[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.”
“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.