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Dr. Ambedkar On Women Liberation

By Ratnesh Katulkar

31 August, 2008
Countercurrents.org

"We shall see better days soon and our progress will be greatly accelerated if male education is persuaded side by side with female education…" are the words of Young Ambedkar, during his studies at New York which came out while writing a letter to his father's friend. Interestingly Dr. Ambedkar's first academic paper "Caste in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development" also begins with his concern towards women, where he located the linkages between caste and gender by observing that "Superimposition of endogamy on exogamy means creation of caste" and concluded that there is no divine or natural cause of origin of caste but Brahmins of ancient India craftily designed it by enclosing their class through means of controlling and subjugating their woman.

He further pointed attention to the fact that in order to maintain endogamy, the only ideal situation is constant sex ratio with in a class, i.e., one man for one woman. As he observed, " The problem of caste then, ultimately resolves itself into one of repairing the disparity between marriageable units of two sexes with in it. Left to nature, the much-needed parity between the units can be realized only when a couple dies simultaneously. But this is rare contingency. The Husband may die before the Wife and create a Surplus woman, who must be disposed of, else through intermarriage she will violate the endogamy of man, whom the group, while it may sympathies with him for sad break the endogamy. Thus, both the surplus man and surplus woman constitute a menace to the Caste, if not taken care of, for not finding suitable partners inside their prescribed circle (and left to themselves they cannot find, any for it matter be not regulated there can only be just enough pairs to go round) very likely they will transgress the boundary, marry outside and import offspring that is foreign to caste".

Therefore he observed that in the maintenance of strict endogamy surplus men and surplus women were the main challenge, here he also noted that man being powerful and upper hand in society can not be forcibly controlled thus the society let him untouched but the women being inferior to man were easy pray of its victimization. So as a 'protective' measure Sati system was introduced, where by a surplus woman (= widow) was forced to burn along with her deceased husband. But in some cases it was difficult to operate so the second remedy was to compulsory enforce widowhood on her for rest of her life, and in order to guard the her morals and also morals of group, the widows were obliged to follow much restrictions such as shaven head, restriction on diets, wearing of colorless Sari and no intermixing with any one and in this way she is no longer source of allurement.

As said above, both these treatments-Sati and Enforced Widowhood were not possible in the case of Surplus Man. Therefore, Surplus man was allowed to re-marry to recruit another bride, but here there is every possibility of increase in competition in consumption of woman in Caste, therefore as a corrective measure, man was allowed to recruit his wife from lower marriageable rank, this resulted in the beginning of Girl Marriage. In this way, the inhuman practices of i) Sati system ii) Enforced Widowhood and iii) Child marriage came into existence. Thus much before the Indian feminist school, Dr. Ambedkar pointed out the direct relationship between caste and gender and observed that gender could not be seen in isolation from caste.

Apart from his academic writings when Dr. Ambedkar headed in public life, women were the major force in all his struggles. Women's issue was also main plank in his fortnightly Mooknayak and Bahiskrit Bharat. In historic Mahad Satyagraha there were about 500 women took active part in this procession. On 18th July 1927, Dr. Ambedkar addressed a meeting of about three thousand women of Depressed classes, where he said that 'I measure the progress of community by the degree of progress which women had achieved' and said to the Women, "Never regard yourself as Untouchables, live a clean life. Dress yourselves as touchable ladies. Never mind, if your dress if full of patches, but see that it is clean. None can restrict your freedom in the choice of your garments. Attend more to the cultivation of the mind and spirit of self-Help." Then with a little fall in voice he said, "But do not feed in any case your spouse and sons if they are drunkards. Send your children to schools. Education is as necessary for Females as it is for males. If you know how to read and write, there would be much progress. As you are, so your Children will be." Dalit Women too responded very positively to Dr. Ambedkar's advice and to the surprise of all the women left early in the morning with wonderful change in the fashion of their Sarees as ordained by Babasaheb.

Further Dr. Ambedkar said to Women "Learn to be clean. Keep from vices. Give education to your children. Instill ambition into them. Inculcate in their minds that they are destined to be great. Remove from them all inferiority complexes." On marriage he remarked, "Do not be in hurry to marry. Marriage is liability .You should not impose it upon your children unless they are financially able to meet the liabilities arising from marriage. Those who will marry will have to keep in mind that to have too many children is a crime. The paternal duty lies in giving each child a better start than its parents had. Above all, let every girl who marries stand by her husband, claim to be her husband's friend and equal, and refuse to his slave. I am sure if you follow this advice, you will bring honour and glory to yourselves."

Dr. Ambedkar also raised the Women's issue as Member of Legislative Council during his debate in Bombay Legislative Assembly on 10th Nov. 1938; he strongly advocated family planning measures and said that besides many other problems giving birth to many children negatively affects Mother's health. Later in the year 1942 Dr. Ambedkar also introduced Maternity Benefit Bill during his tenure as Labour Minister in Governor General's Executive Council.

While drafting the constitution of India, Dr. Ambedkar was the prime movers of the provisions related to the welfare of women. On the question of civil rights, Dr. Ambedkar made provisions in articles 14-16 in the Indian Constitution, which provide equal status to Woman and also banned the of sale and purchase of woman prevailing Hindu India. Further to ensure women's status Dr. Ambedkar also introduced an emancipatory bill (the Hindu code Bill) in Parliament which intended mainly 1) to abolish different marriage systems prevalent among Hindus and to establish monogamy as the only legal system; 2) Conferment of right to property and adoption on women; 3) restitution of conjugal rights and judicial separation; attempts to unify the Hindu Code in tune with progressive and modern thought.

But the Caste Hindus who considered this move as an attempt to attack the sanctity of Hinduism opposed this revolutionary bill. It was opposed both inside as well outside the House, where not only leading members of Hindu Mahasabha but also large number of caste-Hindu women protested against this. In his vigorous defense to this Bill, Dr. Ambedkar alleged that the ideals enshrined in this bill are derived from the constitution of India, which is based on liberty, equality and fraternity. He observed that 'the sacramental marriage does not satisfy the ideal of liberty or equality'. And described 'sacramental marriages as polygamy for the men and perpetual slavery for the women because under no circumstances with in that system woman got liberty from her husband however bad he may be, however undesirable he may be'. But unfortunately this revolutionary bill couldn't see day of light as in face of growing opposition Pt. Nehru, then Prime Minister decided to drop this bill.

Dr. Ambedkar was so disgusted with this that he resigned from Nehru's cabinet. He said, 'it (The Hindu Code Bill) was killed and buried, unwept and unsung'.

Thus Dr. Ambedkar practiced what he preached. Dr. Ambedkar's influence on Women is still visible especially in the Maharashtrian Buddhist Women, who are not only empowered but often criticize mainstream Feminist movement as the Brahmin Women Movement.


Ratnesh Katulkar is an Ambedkarite activist from Madhy Pradesh and Research Scholar in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar National Institute of Social sciences, Dr. Ambedkar Nagar MHOW Distt. Indore MP 453 441

Email: ratnesh.katulkar@gmail.com

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