… On Women Liberation (in India)

Published on Countercurrents.org, by Ratnesh Katulkar, 31 August, 2008.

“We shall see better days soon and our progress will be greatly accelerated if male education is persuaded side by side with female education…” are the words of Young Ambedkar, during his studies at New York which came out while writing a letter to his father’s friend. Interestingly Dr. Ambedkar’s first academic paper “Caste in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development” also begins with his concern towards women, where he located the linkages between caste and gender by observing that “Superimposition of endogamy on exogamy means creation of caste” and concluded that there is no divine or natural cause of origin of caste but Brahmins of ancient India craftily designed it by enclosing their class through means of controlling and subjugating their woman …

… As said above, both these treatments-Sati and Enforced Widowhood were not possible in the case of Surplus Man. Therefore, Surplus man was allowed to re-marry to recruit another bride, but here there is every possibility of increase in competition in consumption of woman in Caste, therefore as a corrective measure, man was allowed to recruit his wife from lower marriageable rank, this resulted in the beginning of Girl Marriage. In this way, the inhuman practices of i) Sati system ii) Enforced Widowhood and iii) Child marriage came into existence. Thus much before the Indian feminist school, Dr. Ambedkar pointed out the direct relationship between caste and gender and observed that gender could not be seen in isolation from caste …

… While drafting the constitution of India, Dr. Ambedkar was the prime movers of the provisions related to the welfare of women. On the question of civil rights, Dr. Ambedkar made provisions in articles 14-16 in the Indian Constitution, which provide equal status to Woman and also banned the of sale and purchase of woman prevailing Hindu India. Further to ensure women’s status Dr. Ambedkar also introduced an emancipatory bill (the Hindu code Bill) in Parliament which intended mainly 1) to abolish different marriage systems prevalent among Hindus and to establish monogamy as the only legal system; 2) Conferment of right to property and adoption on women; 3) restitution of conjugal rights and judicial separation; attempts to unify the Hindu Code in tune with progressive and modern thought.

But the Caste Hindus who considered this move as an attempt to attack the sanctity of Hinduism opposed this revolutionary bill. It was opposed both inside as well outside the House, where not only leading members of Hindu Mahasabha but also large number of caste-Hindu women protested against this. In his vigorous defense to this Bill, Dr. Ambedkar alleged that the ideals enshrined in this bill are derived from the constitution of India, which is based on liberty, equality and fraternity. He observed that ‘the sacramental marriage does not satisfy the ideal of liberty or equality’. And described ’sacramental marriages as polygamy for the men and perpetual slavery for the women because under no circumstances with in that system woman got liberty from her husband however bad he may be, however undesirable he may be’. But unfortunately this revolutionary bill couldn’t see day of light as in face of growing opposition Pt. Nehru, then Prime Minister decided to drop this bill.

Dr. Ambedkar was so disgusted with this that he resigned from Nehru’s cabinet. He said, ‘it (The Hindu Code Bill) was killed and buried, unwept and unsung’ … (full text).

(Ratnesh Katulkar is an Ambedkarite activist from Madhy Pradesh and Research Scholar in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar National Institute of Social sciences, Dr. Ambedkar Nagar MHOW Distt. Join him Indore MP 453 441, or by e-mail).

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