Dr Shreeya Bakshi
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was born on April 14, 1891 in a Mahar caste in Maharashatra. He was a Law graduate and did his PhD from London University. Dr. Ambedkar is an outstanding example of what Antonio Gramsci called an ‘organic intellectual’, that is, one who represents and articulates the interests of an entire social class. He was the Chairman of Constitution Drafting committee of India. He always advocated the inclusion of downtrodden sections of the society. He was of the opinion that society should be studied from ‘the below’ which means that the marginal or downtrodden sections must be given due importance including dalits, women, tribals etc.
As Ambedkar joined the Indian political arena, the social reforms achieved an altogether new dimension. He was of the opinion that unless and until the downtrodden themselves came forward to fight their battle, no one else could alleviate their grievances. He impressed up on the people to understand their own state of affairs. Self awakening, self elevation, liberation etc. were the mantras which Ambedkar taught to the millions of dumb minds who were forced to live the lives of sub-human beings in India.
Ambedkar’s perception of women’s question, emphasized their right to education, equal treatment with men, right to property and involvement in the political process resembled the global feminists demand. The vision of Dr. Ambedkar about women is explicitly depicted in Indian Constitution. Dr. Ambedkar tried an adequate inclusion of women’s right in the political vocabulary and constitution of India. i.e., Article14 Equal rights and opportunities in political, economic and social spheres, Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the ground of sex, Article 15(3) enables affirmative discrimination in favour of women, Article 39 Equal means of livelihood and equal pay for equal work, Article 42 Human conditions of work and maternity relief, Article 51 (A) (C) Fundamental duties to renounce practices, derogatory to the dignity of women, Article 46 The state to promote with special care, the educational and economic interests of weaker section of people and to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation, Article 47 The state to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health and so on, Article 243D (3), 243T (3) & 243R (4) provides for allocation of seats in the Panchayati Raj System and many others. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. He laid down the foundation of social justice and there can be no social justice without gender equality.
He encouraged women to organize themselves. In January 1928, a women’s association was founded in Bombay with Ramabai- Ambedkar’s wife, as its president. In the Kalram Temple Entry Satyagraha at Nasik in 1930, five hundred women participated and many of them were arrested along with men and were ill treated in jails. The encouragement of Dr. Ambedkar to empower women to speak boldly was seen when Radhabai Vadale addressed a press conference in 1931. She stressed “It is better to die a hundred times than live a life full of humiliation. We will sacrifice our lives but we will win our rights.”
The credit for this self – respect and firm determination of women goes to Ambedkar. He believed in the strength of women and their role in the process of social reform. The historic Mahad Satyagraha witnessed participation of three hundred women along with their male counterparts. Addressing another meeting of about 3000 women, he, very emphatically said, “I measure the progress of community by the degree of progress which women had achieved. Let every girl who marries stand by her husband, claim to be her husband’s friend and equal, and refuse to be his slave. I am sure if you follow this advice, you will bring honour and glory to yourselves.”
Dr. Ambedkar extensively studied the position of women and had thrown light on denial of rights to her. He stated that the consequences of purdah system on Muslim women were that it deprived her of mental and moral nourishment. Dr. Ambedkar wanted to free women from inhumane customs, rituals and superstitions and made the way for their liberation. He started involving women in the struggle, for eradication of caste systems and for upliftment of the underprivileged sections. He realized that this could not be achieved without liberating the women themselves. Impressed by the large gathering of women at women’s conference held at Nagpur on 20th July, 1942, he told women to be progressive and abolish traditionalism, ritualism and customary habits, which were detrimental to their progress.
Empowerment envelops developing and building capacities of individuals and communities to make them part of the main stream society. He stated “We shall see better days soon and our progress will be greatly accelerated if male education is persuaded side by side with female education…” So Ambedkar believed that education is the only mean by which societies could grow out of oppression to democratic participation and involvement. He put all his efforts to guarantee the educational opportunities without any discrimination to all the citizens of India.
The British rule abolished detestable practices like sati but passed several laws to protect customs and traditions of Hindus. Dr. Ambedkar who was an architect of Indian Constitution, provided strong constitutional safeguards to women. The Special Marriage Act sets four essential conditions for a valid marriage i.e, monogamy, sound mind, marriageable age and the parties should not be too closely related. Violent and forceful abortions and abortions without consent of women were fair crimes under section 313. The Hindu Succession Act gives male and female heirs almost equal rights to inheritance. Section 14 of this Act says that any property possessed by a female Hindu shall be held by her as full owner and not a limited owner.
He strongly advocated for family planning measures for women in Bombay Legislative Assembly. In 1942, being a Labour Minister of Executive Council of Governor General, he introduced a Maternity Benefit Bill. He provided several provisions in the constitution for protecting the welfare and civil rights of women.
He always honored women for their work and hardships. While addressing in conferences to women he could easily communicate with them as a homely person and conversation. He evoked women in the following words. “Never wear such clothes which will degrade our personality and character. Avoid wearing the jewellery on your body everywhere. It is not fair to make hole on nose and wear nath”. In this he condemned all the bad traditions, habits and ways of life which made life difficult and complex. And to the surprise, even the illiterate women followed his advice from the bottom of their heart. Dr. Babasaheb spent his life for the betterment of women even involved in bad practices and professionals like prostitutions. The greatest example of it was seen in Kamathipura. There was a person named David who was the mediator working in brothel. He left his profession persuaded by the thoughts and teachings of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. He evoked the entire prostitutes to give up their profession and lead the life of honour.
The most firm step took by him was the introduction of The Hindu Code Bill in 1948 which was revolutionary in confinement of proprietary rights to women but when not accepted by the Parliament. The Hindu Code Bill-the most formidable legislative measure of modern India, sought among other reforms, to put an end to a variety of marriage systems prevailing in India and legalize only monogamous marriages. The Code also sought to confer on women the right of property and adoption which had been denied by Manu. It put men and women on an equal level in all legal matters. Dr. Ambedkar said, “I should like draw attention of the house to one important fact. The great political philosopher Burke who wrote his great book against the French Revolution said that those who want to conserve must be ready to repair. And all I am asking this House is: If you want to maintain the Hindu system, Hindu culture and Hindu society, do not hesitate to repair where repair is necessary. This Bill asks for nothing more than to repair those parts of the Hindu system which have become dilapidated”. But when this Bill was not accepted and passed by parliament, Ambedkar resigned from his ministerial post. In his letter of resignation dated the 27 September, 1951 to the Prime Minister, he wrote “For a long time I have been thinking of resigning my seat from the Cabinet. The only thing that had held me back from giving effect to my intention was the hope that it would be possible to give effect to the Hindu Code Bill before the life of present Parliament came to an end. I even agreed to break up the bill and restricted it to Marriage and Divorce in the fond hope that atleast this much of our labour may bear fruit. But even that part of Bill had been killed. I see no purpose in my continuing to be a Member of your Cabinet”
In his last speech in Indian Parliament he quoted the famous thoughts of an Irish Patriot Daniel O Connal as, “No man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity. And no nation can be grateful at the cost of his liberty.” In his famous book “Pakistan and partition of India” he expressed his views about Muslim women and their religious traditions, about wearing veil, their marriages and so on. Muslim women were suppressed under various religious traditions.
Towards all the women, irrespective of their religion, castes and class, Ambedkar had a particular humanitarianism view. He frequently raised his voice against all sorts of injustice towards women. His deep concerns and feelings for all round development of women are expressed from his each sentence and word. Thus, it would be appropriate to call him- a true feminist of independent India.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, HP.)
Dr Shreeya Bakshi