Women of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution
- 12 Sep 2019
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The Indian Constitution is notably one of the most inclusive constitutions in the world. It is also the longest written Constitution in the world. And it turned out to be this good because how highly educated and esteemed the panel of the Drafting Committee was.
While the famous names of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, etc. dominate the scenario, it is often forgotten that this committee had representation, no matter how sparse, of women too and all of them coming from different backgrounds.
Of 392 people that were in the committee, only 15 were women.
This makes the representation of women less than 4% here. While this is not ideal, it is important to note the widespread illiteracy and subjugation, especially amongst women, and caused from pre-existing societal prejudices and norms, had made it almost impossible for women to claim a political space. Due to this, the number of educated, politically strong, and radical women at that time was minimal to say the least.
On the 73rd year of independence, this year, when we celebrate the long, tireless, and hard struggle of our freedom fighters, let us also take a moment and celebrate these 15 strong, intelligent, and crusading women who overcame all social obstacles to put together one of the most lauded Constitutions of the world.
Dakshayani Velayudhan, Hansa Jivraj Mehta, Amrit Kaur, Ammu Swaminathan, Begum Aizaz Rasul, Durgabai Deshmukh, Kamla Chaudhary, Leela Roy, Malati Choudhary, Purnima Bannerjee, Renuka Roy, Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kriplani, Vijaylakshmi Pandit, and Annie Mascarene — these were the 15 women from diverse backgrounds - though and unsurprisingly so, the number of Savarna women was more than that of the Avarna women.
Dakshayani Velayudhan, one of the fifteen, came from the Pulaya community of Cochin and was among the first generation of women of her community to be both educated and to wear a ‘upper-cloth’. She was the first and only Dalit woman who was elected to the Constituent Assembly. She, along with Dr. Ambedkar, brought many caste-related issues to light in the Assembly debates. She also happened to be the youngest member of the committee at 34.
Elected from Bombay, Hansa Jivraj Mehta was a member of the Fundamental Rights Sub-committee, the Advisory Committee, and the Provincial Constitutional Committee. On 15 August 1947, a few minutes after midnight, Mehta, on behalf of the “women of India", presented the national flag to the assembly—the first flag to fly over independent India. She, along with Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, modelled the Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties, and fought for the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). She recognised herself as a feminist and worked extensively in the women’s movement that pushed for the abolition of child marriage (the Sarda Act), the Devadasi system, for better educational opportunities for women, and personal law reforms. She also initiated a number of Constituent Assembly debates, trying to make the UCC a justiciable part of the constitution. Mehta, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Ambedkar, and Manoo Masani were in strong opinion of UCC being a part of the state’s responsibility to form a single Indian identity over the multiple and, often clashing, cultural and religious identities. However, their motion to pass this as a Right was overturned.
Ammu Swaminathan was elected from the Madras Constituency and was a firm advocate for the abolishment of the archaic and oppressive caste system and sided with Ambedkar for several caste-related issues. Being an upper-caste woman, Ammu recognised the evil of caste and even criticised Jawahar Lal Nehru for responding to Panditji which she saw a sign of superior class dominance.
Begum Aizaz Rasul was the only Muslim woman among the fifteen and was elected from U.P. in the Constituent Commmittee of India. Coming from a family of influential taluqdars of Oudh (UP), she was one of the few women who successfully contested from a non-reserved seat and was elected to the U.P legislative assembly. In her lifetime, she was always active in the political scenario. She was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1952. Between 1969 and 1971, she was the Minister for Social Welfare and Minorities. In 2000, she was awarded a Padma Bhushan for her contribution to social work.
Durgabai Deshmukh was the only female member of the Panel of Chairmen in the Constituent Assembly. She played a significant role in the enactment of many social welfare laws. She was also the one who proposed Hindustani (Hindi+Urdu) as the national language of India.
Kamla Chaudhary had come from an affluent family in Lucknow but had struggled to get an education. She was one of the most active women in the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930. The British government jailed her several times. In 1946, she was made the Vice President at the 54th conference of the Congress held in Meerut. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly from 1947 to 1952, and she was also a prolific writer and wrote extensively on gender discrimination, exploitation of peasants, and poor condition of widows in the society.
Leela Roy was a feminist who, time and again, had protested and fought for what was right. From a young age, she threw herself into social work and education for girls, supported vocational training and emphasised the need for girls to learn martial arts to defend themselves. Over the years, she set up a number of schools and institutes for women.
Malati Choudhary was a socialist whose struggle for what is morally correct didn’t stop at obtaining freedom for the country, she went to jail for protesting against Indira Gandhi’s imposed Emergency.
Purnima Bannerjee was perhaps one of the most strong-headed women elected from Allahabad (present-day Prayagraj), Uttar Pradesh and worked extensively towards rural engagement. She took part in the Salt March and the Quit India Movement and was subsequently imprisoned.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur came from the princely state of Punjab and founded AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Science) and argued for its autonomy. She firmly supported women’s participation in sports, medicine, and health. She set up the Tuberculosis Association of India, the Central Leprosy and Research Institute, held the vice-chair of the Board of Governors of the League of Red Cross Societies, and also the Chair of the Executive Committee of St John’s Ambulance Society.
Renuka Ray hailed from West Bengal and was a strong advocate for gender equality. Renuka argued for a uniform personal law code, stating how the position of Indian women was iniquitous. Sarojini Naidu is possibly one of the most famous names from the drafting committee. She is popularly called the ‘Nightingale of India’. She was the first Indian woman to be president of the Indian National Congress and to be appointed as Governor to a State. Besides her exemplary work in the field of women empowerment, she was known for her literary prowess and was elected as a member of the Royal Society of Literature.
The Royal Society of Literature is a learned society founded in 1820 by King George IV, to "reward literary merit and excite literary talent".
Sucheta Kriplani came from the present-day Haryana and is celebrated for her pivotal role in the Quit India Movement in 1942. She was also responsible for establishing the Women Wing in the INC in 1940. She was the first woman Chief Minister of India when she took over the office from Chandra Bhanu Gupta (Uttar Pradesh) in 1963. Vijaylakshmi Pandit was the sister of Jawahar Lal Nehru and her political career had started early and she served a total of three jail sentences under British rule. She was appointed as the first woman and became the first Asian to be elected President of the U.N. General Assembly in 1953. Anne Mascarene was one of the first women to join the Travancore State Congress and became the first woman to be part of the Travancore State Congress Working Committee. She was one of the leaders of the movement for independence and integration with the Indian nation in the Travancore State.
To conclude, we can say that women have been conquering every possible hurdle with grace for several decades now and these 15 women are very good role models for women of today. They have left an undeniable and immortal impact on the country and the world with their hard work and sacrifice, and this should never go unnoticed!