History of Article 326: Why did India choose Universal Adult Franchise?

Article 326 of the Indian Constitution states there every citizen of India who is not less than 18 years of age shall be entitled to be registered as a voter. The Constitution or any law made by the Parliament such as Representation of Peoples’ Act can restrict a citizen to be a registered as a voter only on the grounds of ‘non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practices’. But before the Constitution was enacted there were several reservations against Article 326 of the Constitution. In this article, the author will analyse the reasons which made the founding fathers choose a universal adult franchise over the limited franchise.

India’s History and the Committee Reports

When India attained independence in August 1947, the citizens were lacking basic standards of education and literacy. They were divided broadly into different classes, linguistic and religious groups. Ivor Jennings, a constitutional thinker, advised that India must create a limited franchise. Even the Report on Indian Constitutional Reform of 1918 recommended what Ivor Jennings advised- a limited franchise. It was in 1930 that the Report on Indian Statutory Commission recommended ‘an extension of the vote to correspond to growth in adult literacy. This was a colonial logic which was based on the assumption that only the educated masses can vote in a democracy. Even the Report of the Indian Franchise Committee which was published in 1932 recommended that uneducated and illiterate masses don’t have an informed ‘outlook towards public affairs and political participation’.

The Indian organisations such as the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League were mostly divided on issues of power in the colonial administration. It was the Motilal Nehru Committee of 1928 which responded to the Commission reports by demanding a Universal Franchise for free India. The logic of the Committee report was that the exclusion of those who are kept out of franchise will be harmed and they might ‘de-legitimise’ the democratically elected government as well because those in power will not be their ‘own‘ representatives. Even the Sapru Committee in 1945 advocated for Universal Adult Franchise. The Sapru Committee observed that the substantial changes can be made only if there is full responsibility accredited to the government. There must be a fear of getting voted out from power. If those in power will know that a certain section of the society will not decide their fate in the next election, then they will not work for the welfare of that section as those citizens are denied voting rights. Hence, the ‘Indian’ committees recommended for Universal Franchise as opposed to the committees made by the Englishmen.

 De Facto exclusion of Lower Caste

During the colonial period and even before that, the citizens belonging to the so-called lower castes were not allowed to attain education and they were forced to do odd-jobs. Education was for the elite and the ‘upper castes’. Dr B.R. Ambedkar aware of this fact pressed for inclusion of lower caste in the franchise as ‘qualifications based on education and property during colonial rule meant the de facto exclusion of the lower caste’. For Ambedkar, who negotiated with the colonial rulers, right to vote became a focal point as he believed that ‘suffrage could itself serve an instructive role and that participation in political life would bring about consciousness among the lower castes’. As L.T. Hobhouse says in his work 1911 text Liberalism that “the success of democracy depends on the response of the voters to the opportunities given to them. But, conversely, the opportunities must be given in order to call forth that response”. To Ambedkar, the right to vote was not a privilege but a right! He believed that if it is treated as a privilege then “political emancipation of the un-enfranchised will be entirely at the mercy of those that are enfranchised”.  For ‘lower caste’, first, education was denied and then, the franchise was denied because of education. Hence, if education was kept as a criterion then it would have been erroneous and arbitrary.

Participatory Democracy and Adult Franchise

As Madhav Khosla in his book says “the apparent relationship between restrictions in the franchise and good governance had little truth”. A Parliament without any reform that is to say the inclusion of all sections of society is “not a blessing to anyone”. Democracy and participation are like Vikram and Betaal, where ‘democracy is solely about the expression of preferences at the ballot box’. Participation in an election is equivalent to the removal of isolation of a person because when a person casts her vote, she feels that her voice is being heard and she is there in the law-making process (through her representative) which will be governing her behaviour in a democratic society. ‘If democracy was about shaping the associations in one’s life, a limitation on suffrage would place the lower classes under the control of the powerful. It would mean that such classes would be deprived of the chance to shape interactions in their life.’ Putting limitations on suffrage is a form of coercion on someone’s right.

In Conclusion

Some members of the constituent assembly, like Thirumala Rao, considered universal adult franchise as ‘a dangerous weapon’ and Mahavir Tyagi considered it a ‘monstrous experiment’. K.T. Shah, a celebrated personality in the Assembly, stated that imposition of literacy as a requirement for the franchise would ‘ensure better governance’. But such a model will discourage the government from creating and spreading education and literacy among the illiterate classes as those classes might vote-out the government in the future elections if their demands are not met.

The Assembly ignored the idea of the limited franchise. The founding fathers chose universal adult franchise over limited franchise giving every citizen (who is above 18 years of age) a Right to Vote. A citizen has a right to express her opinion at the ballot box after every five years and choose their representatives. It is the most celebrated rights in the Indian Constitution which allow the marginalised and the ill-treated communities to choose the fate of their leaders. The country chose to tackle the issues of illiteracy among others by universal adult franchise!

[The author would like to thank Professor Madhav Khosla for his book “India’s Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy” and the single quotes used in this article are from his book only.]

A Conservative Amendment in a Liberal Constitution: The First Amendment

[Editorial Note: The author would like to thank Tripurdaman Singh for his book Sixteen Stormy Days: The Story of the First Amendment of the Constitution of India and Amit Varma for a wonderful discussion on his podcast Seen and the Unseen]

It was the year 1951 and the Supreme Court had passed two judgments, Brij Bhushan v. the State of Delhi and Romesh Thapar v. the State of Madras, upholding the freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under the Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution. It was before the First Constitutional Amendment when the Constitution was considered to be ‘fairly liberal’ as the freedoms guaranteed under Article 19 were not subject to so many restrictions as we see today. Restrictions were there in the original Constitution as well, no doubt, as they are necessary. Then, the freedoms were the rights and the restrictions were the exceptions to those rights. But what followed after these two judgments was an act of Parliament (more of Nehru’s) which turned the freedoms into (somewhat) exceptions.

The First Constitutional Amendment, 1951

It has to be kept in mind that the first amendment was discussed and passed by the provisional parliament which did not have a ‘popular mandate’. It was the provisional Parliament’s members who framed the Constitution but they were not the constituent assembly. But for Nehru, it did not make any difference, as he said in the assembly:

“Now, that Constituent Assembly which has gone into the history of India is no more; but we who sit here, or nearly all of us, still continue that tradition, that link. In fact, it is we after all, who was the Constituent Assembly and who drafted this Constitution. Then we were not supposed to be competent enough to draft the Constitution. But now, the work we did was so perfect that we are not now competent enough to touch it! That is rather an odd argument.” 

He was right somehow, they were not competent to amend the Constitution as they did not have any popular mandate and this amendment could have waited till the elections. But it was nothing, but sixty stormy days of debates, discussion and dictatorial behaviour! Before the amendment, Article 19(2) read as:

“(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it relates to, or prevents the State from making any law relating to, libel, slander, defamation, contempt of court or any matter which offends against decency or morality or which undermines the security of, or tends to overthrow, the State.”

It did not have any ‘reasonable restriction’ clause in it. But the restrictions were not so much. After the amendment, clause 2 of Article 19 read as follows:

“(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

This means that parliament can frame a ‘law’ which can restrict the freedom of speech and expression if that law is in furtherance of the restrictions given thereunder. Restrictions like public order or incitement to an offence are vague and can create a long-lasting chilling effect and they are, even now. Suppose, there is a rally in protest against any law passed by the state, then the state can restrict that protest and say it violates the public order, hence, citizens cannot exercise their right to speak against the government and they can invoke the draconian section 124A (Sedition) of IPC, 1860 [which is an offence under a law made by the state].

The Reasons for Amendment and the Opposing Views

In the cases of Brij Bhusan and Romesh Thapar, the government attempted to curb the freedom of the press and the right to free speech and expression. But the Court struck down that imposed restraint on civil liberties. When the question of interpretation of Article 19 came up, the Supreme Court held that if the maintenance of public, order or securing the public safety was something which did not affect the security of the State or the overthrowing of the State, then there could be no restriction on freedom of speech. The amendment was being made to overrule these judgments [hence, the words public order etc. were added], but PM Nehru said ingeniously in the assembly as he said: “We are not putting down any kind of curb or restraint. We are removing certain doubts so as to enable Parliament to function if it so chooses and when it chooses. Nothing else happens when this Bill is passed except to clarify the authority of Parliament.” These amendments have chilling effects till now. We still see so many violations of civil rights in the name of these so-called restrictions.

Nehru’s vision of freedom was more conservative (and not so liberal) as a Prime Minister than as a leader of the Congress party during the freedom struggle. According to him, the freedom of speech ‘carries with itself responsibilities and obligations’ and if they are not performed, then there would be no freedom. This goes against liberal thought.

The Parliament and the government could have dealt with the problems of public order or incitement of offence through preventive detention laws. Now, supposing there are persons who are preaching murder and who are doing, something of that character, supposing there is some newspaper which is doing something of that character and the writer is there, the individual can be secured under the Preventive Detention Act. So, if the Parliament or the Government want to prevent a person or group of persons from committing acts which they consider to be against the interests of public order, then they are already clothed with sufficient authority to do so.

The amendment does not bear any fruit, except increasing the power of the government. Another restriction which is placed is the restriction on criticism or speech on ‘friendly relations with other states’. On this Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who I feel is a text-book example of a classic liberal during the debates, said: “I have not been able to find any precedent in any part of the civilised world whereby law under the provisions of the Constitution criticism of foreign powers is taboo.

He cast doubts on the meaning of ‘friendly relations with other states’, as he said: “we may say anything about a foreign country with the utmost friendship in our hearts but if that country misunderstands and says that it offends it or it affects our friendly relations with them, you are at once bound by the provisions of the Constitution.” If the government today passes any law in furtherance of these restrictions, then anything can be restricted and the civil liberties and freedoms will merely become exceptions.

The fears apprehended by Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee are now re-surfacing back in 2020 as we witness internet shutdown(s) in Kashmir using Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code, use of draconian laws like National Security Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to curb Freedom of Speech and Expression among other violations. We see these violations of free speech and civil liberties and the reason (not the sole reason though) behind such regressive measures is this hurried, hasty and (“unconstitutional”) First Constitutional Amendment Act. PM Nehru, despite his charismatic leadership and vision, did put the Constitution and civil liberties in danger.

In conclusion, let us revisit the prophetic warning given by Dr Mukherjee and try to draw parallels in contemporary times:

“Maybe you [Nehru] will continue for eternity, in the next generation, for generations unborn; that is quite possible. But supposing some other party comes into authority? What is the precedent you are laying down?

The fears imagined by Mukherjee in 1951 still haunts us today!

A Diaphanous upon Constituent Assembly- II: In Purview of Women in Politics and their Remembrance

[This is a post by Diksha Dadu, Contributing Member]

In my previous article, I discussed the position of women in the Constituent Assembly and their attributes that led to the formation and participation of more women in politics and leadership roles thereof. Further, I also highlighted vital reforms brought about by the women while building our Constitution from scratch. In this article, I will be jotting down in continuance of the previous writing, the various reforms especially by the women and for the women which led to a structural and equally built political and constitutional structure in recent times. 

Abolition of Women Trafficking and Unequal Societal Norms and its Critiques thereof

“The average woman in this country has suffered now for centuries from inequalities heaped upon her by laws, customs and practices of people who have fallen from the heights of that civilisation of which we are all so proud, and in praise of which Dr Sir S. Radhakrishnan has always spoken”, argued Shrimati Hansa Mehta while criticising purdah system and women trafficking in Indian social norms. She was against the purdah system as women were confined within the four walls of their homes and were restricted to follow a certain social norm, therefore, she strongly opined for a better living in terms of societal norms and cultural ethnicity including a better standard of living for women. Since independence, the Indian women have been reduced to such a state of helplessness that she has become easy prey of those who wish to exploit in certain situations like giving dowry in a wedding, forceful marriages against the will of the women, and objections when women wanted to work. These situations were predominant post-independence and it was very difficult for women to take their stand and speak against the will of their families. Therefore, the women leaders in the Constituent Assembly voiced their opinion through debates and speeches for the abolition of such a system. She, further, debated over equality and proper state of living for Indian women who were forced into marriage and even forced into not remarrying if their husband dies.

“I may tell you, and I may draw your attention that no wife, no mother is feeling secure; And they are not sure when their husbands would come back, whether they would return home or not. Also, the menfolk, when they go out, are not quite sure by the time they return home, whether the wife or the daughters are safe there in the house.” 

That is the position, opined Shrimati G. Durgabai while pointing fingers towards the state and role of the state in protection of women. She believed that women are not safe inside and outside their houses because of the conventional approaches in society such as the dowry system, devadasi system and purdah system. She, however, supported the ideology of Mr Pandit Thakur Das Bhargava and argued extensively that such norms should be reviewed and women should be given equal and equitable status as men, for men and women are humans and humanity is the greatest work of God. 

However, it is pertinent to note that at times women took no interest whatsoever for voicing up their opinion on such vital constitutional matters themselves. Amongst the others, some important and abhorrent acts were domestic violence, dowry system, prostitution and devadasi system. It could be because of the patriarchal societal norms which restricted them from voicing their opinion and led them to live a cattle life. In this regard, the discussion about the amendment moved by K.T. Shah to draft Article 17 (Presently Article 23) on trafficking in human beings is worth noting. He observed:

“That in clause (1) of Article 17, for the words `Traffic in human beings and beggar’, the words `Traffic in human beings or their dedication in the name of religion to be Devadasis or be subject to other forms of enslavement and degradation and beggar’ be substituted.”

However, one of the women members expressed her reluctance for having such an amendment on the ground that the practice of Devadasi system had been made illegal in the State of Madras. Similarly, T. T. Krishnamachari launched a scathing attack on Shah’s suggestion by observing and pointing out that fundamental rights which are already incorporated in the constitution must be used as a strict action and must not be abused and action must be set up. 

“…. If those abuses are such where vested interests are likely to seek perpetuation of those abuses, well, I think we have to provide against them, but if public opinion is sufficiently mobilized against those abuses, I do not think we ought to put a blot on the fair name of India, possibly, by enacting in our constitution a ban on such abuses. …and do not try to import into these fundamental rights age-old peculiarities of ours that still persist, bad as they are in particular parts of society which can be made to disappear by suitable legislation in due course, perhaps in two, three or four years….”, reiterated T. T. Krishnamachari.

Therefore, if we look at the above excerpts from the past closely we will be able to derive two bold viewpoints. Firstly, the framers in the assembly who were against dowry practice and other such societal norms which gave women a secondary position in society. Secondly, the framers who believed that women should be associated with household chores and men with the outside work, and that purdah system made them respectable. One of the notable women for this approach was Begum Aizaz Rasu who criticised reservation for any particular sect yet agreed with Dr Ambedkar that it is for the majority to realise its duty not to discriminate against any minority. She believed that equality must prevail at all times and citizens, irrespective of men or women should be fully aware of their responsibilities and to evolve a system best suited to the needs, requirements, culture and genius of the people living here. Furthermore, it is essential to throw some light upon her closing remarks during the constituent Assembly Debate of 31 July 1947 wherein she instilled a sense of pride and respect while referring her speech to Dr B.R Ambedkar’s ideology as:

“Sir, as a woman, I have very great satisfaction in the fact that no discrimination will be made on account of sex. It is in the fitness of things that such a provision should have been made in the Draft Constitution, and I am sure women can look forward to equality of opportunity under the new Constitution. We feel that our interests are absolutely identical with those of the majority, and expect that the majority would deal justly and fairly with all minorities. At the same time, as has been pointed out by some honourable Members in their speeches, reservation of seats for minorities in the Services is a very essential thing and I hope that the members of this House will consider it when we deal with that question.”

Concluding Remarks

“Equal right is a great thing and it is only fitting that it has been included in the Constitution. 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”, stated Shrimati Ammu Swaminathan.

However, even in present time women around the world at every socio-political level find themselves under-represented in parliament and far removed from decision-making levels which can be seen by looking at the ratio of female judges in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. Even today the political or the public field is uneven and not conducive to women’s participation. Throughout the world, women face obstacles to their participation in politics and barriers are to be found in prevailing social and economic regimes, as well as in existing political structures in India.

Moreover, Indian politics advertises women from a particular political background which is the primary reason among others as to why most of the women are unwilling to engage in the election system. Their proportion in the Parliament, as well as State Legislatures and other top political hierarchies, is not very significant and their participation in politics as voters, candidates, campaigners and office-holders in political parties, on an equal footing with men, remains a dream.

Untouchability In India: An Age-Old “Social Distance” Still Maintained

[This is a post by Shreya Singh, Contributing Member]

This article is divided into two parts. The first part explains about “Untouchability” posing as a social issue in Indian society and the efforts made by the government to tackle this issue through legislation and policies. The second part of this article is a critical analysis of the CISCO caste discrimination case which took place overseas and renders an awareness of how so-called “modern” Indians are capable of slipping back to this age-old practice.  

In an era of globalisation and industrialisation, India constantly strives hard to remain on the golden chariot for better development and infrastructure. Although India is making great strides in various fields, it is still held back due to untouchability which is the offspring of an age-old Caste System. Untouchability has been a long-term disease afflicting the Hindu society for centuries and has slowly but surely infected other religions in India as well. Historians and experts claim that the caste system followed today is heavily manipulated by the ‘Brahmanical-texts’ in order for them to stay in power in the hierarchical system. The Hindu ideologies that are propagated today are based on “Brahmanism” as it exists in a textual form (more accurately, a theory) which caters to the ulterior motives of the Sanskrit-oriented high castes. 

“Religion must be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills responsibility which is the essence of the true religious act.”- Dr B.R. Ambedkar

In his book Annihilation of Caste, Ambedkar gave examples of the various practices that were adopted in different states in India. From not being allowed to enter the village, to being prohibited from treading the path walked by a high caste Hindu, the untouchables have faced it all. They were forced to tie a black thread on their wrist for others to identify them as untouchables.  Religion became a matter of rules, not principles.

Constitutional and Statutory Provisions

The vicious act of “Untouchability” was observed as a Social Custom before the commencement of the Constitution. Draft Article 11(Article 17) was discussed during the Constituent Assembly on 29th November 1948. The term “Untouchability” is abolished under Article 17 of the Constitution of India but has never been defined. This was addressed as a Fundamental Right to promote consciousness amongst law and policy-makers. Article 17 states that- “Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of Untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law”.

During the Constituent Assembly Debates, Mr K.T. Shah showed his concern regarding the vagueness of the term and the absence of a definition clause which could lead to misinterpretation. Mr Nazzirudin Ahmad with an intention to make the definition more specific proposed an amendment by adding the term “caste” and “religion” in the definition which stated that,

No one shall on account of his religion or caste be treated or regarded as untouchable.”

This was rejected by the Assembly as there were concerns regarding the restriction of the scope of Article 17 of the Constitution of India.  Justice Nittoor Srinivasa Rau, former Chief Justice of Karnataka observed that “the subject matter of Article 17 is not untouchability in its literal or grammatical sense but the practice as it had developed historically in this country“. Based on the constitutional provision, the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 was introduced by the Central legislature to prescribe punishment for practising “Untouchability” and was later modified into SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 which provides them with special protection. However, the SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018 was considered to be arbitrary and faced backlashes.

Despite the numerous efforts made towards the eradication of this social stigma along with the undivided attention of the government, this custom still remains a huge problem in our Indian society. A major factor which results in the promotion of the caste system is the Dalit vote banks and caste-based politics. Indian politicians promote the caste system in the garb of drawing votes, to continue staying in power.

There have been major gaps in the implementation of Rule of law. A Dalit girl’s family had to face social boycott for plucking flowers from an upper-caste Hindu family’s garden. We can observe how the caste system plays a major role in promoting untouchability and is probably the only reason for its existence. The Indian Constitution prohibits discrimination against caste but there is no provision that declares the abolition of the Caste System itself. The Caste System has been deeply ingrained in the Indian Hindu society.

“The outcaste is a by-product of the caste system. There will be outcastes as long as there are castes. Nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system.”– B.R. Ambedkar

The Equality Bill, 2019- A ray of hope ?

Keeping in mind of the various levels of discrimination that takes place in India, the Centre for Law and Policy Research has introduced the Equality Bill, 2019 which is an amalgamation of all the anti-discrimination laws covering intersectional, structural and systemic discrimination which includes sexual orientation, caste, gender identity, sex, age, etcetera. (the Bill will be discussed later on this blog) The bill has been inspired by UK, Australian, South African law and promotes equality by providing civil remedies to the victims of discrimination. This bill bids adieu to the old statutes related to anti-discrimination and is presented as an advanced model to curb discrimination by providing civil remedies, and not the usual criminal penalisation. Unlike criminal law, here is special attention to the enforcement of the law by minimizing the burden of proof by shifting it from the petitioner to the respondent i.e., the accused will have to prove his/her innocence in front of the court.

There still has to be further discussions regarding the need to strike a balance between the rights of both the parties. However, the bill, if passed, will bring about a revolution in India and would act as a reference model regarding anti-discriminatory laws on a global level.

Conclusion

Though there has been a significant reduction of cases regarding caste discrimination due to comparatively progressive laws, education and social awareness, untouchability hasn’t diminished in our surrounding and still manages to thrive despite the measures taken. Untouchability has managed to deepen its roots on the Indian soil and is still affecting the depressed classes. It has caused widespread hatred and oppression towards a community based merely on their birth. This has increased to such an extent that it is affecting Indian citizens living abroad (see here). The CISCO caste discrimination case which took place in Silicon Valley is a solid example. Due to the inefficient implementation of the laws, this social issue is going out of hands and has crossed national boundaries. The various nuances of this case will be further explained in the next article.

A Diaphanous upon Constituent Assembly-I: In Purview of Women in Politics and their Remembrance

[This is a post by Diksha DaduContributing 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.

Introduction

“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. 

Concluding remarks

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.