the assembly was only 4%, however, it is a reflection of plurality in our historical juncture reinstating the interventions and backdrop of women participation led to a significant reformulation in future for women in politics.
Minority Rights and Abolition of Untouchability
“The working of the Constitution will depend upon how the people will conduct themselves in the future, not on the actual execution of the law. So I hope that in course of time there will not be such a community known as Untouchables and that our delegates abroad will not have to hang their heads in shame if somebody raises such a question in an organization of international nature,” said Smt. Dakshayani Velayudan who was the first Dalit woman to get elected and made the assembly go beyond framing a constitution and to give “people a new framework of life”. She used this opportunity to make untouchability illegal, unlawful and ensure a “moral safeguard that gives real protection to the underdogs” in India. Her discussion included taking down Churchill’s promise to safeguard the scheduled castes in an independent India and argued that the communist party was only exploiting the Harijans. She held strong to the conviction that only an Independent socialist republic can help uplift the Dalits and give them the liberties exercised by every other citizen.
She delivered her speech on the 28th of August 1947 against separate electorates in any form and her censure of the reservation system was in support of a nationalist narrative that sought economic and social upliftment rather than looking to politics as a means to eradicate the system of untouchability. She highlighted in her speech on “As long as the Scheduled Castes, or the Harijans or by whatever name they may be called, are economic slaves of other people, there is no meaning demanding either separate electorates or joint electorates or any other kind of electorates with this kind of percentage.”
Furthermore, Smt. Purnima Banerji and Smt. Renuka Ray played a significant role in putting forward minority issues and possible legal changes in the laws pertaining to women. Ray debated and discussed that “It is they who are the backward sections of the community and who are the majority at the same time. It is their problem that we have to take up. If we want to make the Objectives Resolution that this House has passed and the Fundamental Rights that have been laid down, a living reality, it is this problem that we have got to tackle.” They both fought for equal rights for minority groups and their development through all means and power imbibed in the constitution and their activism and arguments encircled India’s paramount interest and debated that Hindus as a religious community shall not override others interest with the main focus that no special group shall stand in the way of equality and harmonious development.
Socio, economic and Political Justice for Women
“There are thousands of women today who are denied ordinary human rights. They are put behind the purdah, secluded within the four walls of their homes, unable to move freely”, argued Smt. Hansa Mehta while emphasizing upon the vitality of social justice, economic justice, political justice and equality which can alone be the basis of mutual respect and without which real co-operation is not possible between men and women. She was the president of All India Women’s Conference, member of UN sub-committee on the status of women, and vice-chair with Eleanor Roosevelt on the committee which drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Mehta was an educationist, feminist and reformist and along with Rajkumari Amrit Kaur framed the Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties and fought for the uniform civil code (UCC). She joined hands with Vijayalakshmi Pandit and worked on women’s equality and human rights in the UN as well.
“People outside have been saying that India did not give equal rights to her women. Now we can say that when the Indian people themselves framed their Constitution they have given rights to women equal with every other citizen of the country”, pointed out Shrimati Ammu Swaminathan in her speeches and argued widely for the inclusion of women in various aspects of equal fittings in the Constitution and recognition of women in the framing of India’s Constitution.
Thus, to conclude, we can draw parlance regarding the subordinate position of women since the pre-independence era in furtherance of the role and attributes of women in society. It is essential to ponder over the fact that the making of the constitution would be bereft if women were not included, even though the figure remained less than half of men. However, the voluble women leaders and participants in the Assembly has led to a drastic reformatory approach in terms of the minority rights, the abolition of the untouchability and the over-all attribute of women in the society. These reforms as mentioned above help us to honour and remember the position and vitality of women in leadership roles and in the overall equal diaspora.
Stay tuned for more of this series.