This article is written by Daisy Jain, pursuing B.COM.LLB (Hons) from the Institute of Law, Nirma University. This is an exhaustive article that takes a look at the women in the Constituent Assembly focusing majorly on Begum Aizaz Rasul.
The Indian Constitution was adopted and created by the elected members of the Constituent Assembly on 26th November, 1949 and was enacted or came into force on 26th January, 1950. We remember Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was the Father of the Constitution as well as other male members of the constituent assembly. Why did we forget the female members who contributed to shaping the Constitution of India? The constituent assembly comprised 15 female members.
These women made a significant contribution to a wide variety of debates on women’s rights, minority rights, or the problem of bonded labor. They were not hesitant to voice their opinion and fervently asserted their beliefs. Over the years, India has had an increasing significance of prominent women politicians. It is a legacy that goes back to the struggle for independence, where women played a prominent role. When the constituent assembly was formed in 1946 for the creation of India’s Constitution, it had only 15 female members. They are mostly renowned as freedom fighters, yet they also were political leaders of opinion and one of those courageous women was Begum Qudsia Aizaz Rasul. She is known for her dissent to religious dogma and also denigrated the “purdah system” that pressured women to conceal behind it.
The women of the Constituent Assembly, 1950
15 women were elected to the Indian Constituent Assembly, out of a total of 299 members. These women made significant contributions to the formation of our country’s Constitution and demonstrated the true power of feminism in India. They were widely regarded as the “women architects of India” because of the important role they played in the formation of the Constitution.
The first person is Sucheta Kriplani born in 1908. She is widely regarded for her active involvement in the 1942 Quit India movement. After independence, she served as a member of the parliament at New Delhi and also as the minister of the Labor Community Development and Industry in the Uttar Pradesh state government. She was India’s first woman Chief Minister serving as the head of the Uttar Pradesh government from 1963 to 1967.
Another woman who played a vital role in nation-building was Vijaylaxmi Pandit. She was the sister of our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1936, she was elected to the assembly of the United Province, and then in 1937, she became the minister of Local Self-government and Public Health. She was the first Indian woman to become a Cabinet Minister and the first Asian to be elected as the President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
Sarojini Naidu participated in the second round table conference along with Mahatma Gandhi and Madan Mohan Malviya. She was imprisoned along with Gandhi Ji, Madan Mohan Malviya, Jawaharlal Nehru, and other leaders for participating in the salt march. She played a leading role in the Civil Disobedience movement. She was then arrested during the period of the Quit India movement in 1942. She was the first Indian woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress (INC) and is famously known as the “nightingale of India”.
Ammu Swaminathan was the one who while drafting the Constitution, said that every citizen has equal rights whether it is men or women as it is the people who gave themselves the Constitution, but it has been wrongly depicted by some that India did not offer any equitable rights to women of the country.
Dakshayani Velayudhan was another prominent parliamentarian and a leader of depressed classes. She belonged to a Pulaya community and was among the first generation from that particular community to be educated. Since she was against untouchability, she confronted the Constituent Assembly to declare the practice of untouchability as unlawful. As she was a dalit leader, she totally opposed the prevalent practice of forced labor.
Hansa Jivraj Mehta
Hansa Jivraj Mehta was elected for the position of President at the All India Women’s conference in 1945-46. She opposed personal laws in every religion and demanded Uniform Civil Code.
Kamla Chaudhary in the 54th session of the All India Congress Committee was a vice-president and was a Lok Sabha member in her 70s.
Leela Roy formed Bengal Provincial Congress Women’s organization and actively participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement and was jailed for 6 years.
Malathi Choudhari founded Utkal Congress Samajwadi Karmi Sangh in 1933 with her husband and she protested against the declaration of emergency by Indira Gandhi and was subsequently jailed.
Purnima Banerjee was imprisoned due to her active involvement in the Quit India movement and Satyagraha. She was indulged in the increased rural involvement, trade unions, and Kisan meetings.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur
Annie Mascarene was the first woman to participate in the Travancore State Congress Working Committee. She was one of the pertinent freedom fighters.
Renuka Ray was a prominent social worker and was an active member of the All India Women’s Conference. She also formed the Women’s Coordination Council and All Bengal Women’s Union.
Durgabai Deshmukh was an MP (Member of the parliament) and a member of the Planning Commission. At the age of 12 years, she was actively involved in the Non-cooperation movement.
Begum Aizaz Rasul
Last but not least was the valorous woman Begum Aizaz Rasul, who was the only woman member in the constituent assembly during the formation of the Constitution. She also encouraged the involvement of India in the Commonwealth.
Because of all these dauntless women, Indians in 1949 became a member of the Commonwealth, Article 17 (untouchability) of the Indian Constitution was made forbidden by law, and Article 44 came into practice. The hardships and accomplishments of these women members need to be remembered and their ambition for this country to be reaffirmed.
Begum Aizaz Rasul : a leader to remember
Begum Aizaz Rasul’s birthplace is in former United Punjab, she was born in a royal family of the Muslim state of Malerkotla on April 4th, 1908. Her father was Nawab Zulfikar Ali Khan and Mahmujda Sultana was her mother. Begum Aizaz Rasul had a liberal family background with almost everything of its richness and comfortable life in contrast to other Islamic women who had to go through rigorous constraints such as purdah. Her father and husband supported her from the beginning of her political life and as well as in her opposition to the constraints placed before Islamic women.
Beginning of her career as a politician
As she belonged to a princely family, she had an early start in her political career. She had continuous support from her husband and her father. When the Government of India Act of 1935 was passed, she along with her husband, joined the Muslim League during the 1930s.This was her formal entrance into her career in politics. Begum Aizaz Rasul was among some women participants who took part in the pre-independent elections from a constituency of a non-reserved category. She was the first woman to achieve many accomplishments such as becoming a leader of the opposition and the deputy president of the council. In one of the meetings during the partition, Jinnah asked her to join Pakistan but she refused to enter the league in Pakistan. She was the only woman Muslim member of the Constituent Assembly of undivided India.
The Muslim woman who shunned the “purdah” system
She wrote an autobiography “From Purdah to Parliament” in which she majorly criticized the “purdah” system which was being practiced at a large scale in women’s life. She officially abandoned her purdah when she first got elected in the non-reserved category in 1937 and became an active member of the Legislative Council of Uttar Pradesh. Despite being in purdah, she never felt any obstruction in her political life. She wrote in her book that she belonged to a progressive and modern family, and is a citizen of a secular India. She was ultimately very courageous to mention in her book that she would not accept any invitations from those taluqdars who force their wives to be in purdah whether they are Hindus or Muslims. This was a bold decision of her, going against the traditions of purdah during her political career as there were clear chances that her political career would end before it even starts.
Contributions of Begum Aizaz Rasul
As she was the first Muslim woman member of the constituent assembly, this gave other women the courage to participate in politics and voice their beliefs. She considered that reservation based on religion is self-destructive and should be opposed. Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel proposed the motion against the demand for separate electorates for women, Begum Aizaz Rasul also backed his motion for the removal of separate electorates and reservations for minorities. Her enormous contributions in the numerous fields were acknowledged with the Padma Bhushan, awarded at the age of 91 in the year 2000. She was elected in 1952 as a member of the Rajya Sabha. Due to her active participation in hockey, she was the head of the All India Women’s Hockey Association which was later established as the first all India women sport by the Ministry of Education. She also made significant contributions to the education of Muslim girls and the welfare of women.
Views on fundamental rights and minority rights
Begum Aizaz Rasul was elected as a member of the Fundamental and Minority Rights Committee. She already had a keen interest in safeguarding the rights of minorities and their welfare as well. As people have given themselves the Constitution, they have their fundamental rights in the Constitution, protected and guaranteed. These fundamental rights do not make any differentiation or discrimination between the various religions, so people should not divide themselves into the majority and minority communities.
Views on property rights
Begum Aizaz Rasul was against the acquisition of property and completely opposed the compensation. She addressed before Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, her contentions without any doubt concerning Article 24 which dealt with the acquisition of property and fiercely spoke about this issue. Though she belonged to a family of taluqdars and was also a member of the Tenancy Reform Committee, she strongly opposed the zamindari system and was in full support of zamindari abolition. She regarded that the property which belonged to the farmers flourished through their hardships and toil, should not be handed over to the zamindars. Numerous amendments were made to the bill of zamindari abolition. She supported the bill for zamindari abolition although she never feared about the chances of her re-election to the legislature of UP.
Legacy left behind by Begum Aizaz Rasul
In 2003, Begum Aizaz Rasul died at the age of 93, rendering only a collection of photographs, notes and letters capturing her life, be it her political career or her active engagement in nation-building. At present, her autobiography named “From Purdah to Parliament: A Muslim Woman in Indian Politics” remains the single most important real work on her in English. In recognition of her contributions, the Begum Rasul Trophy (women’s hockey) was established in her honor.
In addition to being the world’s lengthiest and most detailed Constitution, India’s Constitution is also the world’s most sophisticated. These female members worked to guarantee that the pioneer documents of our multicultural nation were descriptive, and in these instances when Constitutional beliefs are under attack, it is critical to recollect their hardships and contributions, as well as to reiterate the ambition that they had for this nation.
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