Dr. Ambedkar’s
passionate fight for the rights of the oppressed classes of people is
unparalleled in the history of mankind. None can nullify his forceful and
authentic voice that spoke on behalf of the suppressed existence of people, the
Dalits and women of India.  In fact his comprehensive understanding
of the muted condition of Indian women makes him a staunch feminist who brought
about several reformatory policies to set right the inequality perpetrated by
Indian Patriarchy over generations. Among the many national leaders who took up
the women’s question seriously during the freedom struggle in India, Dr
Ambedkar stands distinct as he not merely nurtured emancipatory thoughts about
women but practically tried to introduce many pro women policies through
constitutional measures. His burning of Manusmriti,
which had authorized the discriminatory practices against women on several
fronts and his act of tendering his resignation as the Law minister upon the
failure to pass his ambitious egalitarian Hindu Code Bill in April 1947 are
testimony of his honest concerns and efforts towards the upliftment of Indian
women. The number of reformatory policies that he enforced in various
capacities of power brought lot of respite to women and is in a great deal
responsible for the slightly better position of women today. In this paper, an
attempt has been made to study the women centric steps taken by Dr. Ambedkar
and analyse their impact on the empowerment of Indian women over the years. A
historical trajectory of status of Indian women’s steady empowerment would help
in taking stock of what has been accomplished in terms of empowering women and
what still needs to be done and finding ways to forge ahead from here into
better tomorrow for women.

Key words: Patriarchy,
Scriptures,  Hindu code bill,
discrimination, empowerment.


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realized very early the roots of oppression entrenched in the caste system in
India, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar tried to dismantle the vicious nexus between the
discriminatory practices and the caste system in India. Like the Shudras, women
too were victims of the oppressive, caste-based and rigid hierarchical social
system. He realised that religious scriptures like ‘Manusmriti’ were
responsible for artificial constructions of unequal gender relations and
therefore in many writings like “Why Manu degraded her (woman)?” In his The Riddle of the Woman, The Woman And the
Counter Revolution, The Rise and Fall of Hindu Women, Castes in India: Their
Mechanism Genesis and Development and through the issues of his journals Mooknayak (1920) and Bahishkrit Bharat (1927), he raised the
pertinent questions about the secondary status accorded to women that confined
them to a life of passivity and domesticity. He vociferously said “I measure
the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have
achieved” highlighting the urgent need to uplift and empower women.

Manusmriti and Gender

In the ancient ages lived a man named Manu, a Hindu
who devised a system in the valley Sindhu
a system of fragmentation non-pareil in human history
and it was divinely ordained , more or less a mystery!

Brahmins, Kshtriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras
Ascribable to head, arm, thighs and feet
He compared and juxtaposed the  body part
And succeeded in alienating every heart.

above lines of a poem enunciate the impact of Manu’s edicts on Hindu society.
Dr. Ambedkar who through his erudition and scholarship had earned the highest
academic credentials for an Indian of his time, had made an in depth study of
the condition of women. His analysis in his Women and Counter Revolution and The Riddle of Women
led him to decipher the demeaning existence that Indian women were forced to
lead. Some of the restrictions on them are : Day and night women must be kept
in dependence by the males (of their families), and, if they attach themselves
to sexual enjoyments, they must be kept under the control of men; It is a must
that father protects her in childhood, her husband protects her in youth, and
her sons protect her in old age; a woman is never fit for independence; Nothing
must be done independently by a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one,
even in her own house; In the matters of property, a wife was degraded by Manu
just as a slave. Also women were forbidden to study the Vedas, and performing
Sanskaras uttering the Veda mantras.  In
his paper on “Castes in India: their mechanism, genesis and development”, Dr.
Ambedkar described how women were treated cruelly by the way of ‘Sati’ enforced
widowhood and girl marriages just to maintain strict endogamy in a caste. The
social evils regarding women in Hindu religion as well as in Muslim society
were highlighted by him. As a researcher, Dr. Ambedkar extensively studied the
position of women in both the religion (and also in the other religions) and thrown
light on denial of rights to her and ultimately the status of individual. He
stated that the consequences of purdah system on Muslim women were that it
deprives her of mental and moral nourishment


these restrictions push the women to abject condition of passivity and at the
mercy of men for their smallest needs. However, Dr. Ambedkar also evinced that
in the Pre- Manu days higher status was accorded to women and he quotes the
examples of the stories of public disputation between Janaka and Sulabha,
Yajnavalkya and Maitrei, Yajnavalkya and Gargi who were highly learned and
possessed great scholarship. Dr. Ambedkar hence determined to fight against all
kinds of inequality that is ingrained in society which is responsible for caste
and gender based discrimination. This led him to ultimately publically burn the
‘Manusmriti’ on                     which
symbolically was a protest against discriminatory practices against women.

Babasaheb Ambedkar’s
Steps to Empower Indian Women

          The vision of Dr. Ambedkar about women is
explicitly depicted in Indian Constitution. As the architect of our
constitution, he has left no opportunity to safeguard the interests of women
and also empower them. Equality of sexes is strongly backed by the constitution
through articles 14, 15 and 16 and the principle of gender equality is
enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights,
Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. By doing so Dr. Ambedkar in fact
laid down the foundation of social justice as there can be no social justice
without gender equality.

by the renowned social reformer Jyotirao Phule, the founder of Satya Shodhak
Samaj, who started a school for untouchables as early as 1848 and a school for
girls in Pune, Dr. Ambedkar realized early in life the importance of educating
women. When he was in Colombia University, he wrote to a friend: “We shall see
better days soon and our progress will be greatly accelerated if male education
is pursued side by side with female education”. (Mathew, 1991:74). In fact he
perceived education as a catalyst for a movement for self-respect and self
help. Also in 1922-23, doing his post-doctoral research at the University of
Bonn in Germany he was exposed to the Western perception on feminist issues
like emphasis on their right to education, equal treatment with men, right to
property and involvement in the political process. After returning to India he
devoted his life fully to work for the depressed classes including women. He
was firmly committed to the ideals of equality, liberty and fraternity and
launched his movements from 1920 onwards in which women also actively
participated and acquired the confidence to voice their issues on various
platforms. In 1924, Bahishkrit Hitakarni Sabha was formed to work for the
socio-political equality of depressed people and promoting their economic
interests. Women started participating in satyagrahas and also launched women’s
associations for untouchable women for spreading education and awareness among
them. In the Mahad Satyagraha for temple entry in 1927, even caste Hindus
participated. In the Satyagraha it was decided to burn the Manusmriti, which humiliated women, and shudras. In the
demonstration after the bonfire of the Manusmriti
more than fifty women participated. Ambedkar addressed the meeting thereafter
and advised women to change their style of wearing saree, wear lightweight
ornaments, not to eat meat of dead animals. In January 1928, a women’s
association was founded in Bombay with Ramabai, Ambedkar’s wife, as its
president. Along with the Depressed Classes Conference in Nagpur in 1930, women
also had their separate conference. In the Kalaram Temple Entry Satyagraha at
Nasik in 1930 five hundred women participated and many of them were arrested along
with men and ill treated in jails. To face tortures along with their men, women
also organized their Samata Sainik Dal. When Ambedkar returned to India after
attending the round table conference in 1932, hundreds of women were present
for the committee meetings. At various places depressed classes women’s
conferences were held and they began to present their demands assertively. The
encouragement of Ambedkar empowered women to speak out boldly their feelings.
As Radhabai Vadale said in a press conference in 1931, “We should get the right
to enter the Hindu temples, to fill water at their water resources. We call
these social rights. We should also get the political right to rule, sitting
near the seat of the Viceroy. We don’t care even if we are given a severe
sentence. We will fill all the jails in the country. Why should we be scared of
lathi-charge or firing? On the battlefield does a warrior care for his life? 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 of shaking women
from passivity to intense feelings of self-respect and firm determination of
women and cultivating in them an educated awareness goes to Dr. Ambedkar.

awakened women’s activism can be seen in the participation of 25,000 women in
the ‘All India Dalit Mahila conference’ on 20th July 1942 and in All India
Untouchable Women’s Conference was held in Mumbai on 6th January 1945. (Limaye,
1999:57-61). Further running newspapers, women’s hostels, boarding schools
participating in Sathyagrahas were some of the activities of women for
acquiring the personality development to secure efficient administrative and
leadership capacity as men have. Gaining inspiration and encouragement from
Ambedkar, many women wrote on topics like Planning, Buddhist philosophy and
such other topics. Women also wrote plays, autobiographies, and participated in
Satyagrahas. Tulsabai Bansode started a newspaper ‘Chokhamela’. This showed how
Ambedkar created awareness among poor, illiterate women and inspired them to
fight against the unjust social practices like child marriages and devdasi

            Being India’s first Law minister Dr.
Ambedkar planned and implemented many policies to free women and tried for
adequate inclusion of women’s right in the political vocabulary and
constitution of India.. His contribution is great in the field of women’s
empowerment as he was one amongst very few persons who tried to change women’s
status via Law. A few of the changes affected by him are: Dearness Allowance, Women Labour welfare
fund, Provident fund Act, Women Labour Protection Act, Maternity Benifit for
women Labour bill,  Divorce Act,  Right
over parental Property,  Leave Benefit to Piece Workers,  Restoration of Ban on Women Working
Underground in Mines etc., No
marriage before age of 18 years, Maintenance allowance from husband on getting
legally separation, Widow can adopt a child, Mother can change guardian of
minor by will,  Equal pay for equal work
irrespective of the sex and many others.

             However, Ambedkar’s defense for women as the
Law Minister of free India appeared in the form of the Hindu Code Bill in
Parliament on 11th April 1947, the Bill could not withstand the opposition from
the Hindu orthodoxy. 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 legalise only monogamous marriages. In reality, the Bill was a
threat to patriarchy on which traditional family structure, was bounded and
that was the major reason behind the opposition. The Bill sought to abolish
polygamy among the Hindus it proposed the right to property and the right to
divorce for women. The Bill tried to codify the Hindu Laws which were in a
scattered form. He proposed to reform these laws on seven different matters,
viz., i)the right to property of a deceased Hindu dying intestate to both male
and female, ii)the order of succession among different heirs to the property of
a deceased dying inestate, iii)the law of maintenance, iv)marriage, v)divorce,
vi)adoption, and vii)minority guardianship. Despite the very moderate nature of
Bill, Dr. Ambedkar could not get it passed due to is opposition by many
conservative Hindu
members. This hurt him and in protest against the failure of the Bill,
Dr. Ambedkar resigned his seat in the cabinet. But, his efforts did not
entirely go waste. Later, the original Bill was split into four different Bills
with slight changes. Those were passed as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; The
Hindu Succession Act, 1956; the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956; and
the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance  Act 1956.


Thus Ambedkar
stands as an ardent emancipator of women and is in a big way responsible for a
slightly improved status of women in modern India.  However, even Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar despite
his intense efforts could not get the Hindu Code Bill pass through completely.
His explanation in his resignation that “To
leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex which is the soul
of Hindu Society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to
economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace
on a dung heap” is a mirror of the complacency and apathy of the Indian
Patriarchy towards women, since ages which till today survives hampering
women’s empowerment in its true sense. Today too we witness the innumerable atrocities on women which can
possibly be overcome if we allow ourselves to draw strength and inspiration from
Bharat Ratna Dr. Amdedkar’s learned treatises and action plans to solve the
complex problems. Jai Bhim.                                                                                                      


B.R. “Women and Counter Revolution”, “Riddles of Hindu Women” in Dr.Baba Saheb
Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol.3, Department of Education, Government of
Maharashtra, 1987.

Usha K. B. “Dr.B.
R. Ambedkar-the champion of women’s rights”.

Champa. Women: Power and Progress, B.R.Publishing Corporation, New Delhi, 1999.

Mathew, Thomas. Ambedkar: Reform or Revolution,
Segment Books, New Delhi, 1991.


Dalit Vision Blog on the
cause of untouchables of India, Wednesday, February 20, 2013.Dr. Ambedkar and Women Empowerment accessed on 15th
Oct. 2016

accessed on 14th Oct. 2016




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