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Women And Drafting Of The Indian Constitution

The Indian Constitution is the longest and one of the most comprehensive pieces of legal document in the world. It included rights that western societies had to fight for years after their independence. From the onset of our Independence, the concept of universal adult suffrage was adopted, which gave voting rights to every citizen above the age of 21 irrespective of caste, creed, gender, and race.

We also adopted measures to safeguard our minority communities and also abolished the system of untouchability. The Indian Constitution now consists of a preamble, 448 articles in 25 parts, and 12 schedules. At the time of its commencement, it had 395 Articles in 22 Parts and 8 Schedules.

The Constituent Assembly took almost three years (two years, eleven months, and seventeen days to be precise) to complete its historic task of drafting the Constitution for Independent India. During this period, it held eleven sessions covering a total of 165 days. Of these, 114 days were spent, on the consideration of the Draft Constitution. The Constituent Assembly consisted of 299 members who were chosen by indirect election by the members of the Provincial Legislative Assemblies, according to the scheme recommended by the Cabinet Mission. Of the 299 members, 70 members were nominated from 29 Princely States. This included 15 women representatives.

In a once matriarchal society and where goddesses are still worshiped to no end, only fifteen women were chosen to represent the fairer sex. This in itself showcases how pre-dominantly male-oriented and patriarchal our society was, although we preached of equality. We can be proud that, out of the 15 women, most of them were ordinary women who were revolutionaries who had an immense impact on our Constitution, especially women's interests.

They were freedom fighters, lawyers, reformists, suffragettes, and politicians. They also belonged to women's organizations and had taken part in feminist movements since 1917. Sadly, they were invisible then and mostly remain invisible even now after 70 years of the Constitution coming into force.

These are the 15 invisible architects of the Indian republic:

  1. Ammu Swaminathan

    She was born into an upper-caste Nair family in the Palghat district of Kerala. She was a social worker and politician who along with Annie Besant, Margaret Cousins, Malathi Patwardhan, Mrs. Dadabhoy, and Mrs. Ambujammal, formed the Women's India Association in 1917 in Madras. One of the first associations to demand adult franchise and constitutional rights for women. She strongly opposed discriminatory caste practices although, she belonged to an upper-caste and strongly advocated equal status, adult franchise, and the removal of untouchability. She also fought for the Sarda Act or Child Marriage Restraint Act, Age of Consent Act, and the various Hindu Code Bills that pushed for reform in Hindu religious laws. Ammu became a part of the Constituent Assembly in 1946 from the Madras constituency. She felt that the Constitution was too long and that it had gone into unnecessary detail and wanted a constitution that could fit easily into a pocket or purse.
  2. Annie Mascarene

    Annie Mascarene was born into a Latin Catholic family belonging to Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. She 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 movements for independence and integration with the Indian nation in the Travancore State. She was elected to the First Lok Sabha in the Indian general election, 1951. She was the first woman MP from Kerala and one of only ten elected to Parliament in the elections. Before her election to Parliament, she had served briefly as Minister in Charge of Health and Power during 1949-1950.
  3. Begum Aizaz Rasul

    She was born into the princely family of Malerkotla, Punjab. She was the only Muslim woman in the Constituent Assembly. She entered into politics at an early age by attending political meetings with her father and served as his Secretary for a brief period. She, together with her husband joined the Muslim League after the enactment of the GOI Act 1935. In 1950, after the dissolution of the Muslim League in India, she joined Congress. She was elected to the Constituent Assembly as a member of the Muslim League representing the United Provinces. Although she was not a part of any committee in the Assembly, she advocated for National language, reservation and property rights, and minority rights. In her speeches, she highlighted the need for 'just compensation' when government acquires the property. She also spoke against separate electorates for minority communities during the discussion on the Report of Advisory Committee on Minority Rights. She was against making 'Sanskritised Hindi' the National language, as only very few understood it and instead advocated for Hindustani.
  4. Dakshayani Velayudhan

    She was born into an agrestic slave caste, Pulayas, on a small island of Bolgatty on the coast of Cochin. She was the only Dalit women member of the Constituent Assembly and also the youngest at 34 years. She was the first Dalit woman to graduate in India; she studied chemistry at Maharajas College, Cochin, and was the only female student pursuing a course in the sciences. She was inspired into politics through her family's fight against discriminatory caste practices. She was the first generation Kerala woman to be able to cover their upper-body. She was nominated to the Assembly in 1945 from Madras. In the Assembly, she advocated on issues of untouchability, forced labour, reservations, and against separate electorates for Dalits. She believed that the best way to address untouchability was through sustained state propaganda and not through punishment. In 1977 she set up a women's rights organization Mahila Jagriti Parishad in Delhi.
  5. Durgabai Deshmukh

    Durgabai, from the ripe age of twelve, was a part of the Indian freedom movement. She quit school to protest the imposition of English as a medium of education, part of the Non-Cooperation Movement. She volunteered at a conference held by the Indian National Congress in Kakinada at the age of 14. She participated in the Salt Satyagraha from Madras in May of 1930. While she was in prison, she studied English and completed her master's degree from Andhra University. She then studied law at Madras University and practiced at the bar for a few years. She established Andhra Mahila Sabha to coach young Telugu girls in Madras for their Matriculation examination conducted by the Banaras Hindu University in 1936. She founded and edited the Telugu journal Andhra Mahila. She was elected to the Constituent Assembly from Madras and was part of the Committee on Rules and Procedure and the Steering Committee. She also advocated for judicial-independence and human trafficking. She also felt that Hindustani should be adopted as a national language instead of Sanskritised Hindi but, she later argued against adopting Hindi as the national language.
  6. Hansa Jivraj Mehta

    She was a writer, social reformer, social activist, and educator. In 1937, she contested in the Bombay Legislative Council elections from the general category; she not only won but remained on the council till 1949. She became President of the All India Women's Conference in 1946. During the presidency, she drafted the Indian Women's Charter of Rights and Duties, which called for gender equality and civil rights for women. She is 1946 also served as a member of the UN sub-committee on the status of women. She along with Eleanor Roosevelt, vice-chaired the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Committee. She was also the first female Vice-Chancellor in India with her appointment at SNDT University in Bombay. She was also part of the Swadeshi Movement and Non-Cooperation Movement. She was elected to the Constituent Assembly as a member of the Congress. She was part of the Advisory Committee, Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights, Provincial Constitution Committee. She strongly advocated for a uniform civil code and believed that purdah was an evil practice. She also rejected quotas, reserved seats, and separate electorates for women.
  7. Kamla Chaudhary

    She was a feminist, fictional writer, and political activist. Her political career began in 1930 when she joined the Indian National Congress and was an active participant in the Civil Disobedience Movement. At the 54th session of the All India Congress Committee, she was the vice-president. She was elected to the Constituent Assembly.
  8. Leela Roy

    She was a great social reformer, a staunch feminist and a social and political activist, and a close associate of Subash Chandra Bose. In 1923 she received her M.A from Dhaka University and was the first woman to obtain it from the University. She was an advocate for women's education and established Dipali Sangh, an association for women, in 1923. She founded a school named Dipali School and twelve other free primary schools with the help of the Dipali Sangha. Subsequently, in 1928, she established two other schools known as Nari Shiksa Mandir (Temple of Women's Education) and Shiksa Bhaban (House of Education). Another important contribution was made b her to Muslim women's education by setting up one of her schools as Qamrunnessa Girl's School in Dhaka. She also established hostels in Calcutta for female students. She also advocated for the equal importance to women's economic freedom and facilitated women through Dipali Exhibition in vocational training. Leela was the only woman to be elected from Bengal to the Constituent Assembly on 9th December 1946. However, she resigned from her post a few months later to protest against the partition of India.
  9. Malati Choudhury

    She hailed from East Bengal (now Bangladesh). At the age of 16, in 1929, she was sent to Santiniketan where she got admitted to Viswa-Bharati. Along with her husband, during the Salt Satyagrah joined the Indian National Congress. In 1933, she formed Utkal Congress Samajvadi Karmi Sangh along with, her husband and later came to be known as the Orissa Provincial Branch of the All India Congress Socialist Party. She joined Gandhiji in his famous padayatra in Orissa in 1934. For the upliftment of vulnerable communities in Odisha, she set-up several organizations such as the Bajiraut Chhatravas.
  10. Purnima Banerjee

    She was a part of the individual Satyagraha and Quit India movement. She was a member of the Congress Socialist Party and the Indian National Congress. She held the post as the Secretary of the Allahabad City Congress Committee, working towards creating rural engagement. She was appointed to the Constituent Assembly from United Provinces. She argued that the preventative detention clause in Draft Article 15A (Article 22 of the Constitution of India) must prescribe time limits beyond which a person cannot be detained. Further, she asserted that the detained person if they are the earning member of their family, must be given maintenance allowance. During the discussion of the Preamble, she expressly stated that 'sovereignty' is derived from the people of India. During the discussion around the qualifications of Rajya Sabha members, Banerjee believed that the age limit should be reduced from 35 to 30 years.
  11. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur

    Inspired by Gandhi's fight for Independence, she gave up her Sherborne and Oxford education to be his Secretary for 16 years. In 1927 she along with Margaret cousins co-founded the All-India Women's Conference. She held the position of Secretary in 1930 and President in 1933. She resided in Gandhi's Ashram from 1934. Kaur was arrested for her participation in the Dandi March by the British. She showcased her support for the Quit India movement by re-signing her British appointed membership to the advisory board of education, in 1942. She was elected from the Central Provinces and Berar to the Constituent Assembly. She played a vital part in India's establishment of constitutional equality of genders guaranteed under Articles 14, 15, and 16. She was also played a pivotal part in the inclusion of the Uniform Civil Code as part of the Directive Principles of State Policy. She was the first Health Minister of independent India and held office for ten years. She was the first female and first Asian President of the world health Assembly. During her time as Health Minister, she established the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and served as its first president. For 14 years, she held office as the Chairperson of the Indian Red Cross and Chair of the Executive Committee of St John's Ambulance Society. She actively worked to reduce illiteracy eradicate child marriage. She was an advocate of women's right to education, participation in healthcare, and sports. She established the Tuberculosis Association of India, the Central Leprosy and Research Institute.
  12. Renuka Ray

    Renuka Rai is a celebrated women's rights and inheritance rights in parent a property activist. She, like Kaur, was inspired by Gandhi's call for the independence struggle, joined Gandhi's Ashram accompanying him in protests. In 1934 while working as a secretary of the AIWC, she authored 'legal disability is Women in India; A Plea for A Commission of Inquiry'. She worked for the prevention of women trafficking and the improvement of conditions of female labourers. Ray contributed to numerous women's rights issues, minority rights, and bicameral legislature provisions. She fought for Uniform Personal Law Code. In 1949 represented India in the UN General assembly. In 1952 she was elected to the West Bengal legislature. In the same year, she became President of AIWC and served on the planning commission and the governing body of Vishwa Bharati University in Santiniketan. In 1957 she was elected to Parliament. She served as a minister of Relief and Rehabilitation. She established the All Bengal Women's Union and Women's Coordinating Council She was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1988 for her services in public affairs
  13. Sarojini Naidu

    The first woman president of the Indian National Congress was popularly known as the Nightingale of India. She perused her higher studies from King's College, London, and later at Girton College, Cambridge. When in England, she had gained some experience in suffragist campaigns and was drawn to India's Congress movement and Mahatma Gandhi's Non-cooperation Movement. She was also involved in the Home Rule movement and Salt Satyagraha. She was arrested five times during the freedom struggle. Besides being a suffragette, she was also a women rights activist, and she advocated for reforms to improve the conditions of widows in the Indian National Social Conference in Madras, 1908. In 1917 she headed the All-India Women's Deputation and championed women's suffrage before E. S. Montagu (Secretary of State for India). In the same year, she together with Annie Besant, set up the Women's India Association. In 1931 she accompanied Gandhi to London for the inconclusive second session of the Round Table Conference. She was appointed to the Constituent Assembly from Bihar as part of the ad-hoc committee on the national flag.
  14. Sucheta Kriplani

    The first elected female chief minister of an Indian state was born in Ambala. A graduate from Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University, taught Constitutional History at Banaras Hindu University until 1939. She became a member of the Congress Party in 1938, served as the Secretary to the Foreign Department and Women's Section for a year and a half. Under her leadership, the women's wing of the Congress Party was established in 1940. She held an active role in India's struggle for independence during the 1940s and was remembered especially for her role in the 1942 Quit India Movement for which she was arrested in 1944 and detained for a year. She was elected to the Constituent Assembly from the United Provinces in 1946 as s member of the Flag Presentation Committee. This committee presented the first Indian flag before the Constituent Assembly. Kriplani served as a Secretary to the Relief and Rehabilitation Committee established by the Congress Party, playing a pivotal role in rehabilitating the Bengali refugees during the partition. She had a colourful political career. She was also a part of various delegations to international organizations and countries.
  15. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

    Swarup Kumari Nehru was a diplomat and politician. Pandit changed her name after her marriage in 1921. As an enthusiastic participant of the independence struggle, she was imprisoned on three different occasions. Her political career kicked-off with the Allahabad Municipal Board elections. She was elected today assembly of the United Provinces in 1936 and became the Minister of local self-government and public health in 1937. She was the first Indian woman to become a cabinet minister. She was elected from United Provinces to the Constituent Assembly under the Congress party ticket. After the Indian Independence, she became an eminent diplomat representing India in the United Nations between 1946- 48 and 1952-53. She was an Ambassador to Moscow, Mexico, and Washington and later to England and Ireland concurrently. She where is the first woman to become President of the UN General Assembly. She was appointed as the governor of Maharashtra after her return to India. In 1946 following the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, she competed in the Lok Sabha elections from Phulpur.

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