Abstract Dr. Ambedkar’spassionate fight for the rights of the oppressed classes of people isunparalleled in the history of mankind. None can nullify his forceful andauthentic voice that spoke on behalf of the suppressed existence of people, theDalits and women of India. In fact his comprehensive understandingof the muted condition of Indian women makes him a staunch feminist who broughtabout several reformatory policies to set right the inequality perpetrated byIndian Patriarchy over generations. Among the many national leaders who took upthe women’s question seriously during the freedom struggle in India, DrAmbedkar stands distinct as he not merely nurtured emancipatory thoughts aboutwomen but practically tried to introduce many pro women policies throughconstitutional measures. His burning of Manusmriti,which had authorized the discriminatory practices against women on severalfronts and his act of tendering his resignation as the Law minister upon thefailure to pass his ambitious egalitarian Hindu Code Bill in April 1947 aretestimony of his honest concerns and efforts towards the upliftment of Indianwomen. The number of reformatory policies that he enforced in variouscapacities of power brought lot of respite to women and is in a great dealresponsible for the slightly better position of women today.
In this paper, anattempt has been made to study the women centric steps taken by Dr. Ambedkarand analyse their impact on the empowerment of Indian women over the years. Ahistorical trajectory of status of Indian women’s steady empowerment would helpin taking stock of what has been accomplished in terms of empowering women andwhat still needs to be done and finding ways to forge ahead from here intobetter tomorrow for women.Key words: Patriarchy,Scriptures, Hindu code bill,discrimination, empowerment.Introduction Havingrealized very early the roots of oppression entrenched in the caste system inIndia, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar tried to dismantle the vicious nexus between thediscriminatory practices and the caste system in India. Like the Shudras, womentoo were victims of the oppressive, caste-based and rigid hierarchical socialsystem. He realised that religious scriptures like ‘Manusmriti’ wereresponsible for artificial constructions of unequal gender relations andtherefore in many writings like “Why Manu degraded her (woman)?” In his The Riddle of the Woman, The Woman And theCounter Revolution, The Rise and Fall of Hindu Women, Castes in India: TheirMechanism Genesis and Development and through the issues of his journals Mooknayak (1920) and Bahishkrit Bharat (1927), he raised thepertinent questions about the secondary status accorded to women that confinedthem to a life of passivity and domesticity.
He vociferously said “I measurethe progress of a community by the degree of progress which women haveachieved” highlighting the urgent need to uplift and empower women.Manusmriti and GenderDiscriminationIn the ancient ages lived a man named Manu, a Hinduwho devised a system in the valley Sindhua system of fragmentation non-pareil in human historyand it was divinely ordained , more or less a mystery!Brahmins, Kshtriyas, Vaishyas and ShudrasAscribable to head, arm, thighs and feetHe compared and juxtaposed the body partAnd succeeded in alienating every heart. Theabove 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 highestacademic credentials for an Indian of his time, had made an in depth study ofthe condition of women. His analysis in his Women and Counter Revolution and The Riddle of Womenled him to decipher the demeaning existence that Indian women were forced tolead. Some of the restrictions on them are : Day and night women must be keptin dependence by the males (of their families), and, if they attach themselvesto sexual enjoyments, they must be kept under the control of men; It is a mustthat father protects her in childhood, her husband protects her in youth, andher sons protect her in old age; a woman is never fit for independence; Nothingmust 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 Manujust as a slave. Also women were forbidden to study the Vedas, and performingSanskaras uttering the Veda mantras.
Inhis paper on “Castes in India: their mechanism, genesis and development”, Dr.Ambedkar described how women were treated cruelly by the way of ‘Sati’ enforcedwidowhood and girl marriages just to maintain strict endogamy in a caste. Thesocial evils regarding women in Hindu religion as well as in Muslim societywere highlighted by him. As a researcher, Dr. Ambedkar extensively studied theposition of women in both the religion (and also in the other religions) and thrownlight on denial of rights to her and ultimately the status of individual. Hestated that the consequences of purdah system on Muslim women were that itdeprives her of mental and moral nourishment Allthese restrictions push the women to abject condition of passivity and at themercy of men for their smallest needs.
However, Dr. Ambedkar also evinced thatin the Pre- Manu days higher status was accorded to women and he quotes theexamples of the stories of public disputation between Janaka and Sulabha,Yajnavalkya and Maitrei, Yajnavalkya and Gargi who were highly learned andpossessed great scholarship. Dr. Ambedkar hence determined to fight against allkinds of inequality that is ingrained in society which is responsible for casteand gender based discrimination. This led him to ultimately publically burn the’Manusmriti’ on whichsymbolically was a protest against discriminatory practices against women.Babasaheb Ambedkar’sSteps to Empower Indian Women The vision of Dr. Ambedkar about women isexplicitly depicted in Indian Constitution. As the architect of ourconstitution, he has left no opportunity to safeguard the interests of womenand also empower them.
Equality of sexes is strongly backed by the constitutionthrough articles 14, 15 and 16 and the principle of gender equality isenshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights,Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. By doing so Dr. Ambedkar in factlaid down the foundation of social justice as there can be no social justicewithout gender equality. Influencedby the renowned social reformer Jyotirao Phule, the founder of Satya ShodhakSamaj, who started a school for untouchables as early as 1848 and a school forgirls in Pune, Dr. Ambedkar realized early in life the importance of educatingwomen. When he was in Colombia University, he wrote to a friend: “We shall seebetter days soon and our progress will be greatly accelerated if male educationis pursued side by side with female education”. (Mathew, 1991:74). In fact heperceived education as a catalyst for a movement for self-respect and selfhelp.
Also in 1922-23, doing his post-doctoral research at the University ofBonn in Germany he was exposed to the Western perception on feminist issueslike emphasis on their right to education, equal treatment with men, right toproperty and involvement in the political process. After returning to India hedevoted his life fully to work for the depressed classes including women. Hewas firmly committed to the ideals of equality, liberty and fraternity andlaunched his movements from 1920 onwards in which women also activelyparticipated and acquired the confidence to voice their issues on variousplatforms.
In 1924, Bahishkrit Hitakarni Sabha was formed to work for thesocio-political equality of depressed people and promoting their economicinterests. Women started participating in satyagrahas and also launched women’sassociations for untouchable women for spreading education and awareness amongthem. In the Mahad Satyagraha for temple entry in 1927, even caste Hindusparticipated. In the Satyagraha it was decided to burn the Manusmriti, which humiliated women, and shudras.
In thedemonstration after the bonfire of the Manusmritimore than fifty women participated. Ambedkar addressed the meeting thereafterand advised women to change their style of wearing saree, wear lightweightornaments, not to eat meat of dead animals. In January 1928, a women’sassociation was founded in Bombay with Ramabai, Ambedkar’s wife, as itspresident. Along with the Depressed Classes Conference in Nagpur in 1930, womenalso had their separate conference.
In the Kalaram Temple Entry Satyagraha atNasik in 1930 five hundred women participated and many of them were arrested alongwith men and ill treated in jails. To face tortures along with their men, womenalso organized their Samata Sainik Dal. When Ambedkar returned to India afterattending the round table conference in 1932, hundreds of women were presentfor the committee meetings. At various places depressed classes women’sconferences were held and they began to present their demands assertively.
Theencouragement of Ambedkar empowered women to speak out boldly their feelings.As Radhabai Vadale said in a press conference in 1931, “We should get the rightto enter the Hindu temples, to fill water at their water resources. We callthese social rights. We should also get the political right to rule, sittingnear the seat of the Viceroy. We don’t care even if we are given a severesentence.
We will fill all the jails in the country. Why should we be scared oflathi-charge or firing? On the battlefield does a warrior care for his life? Itis better to die a hundred times than live a life full of humiliation. We willsacrifice our lives but we will win our rights.” The credit of shaking womenfrom passivity to intense feelings of self-respect and firm determination ofwomen and cultivating in them an educated awareness goes to Dr. Ambedkar. Theawakened women’s activism can be seen in the participation of 25,000 women inthe ‘All India Dalit Mahila conference’ on 20th July 1942 and in All IndiaUntouchable Women’s Conference was held in Mumbai on 6th January 1945. (Limaye,1999:57-61). Further running newspapers, women’s hostels, boarding schoolsparticipating in Sathyagrahas were some of the activities of women foracquiring the personality development to secure efficient administrative andleadership capacity as men have.
Gaining inspiration and encouragement fromAmbedkar, many women wrote on topics like Planning, Buddhist philosophy andsuch other topics. Women also wrote plays, autobiographies, and participated inSatyagrahas. Tulsabai Bansode started a newspaper ‘Chokhamela’. This showed howAmbedkar created awareness among poor, illiterate women and inspired them tofight against the unjust social practices like child marriages and devdasisystem. Being India’s first Law minister Dr.
Ambedkar planned and implemented many policies to free women and tried foradequate inclusion of women’s right in the political vocabulary andconstitution of India.. His contribution is great in the field of women’sempowerment as he was one amongst very few persons who tried to change women’sstatus via Law. A few of the changes affected by him are: Dearness Allowance, Women Labour welfarefund, Provident fund Act, Women Labour Protection Act, Maternity Benifit forwomen Labour bill, Divorce Act, Rightover parental Property, Leave Benefit to Piece Workers, Restoration of Ban on Women WorkingUnderground in Mines etc., Nomarriage before age of 18 years, Maintenance allowance from husband on gettinglegally separation, Widow can adopt a child, Mother can change guardian ofminor by will, Equal pay for equal workirrespective of the sex and many others. However, Ambedkar’s defense for women as theLaw Minister of free India appeared in the form of the Hindu Code Bill inParliament on 11th April 1947, the Bill could not withstand the opposition fromthe Hindu orthodoxy.
The HinduCode Bill, the most formidable legislative measure of modern India,sought among other reforms, to put an end to a variety of marriage systemsprevailing in India and legalise only monogamous marriages. In reality, the Bill was athreat to patriarchy on which traditional family structure, was bounded andthat was the major reason behind the opposition. The Bill sought to abolishpolygamy among the Hindus it proposed the right to property and the right todivorce for women. The Bill tried to codify the Hindu Laws which were in ascattered 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 maleand female, ii)the order of succession among different heirs to the property ofa deceased dying inestate, iii)the law of maintenance, iv)marriage, v)divorce,vi)adoption, and vii)minority guardianship.
Despite the very moderate nature ofBill, Dr. Ambedkar could not get it passed due to is opposition by manyconservative Hindumembers. This hurt him and in protest against the failure of the Bill,Dr.
Ambedkar resigned his seat in the cabinet. But, his efforts did notentirely go waste. Later, the original Bill was split into four different Billswith slight changes. Those were passed as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; TheHindu Succession Act, 1956; the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956; andthe Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956.Conclusion Thus Ambedkarstands as an ardent emancipator of women and is in a big way responsible for aslightly improved status of women in modern India. However, even Dr.
Babasaheb Ambedkar despitehis intense efforts could not get the Hindu Code Bill pass through completely.His explanation in his resignation that “Toleave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex which is the soulof Hindu Society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating toeconomic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palaceon a dung heap” is a mirror of the complacency and apathy of the IndianPatriarchy towards women, since ages which till today survives hamperingwomen’s empowerment in its true sense. Today too we witness the innumerable atrocities on women which canpossibly be overcome if we allow ourselves to draw strength and inspiration fromBharat Ratna Dr. Amdedkar’s learned treatises and action plans to solve thecomplex problems. Jai Bhim. References· Ambedkar,B.R. “Women and Counter Revolution”, “Riddles of Hindu Women” in Dr.
Baba SahebAmbedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol.3, Department of Education, Government ofMaharashtra, 1987.· Usha K. B. “Dr.
B.R. Ambedkar-the champion of women’s rights”.· Limaye,Champa. Women: Power and Progress, B.
R.Publishing Corporation, New Delhi, 1999.· Mathew, Thomas. Ambedkar: Reform or Revolution,Segment Books, New Delhi, 1991.
Webliography· Dalit Vision Blog on thecause of untouchables of India, Wednesday, February 20, 2013.Dr. Ambedkar and Women Empowerment accessed on 15thOct. 2016· http://vikas-gupta.
in/2009/02/27/a-short-poem-on-ambedkar/accessed on 14th Oct. 2016