Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Thoughts on Women Empowerment and Discrimination in India: A Legal Perspective
Dr. Arvind Kumar
Department of Economics, Monad University, Hapur,UP
Mr. Sanjeev Kumar Nimesh
Department of Law, Monad University, Hapur,UP
Abstract: It seems very paradoxical that on the one side the most debated and discussed issue now a day is none other than women empowerment and the most disempowered is also women. However many scholars have made enormous contribution and among them one of the prominent contributor is Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. So, this paper will make an attempt to discuss the contribution and relevance of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in women empowerment. As he was determined fighter and a deep scholar has made significant efforts to lead the society on the path of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. He was first Indian to break down the hurdles in the way of development of women in India. He was a great thinker of woman and their rights. Being a pioneer of social justice, he always worked for the woman emancipation. His principle aim was to build up a society based on social justice. To secure and fulfill his dreams, he thought everybody should be equal irrespective of caste, creed, gender and religion He laid down the foundation of concrete and sincere efforts by codifying the common Civil Code for Hindus and other sections of the Indian society. The present paper is an attempt to highlight Dr. Ambedkar's view on women problems in pre and post independent India and its relevancy in present scenario. Dr. Ambedkar started his movement in 1920.
Key words: Dr. Ambedkar’s thoughts, Women Empowerment, Education, Political Participation and Indian Law
Empowerment is the process of enabling or authorizing individual to think, take action and control work in an autonomous way. It is the process by which one can gain control over one’s destiny and the circumstances of one’s lives. Empowerment includes control over resources (physical, human, intellectual and financial) and over ideology (beliefs, values and attitudes). (Baltiwala, 1994). The early Vedic period suggests that Indian women enjoyed the status of equality with men in term of social freedom, education and other rights. But with time their condition detoriated as we started living in a male narrow-minded society. In the present social and economic environment women are not treated on equal parameters with the males regarding issues like having authority in the family, property rights, employment opportunities, social and security aspects. Females face different kinds of exploitation in Indian economy and the panacea to all female exploitation is women empowerment in terms of financial status. A strong patriarchal society with deep-rooted socio-culture values continues to affect gender equity and women’s empowerment. With time Indian women have evolved under the British rule as well as in the independent economy due to various cultural and economic exposures. Now, they participate fully in areas such as education, sports, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, science and technology, etc. Ambedkar was not only the father of Indian Constitution but also he was a great freedom fighter, political leader, philosopher, social reformer, thinker, writer, economist, editor, and a revivalist for Buddhism in India. His western education and deep understanding of the western philosophies helped him to evolve as a visionary who had developed clear ideas for the emancipation of the Dalit’s and women in India. Dr. Ambedkar provides a powerful source of inspiration to formulate a feminist political agenda which simultaneously addresses the issues of class, caste and gender in the contemporary sociopolitical set up, which still keeps conservative and reactionary values in many respects, particularly on gender relation. He started his movement in 1920. He raised his voice against the Hindu social order and social system through his renowned journal Mook Nayak in 1920 and Bahiskrit Bharat in 1927. Almost through its all issues he spoke on the gender equality, women education and exposed the problems related to women and other depressed class. He was also a strong advocate of family planning measures for women in Bombay Legislative Assembly. Ambedkar was an example of inspiration of many classes of society. He spent his whole life for the betterment of Indian society as well as women and other under privileged sections. He was also involved to root out the evil practices like prostitutions. He worked for the welfare of the people for his whole life. He builds up awareness among poor, illiterate women and inspired them to fight against the unjust and social practices like child marriages and devdasi system. As a result of that finally he added and incorporated many rights of women in the constitution of India.
Objectives and Methodology
The present paper is an attempt to highlight Dr. Ambedkar's thoughts on women empowerment in India. This paper is based on secondary data which collected from Government documents, newspapers, published papers, books, internet etc.
The concept of empowerment traces its history in the mid-17th century with the legalistic meaning; to invest with authority‘. Thereafter it began to be used with an infinitive in a more general way meaning "to enable or permit." Its modern use originated in the civil rights movement, which sought political empowerment for its followers. This idea of empowerment is an offshoot of the discourse on human development and it came into prominence after 1980s. Its linkage with feminist discourse went a long way in shaping the idea of women‘s empowerment. However, these concepts are still not clearly defined and demarcated from closely related concepts. Empowerment has been defined as to infuse people with power (Narayana, 2002, World Development Report, 2002/2000) i.e. access to resources, as expansion in individual‘s agency (Kishore, 2002), as power of decision making i.e. autonomy (Jojeebboy, 1995). However the dictionary meaning of empowerment is that it “the empowerment of a person or group of people is the process of giving them power and status in a particular situation (Collins Dictionary). Feminist movement has extensively used this concept with hardly establishing its particular definition and parameters.
In simple words empowerment related to the word ‘power’. But mostly people don’t know what kind of power. In actually “women’s empowerment” is a big and burning concept. "Women's empowerment is defined as the process in which their spiritual, political, social or economic status is raised". This also includes the right to raise their level of confidence regarding their own capabilities.
Empowerment includes the following aspects -
The ability to take their own decisions,
To have wide choices (Only 'Yes/No' and not 'If/ Else' choices)
The ability to bring about improvement in one's own capabilities,
Firmness while taking collective decisions
In short, empowerment is the process that allows one to gain the knowledge, skill-sets and attitude needed to cope with the changing world and the circumstances in which one lives.
Dr. Ambedkar’s views towards Women Empowerment
Dr. Ambedkar started his movement in 1920. He stated “We shall see better days soon and our progress will be greatly accelerated if male education is persuaded side by side with female education” He started fierce propaganda against the Hindu social order and launched a journal Mook Nayak in 1920 and Bahiskrit Bharat in 1927 for this purpose. Through its issues he put due stress on the gender equality and the need for education and exposed the problems of the depressed as well as women. Ambedkar’s perception of women question, emphasizing their right to education, equal treatment with men, right to property and involvement in the political process resembled the globa lf eminists demand. In January 1928, a women’s association was founded in Bombay with Ramabai, Ambedkar’s wife, as its president. In the Kalram Temple Entry Satyagraha at Nasik in 1930, five hundred women participated and many of them were arrested along with men and ill-treated in jails. The encouragement of Dr. Ambedkar to empower women to speak boldly was seen when Radhabai Vadale addressed a press conference in 1931. She said “It is better to die a hundred times than live a life full of humiliation. We will sacrifice our lives but we will win our rights.” The credit for this self –respect and firm determination of women goes to Ambedkar. Addressing another meeting of about 3000 women, he said, “I measure the progress of community by the degree of progress which women had achieved. Let every girl who marries stand by her husband, claim to be her husband’s friend and equal, and refuse to be his slave. I am sure if you follow this advice, you will bring honor and glory to yourselves.” He strongly advocated for family planning measures for women in Bombay Legislative Assembly. In 1942 he introduced a Maternity Benefit Bill. He provided several provisions in the constitution for protecting the welfare and civil rights of women. He introduced the Hindu Code Bill in the Parliament and highlighted the issues about women’s property right. Gaining inspiration from Ambedkar, many women wrote on various topics. And Tulsibai Bansode started a newspaper Chokhamela. This shows how Ambedkar created awareness among poor, illiterate women and inspired them to fight against the unjust and social practices like child marriages and devdasi system. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar exclaimed, “I strongly believe in the movements run by women. If they are truly taken in to confidence, they may change the present picture of society which is very miserable. He evoked women in the following words. “Never wear such clothes which will degrade our personality and character. Avoid wearing the jewellery on your body everywhere. It is not fare to make hole on nose and wear „nath.” He advised to change life style of wearing saree, lightly ornaments and don’t eat meat of dead animals.
Literacy rate in India
Education is the fundamental tools which can change the economic and social status of females in the near future as well as over a long time. Further women empowerment is the utmost requirement for the inclusive growth and development of a nation like India which is emerging over time and accounts for 614.4 million female population (1.27 billion total populations). According to the 2011 census female literacy rate happens to be 65.46% as compared to male literacy of 82.14%. Table 2 shows the variation between male and female in literacy rate.
Table: 2 Literacy rate in India
Source: Census of India 2011
Figure: 1 Literacy difference between male and female in India
Source: Census of India 2011
There is a big literacy gap in 1981. In the begin literacy gap is gradually increasing and then decreasing because of awareness of people. Figure 1 presents the literacy difference male and female in India. During 1981 shows the highest difference in literacy rate in India.
Women Representation in Indian Parliament
At the grassroots level 50 per cent reservation given to women in local self-government institutions has improved political participation of women in India yet political participation of women in Legislative Assemble Parliament is still quite low in India. Women have adorned the position of President, Prime Minister, Speaker, and Leader of Opposition in politics of India and have proved their worth. The percentage of women in decision-making positions always remained low. Women do not share the power of decision-making and are not involved in policy making in Indian democracy in proportion to their numerical strength. Thus there is a gap between the formal idea of women’s participation and their meaningful use of power.
Table: 1 Year Wise Membership of Women in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha
Members in Lok Sabha
Members in Rajya Sabha
Source: Election Commission of India ()
The table describes the data and explains the position of women in different election of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The 17th Lok Sabha has 78 women members; the highest in history. The present Rajya Sabha has 25 out of 245 women members. Three of them Smriti Irani (Minister of Textiles and Ministry of Women and Child Development), Nirmala Sitharaman (Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Corporate Affairs) and Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Minister of Food Processing) are going to hold their maiden portfolios as ministers.
Dr. Ambedkar tried an adequate inclusion of women’s right in the political vocabulary and constitution of India.
Article14 - Equal rights and opportunities in political, economic and social spheres.
Article 15- Prohibits discrimination on the ground of sex.
Article 15(3) - Enables affirmative discrimination in favour of women.
Article 39 - Equal means of livelihood and equal pay for equal work.
Article 42 - Human conditions of work and maternity relief.
Article 51-(A) (C) - Fundamental duties to renounce practices, derogatory to the dignity of women.
Article 46 - The state to promote with special care, the educational and economic interests of weaker section of people and to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
Article 47 - The state to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people and improvement of public health.
Article 243D (3), 243T (3) & 243R (4) provides for allocation of seats in the Panchayati Raj System.
Indian Laws that Discriminate Against Women
Even though the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was amended in 2005 to give an equal share to daughters in inheritance, parts of the act still remain discriminatory. If a Hindu woman dies without a will, her property goes to her husband’s heirs if there is no spouse or children. The law assumes that the women become part of the husband’s family after marriage. Section 498 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 prescribes a punishment of up to two years for a man who has sexual intercourse with the wife of another man. There is no punishment for the woman. While the law may seem discriminatory towards men on the surface, it is highly derogatory to women. It assumes that women are not capable of making decisions on their own and the man must have seduced or enticed them. Section 6 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 considers the father to be the ‘natural guardian’ of a Hindu child. The mother is considered a guardian only in the absence of the father or if the child is under five years of age.
As per the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 the marriageable age for men in India is 21, while it is 18 years for women. This manifests the narrow mindset of our lawmakers who think that the wife must be younger than her husband. Divorce laws in India are highly discriminatory. A Christian woman cannot divorce her husband on the grounds of adultery, but her husband can use adultery as a ground for divorce. Moreover, any divorced woman is not entitled to property in the husband’s name accumulated during the marriage even if she contributed in acquiring it. She can only claim maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Dr. Babasaheb expressed his views on the state of life of all women. He stated that women must be treated equally and given equal prestige. He insisted on Hindu Code bill suggesting the basic improvements and amendments in assembly. The teachings and thoughts of Dr. Ambedkar are useful not only women but also all the Indian even today. We must concentrate on imparting social education before giving any concrete shape to their political empowerment to the women. The participation of women is crucial for the growth of an economy. The involvement of women in income related activities increases the level of empowerment. An empowered woman can exercise her power in her own choice in making household decision, contribution to household income, and control over resources and political or development activities. She can enjoy more benefits or rights in access to resources, control over her assets, and participation in household decision making. An employed woman has more capacity to face sudden household shocks.
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