The Constituent Assembly of India had only 15 women out of a composition of 389 which clearly shows the androcentric nature of our former and present society.
By Ritika Chopra
New Delhi: If we look into Indian history, most of the literature we find is androcentric in nature, or the focus is more on men, but women too contributed immensely and worked towards women empowerment and nation-building. Women’s contribution in the Constituent Assembly Debate is also notable but little do we speak about it.
The Constituent Assembly of India had only 15 women out of a composition of 389 which clearly shows the androcentric nature of our former and present society. These 15 women from diverse backgrounds were Ammu Swaminathan, Dakshayani Velayudhan, Begum Aizaz Rasul, Durgabai Deshmukh, Hansa Jivraj Mehta, Kamla Chaudhary, Leela Roy, Malati Choudhury, Purnima Banerjee, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Renuka Ray, Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kriplani, Vijayalakshmi Pandit and Annie Mascarene. These women contributed immensely to the Constitution-making and nation-building.
Ammu Swaminathan was an Indian social worker and a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. She was also a social activist during India’s struggle for freedom. She was born on April 22, 1894 in the Vadakkath family of Kerala and belonged to the Nair caste. She was fondly called Ammukutty by her folks and friends. She died on July 4, 1978. Ammukutty raised her voice against women workers facing discrimination and economic problems in their work field. She enjoined to introduce adult franchise and Constitutional rights of women. She wanted more representation of women in Parliament.
Dakshayani Velayudhan was the only Dalit woman in the Constituent Assembly. Velayudhan was born in the Pulayar community of Kerala. She was the first woman in her community to complete her graduation and the first woman to wear an upper cloth. She was the founder and president of the Mahila Jagriti Parishad and served it till her last. She died at 66 after a short illness. Velayudhan in the Constituent Assembly raised her voice against untouchability and requisitioned the abolition of untouchability and demanded that the abolition must come under Article 11 of the Constitution but later on, it came under Article 17 of the Constitution. According to her, when the Constitution is put into practice, what is needed is proper propaganda done by both the central and provincial governments and not to punish people for acting against the law.
Begum Aizaz Rasul
Begum Aizaz Rasul was the only Muslim woman in the Constituent Assembly of India. She was born on April 2, 1909 in Lahore, Punjab as Qudsia Begum. She was a writer and political-social activist. Aizaz Rasul and her husband were both part of the Muslim League. She was famous for her strong opposition to the zamindari system. She was the Minister for Social Welfare and Minorities between 1969 and 1971. Aizaz Rasul was awarded Padma Bhushan for her immense contribution to social welfare in 2000. Aizaz Rasul was famous for being the only Muslim woman in the Constituent Assembly. She contributed to popularising women’s hockey.
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Durgabai Deshmukh was an Indian freedom fighter, politician, social worker, and lawyer. She was born on July 15, 1909 in Andhra Pradesh. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India and the Planning Commission. She took an active part in the Gandhi-led salt march, also known as the salt satyagraha and the Dandi march, and was the first one to emphasise the need to set up family courts.
Hansa Jivraj Mehta
Hansa Jivraj Mehta was born on July 3, 1897 in the Baroda state of colonial India. She was an author, social reformist, independence activist and an educator. Hansa served as a member of the Constituent Assembly, Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee, the Advisory Committee and the Provisional Constitutional Committee. Mehta on behalf of all the women of India presented the Indian Flag on August 15, 1947 as the first flag to fly in independent India.
Kamla Chaudhary was born on February 22, 1908 in Lucknow. She actively participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930. Kamla Chaudhary served as a member of the Constituent Assembly and after the Constitution was adopted, she became a member of the Provincial Government of India and served till 1952.
Leela Roy was an Indian politician, freedom fighter and reformist. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. She was the first woman to study at Dhaka University. Roy was born October 2, 1900 in Assam and died on June 11, 1970 in Kolkata. Roy was the only elected member in the Assembly from Bengal province. She was a staunch opposer of the partition of India and very close to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Malati Choudhury was a freedom activist, reformer, and civil rights activist. She was born on July 26, 1904 in Kolkata in an upper-middle-class Brahmin family. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India and president of the Utkal Pradesh Congress Committee. She focused on the education of women and the role of education in rural areas. She emphasised that education should be available to every Indian.
Purnima Banerjee was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India from 1946 to 1950 and an anti-colonial activist. She was born in 1911 and died in 1951 in Nainital. Banerjee, with her network of women from UP, took an active part in the freedom movement in the late 1930s-40s. She served as the secretary of the Indian National Congress Committee. She was the younger sister of freedom fighter Aruna Asaf Ali.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India from the united provinces. She was an Indian activist and a politician. She participated in the Indian Independence Movement. Kaur was born on February 2, 1887 in Lucknow and breathed her last on February 6, 1964 in Delhi. Kaur’s most notable contribution was ensuring the political participation of women as much as possible. She was the first woman to hold a cabinet position as the Health Minister of India.
Renuka Ray was a remarkable freedom fighter, politician and social activist. Ray was born on January 4, 1903 and died in 1997. She served as a former member of the Constituent Assembly of India from West Bengal. She stood in favour of women’s rights issues, bicameral legislative provisions and minority rights. She fought hard for the rights of women and parental property inheritance rights for women. Ray was a part of All India Women Conference.
Sarojini Naidu was the first Governor of the United Province. She was born on February 13, 1879 in a Bengali family in Hyderabad and died on March 2, 1949. She was an Indian Freedom fighter, a renowned poet and a political-social activist. She was an advocate of civil rights and women’s emancipation. Naidu was popularly known as the ‘Nightingale of India’. She wrote on themes like children, patriotism, romance and tragedy. She served as the President of the Indian National Congress and later became the first governor of the united province.
Sucheta Kriplani was the first woman chief minister of the country. She was the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from 1963-1967. She served as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India as well. Kriplani was born in Ambala, Punjab on June 25, 1908. She had contributed immensely to the Quit India Movement of 1942. In 1940, she established the women wing of the Indian National Congress. She addressed the Independence session of the Constituent Assembly and sang Vande Mataram.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was an Indian diplomat, politician and a former member of the Constituent Assembly of India. She served as the sixth governor of Maharashtra from 1962 to 1964, eight President of the United Nations General Assembly from 1953 to 1954 and the first woman cabinet minister in the British era. Pandit was born on August 18, 1900 in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh. She emphasised on the role of women in nation-building and encouraged women to actively take part in political processes. Pandit was among the first leaders to call for an Indian Constituent Assembly to frame the Constitution.
Annie Mascarene was an Indian independence activist, lawyer, politician and the first woman member of Parliament. She was apportioned as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India and played a notable role in the making of the Constitution. She was born in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on June 6, 1902 and breathed her last on July 19, 1963. Mascarene was one of the leaders of the freedom movement and the integration of the princely state within the Indian nation. She was the first woman to join the Travancore State Congress when it was being formed. Mascarene advocated the Hindu Code Bill in the Constituent Assembly.
(The author is a student of Political Science at the University of Delhi)