Did you know that the original Constitution of India was not in printed form but was handwritten with calligraphy in both English and Hindi? In 1950, the Indian Constitution came into being, 299 members deliberated for 2 years, 11 months and 17 days, discussing and debating not just Indian citizens’ duties, but questions of rights, freedom and equality. However, not all know that the women played an important in drafting the world’s longest Constitution.
The 15 women included some of the prominent freedom fighters such as Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kripalani and Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit. They were freedom fighters, lawyers, reformists, suffragettes and politicians. Many of them belonged to women’s organisations and had taken part in feminist movements since 1917. Even though the women freedom fighters stood up against the British oppression, they went beyond and spoke against the social evils and fought for women empowerment.
In textbooks, when we are told about the people who built India, we are told about Ambedkar, Nehru, Gandhi, but rarely about the women who contributed too. We might know of Sarojini Naidu and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, but there were other women who played a significant role in envisioning the country’s future.
Ammu Swaminathan, a prominent figure in the Indian Independence Movement, she was a social worker and a political activist. Swaminathan was an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi and actively participated in the non-violence protest led by Gandhi and became the member of the Constitution Assembly of India after the country got independence. And like others she too was slightly critical about the Constitution once it was drafted as she believed that it was very long.
Hansa Jivraj Mehta
Hansa Jivraj Mehta served in the Constitution assembly from 1946-49. She was a member of the fundamental rights sub-committee, the advisory committee and the provincial constitutional committee. On 15 August 1947, a few minutes after midnight, Mehta, on behalf of the ‘women of India’, presented the national flag to the assembly- the first flag to fly over independent India.
Hansa Mehta fought for education for all, gender equality, parity and the upliftment of women all her life. She was appointed as a member of the Executive Board at UNESCO and elected as the President of the All-India Women’s Conference.
She was the first and only Dalit woman to be elected to the constituent assembly in 1946. She served as a member of the Assembly. At 34, she was one of the youngest members of the Assembly. Velayudhan’s life was shaped by the upheavals in Kerala society in the early 20th century. Before her birth, two of Kerala’s biggest reformers, Sree Narayana Guru and Ayyankali, had begun movements to end Kerala’s virulent casteism. They organized civil disobedience movements that defied restrictions on movement and entry to school for the depressed classes.
She was the first Dalit woman in the state to earn a degree. The stigma and institutional discrimination she faced as an educator in a government school pushed her to reconsider her career. Velayudhan was scathing about the draft of Constitution presented by Ambedkar. She found the draft Constitution “barren of ideas and principles”. The blame, she said, had to be shared by all the members of the constituent assembly who, in spite of lofty ideals, illustrious backgrounds and prodigious speeches, could not come up with an original constitution.
While in the parliament, she took up matters concerning education especially of the scheduled castes.
Begum Aizaz Rasul
Begum Aizaz Rasul was the only woman to be a member of the Constitution Assembly of India. She actively participated in the debates against separate Muslim reservations and played a major role in bringing consensus among the minority leaders who gave up their demand for reserved seats for religious minorities.
Durgabai Deshmukh was known to be strong headed women, and not only participated in Indian Independence movement but also went ahead in raising her voice against the social evils in the society. Interestingly, she was also the first chairperson of the National Council on Women’s Education, constituted by the government in 1958.
Even though she was one of the 15 women members of the Constituent Assembly, there is not much data available about Kamla Chaudhry.
Roy, was a freedom fighter and social worker. She backed and worked for education for women in India. She was the only woman member from Bengal to be elected to the assembly. Roy was a staunch feminist and a close associate of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Roy resigned from her post to stage a protest against the partition of India.
Malati Choudhury was a Constitution assembly member from Orissa. Malati Devi was a freedom fighter who Mahatma Gandhi had named, “toophani”. She put immense efforts in the upliftment of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes (OBC) and underprivileged sections of society.
She was among the fearless women who stood against the British oppression alongside other leading women freedom fighters including Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kripalani, and Vijayalakshmi Pandit. She is believed to have completed Bachelor of Arts in jail.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur
An ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, Rajkumari Amri Kaur had co-founded All India Women’s Conference in 1927. She was also jailed for her participation in the Dandi March and the Quit India Movement led by Gandhi. She was also a social activist and worked extensively in doing away with the child marriage and the purdah system.
She was appointed as the President of All India’s Women’s Conference and made efforts to advocate women rights and inheritance rights in the parental property. Before she became the member of the Constituent Assembly, she was nominated to Central Legislative Assembly as a representative of women.
Sarojini Naidu was one of the women who were in the forefront during the freedom struggle. She was fondly called as Bulbul by Mahatma Gandhi. She was the first women to become the governor of an Indian state. She also played a major role in establishing the Women’s Indian Association in 1917.
She was India’s first woman chief minister and founder of Congress women’s wing. She sang Vande Mataram just moments before former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his Tryst with Destiny speech. She was a part of the subcommittee that drafted the constitution.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
Sister of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was the first ever woman cabinet minister and first Asian president of UN General Assembly. She was imprisoned on several occasions while participating in the Quit India movement and other movement taken up during the freedom struggle. In 1939, she resigned from the Congress office when the British government declared that India was to participate in World War II.