Congress accomplished its mission of women emancipation

Cover page august 2016 Mon, 29 Aug 2016

Congress accomplished its mission of women emancipation

Indian democracy is held in high esteem. Being the largest democracy of the world it guarantees equal rights to every citizen and provides equal rights to women. Even though there are several challenges before our democracy regarding rights of women – crimes against women are on a rise particularly for the last few months; attempts are being made to abolish the schemes meant for women-welfare and conspiracies are being hatched to limit constitutional rights of women.

Our forefathers tried from the very beginning of the freedom struggle to pull out women from social inertia. These leaders were of  the opinion that any society can’t be considered civilised and modern as long as women enjoy equal rights, and their interests are not amply safeguarded.

In the 19th century when rapid industrialisation was taking place in European countries and the people were going through a phase of reawakening, to come out from the clutches of the colonial administration. To provide a firm direction to their struggle. They took guidance from all the progressive ideologies of the world.

While going through the Indian history, it is reaffirmed that whenever social and political changes took place, they were always initiated by the leaders of the freedom struggle followed by the leaders of the Congress Party. The politics of non-congressism or the politics of the political parties who oppose the Congress Party never had pan-Indian approach and lacks liberal and wider outlook. Such parties started their politics in the name of social changes and end up with self-serving interests. The politics of  RSS and the BJP are also based on this sort of values and their ideology is effete, outdated and inspired by the practices of the middle Ages. The Modi government and their Nagpur based ideologues are vehemently opposed to the idea of the exploited, the  unpriviledged and women being empowered. Their approach towards women is worrisome since it is destroying the positive outcomes of  our efforts for decades.

The national movement opposed every form of discrimination whether based on sex or caste in order to promote social equality and establishing a society based on the principles of equality and justice. Several organisations were trying to bring about social  liberation for women and people belonging to backward castes. The national movement either absorbed these organisations or made them its partners. Lakhs of women became active in politics during national movement. Their reformist agenda comprises equality,

education and employment for women as well as participation in every field.

We will have to look into its historical aspect in order to understand the centuries old challenges before women and the importance of rights for women of their homes to work in farms and other places, they enjoyed a little more freedom than women belonging to upper castes. For example, they seldom lived under veil and they enjoyed the right of remarriage. In traditional thinking, mother and wife are highly praised as person as annobject of adoration; but in real life shennever enjoyed the equal rights. It was never understood that she had her own distinct personality other than that of her Similar to other countries of the world,

Indian women have victims of social subjugation and remained under the control and guidance of their male counterparts. In our country, various religions and their preaching ordained an inferior position to women. In this respect, women belonging to upper castes were far more inferior than women belonging to families of working class. Since these women used to go out of their homes to work in farms and other places, they enjoyed a little more freedom than women belonging to upper castes. For example, they seldom lived under veil and they enjoyed the right of remarriage.

In traditional thinking, mother and wife are highly praised as person as an object of adoration; but in real life she never enjoyed the equal rights. It was never understood that she had her own husband. She was never accepted in the role of a woman other than a housewife. Women were kept in veil in large parts of the country. Child-marriage was a common practise and a widow had no right to remarry. She had to lead a life of relinquishment and under bondage.

Sati-practise was prevalent in many parts of the country. The Hindu women had no successionright in property and also had no right to nullify her marriage. Though the Muslim women got some right in property but it was only half as compared to males and that also even  after her divorce. In the matter of divorce, Muslim men and women were not agreed in principles. In fact, Muslim women were frightened of divorce. The social status and their respect in society for women of both the communities were more or less same.

They didn’t had the opportunity to get education. Women were made to accept their servitude and to consider it as a symbol of  respect. It is true that Razia Sultan, Chand Biwi and Ahilya Holkar contributed in this land but they are only exceptions and it  didn’t make any difference in the overall condition of women.

In this background, social reformers, inspired by the ideas of humanity and equality of 19th century initiated a strong movement to reform the overall conditions of Indian women. Some reformers took the inspiration from individualism and equality while some others declared that the true religion provides women a respectable place. The Hindu, Muslim and Judaism don’t approve low status of  women.

Several prominent personalities, social reform committees and religious organisations toiled very hard in order to provide education  to women; to promote widow’s remarriage; to stop child-marriage; to bring women out of their veils; to promote one spouse custom and to make women belonging to middle-classes capable enough to get government jobs or start their own enterprises. Though,  the conservatives condemned these progressive ideas.

In the decade of 1880, several hospitals were established in the name of Lady Dufferin, wife of the then Viceroy Lord

Dufferin. With this, facilities of modern way of delivery and medicines were being provided to Indian women.

After the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 the top leaders stressed the need of paying attention to woman’s cause.

Women played an active and important role in the national movement. They took part in large numbers in protests against Bengal-participation and Home-Rule.

After 1918, women actively participated in political processions, began to organise dharnas for liquor-ban and against foreign-made clothes. They began to popularise khadi clothes. They were arrested in Non-cooperation movement and they faced lathi-charges, tear-gases and even bullets. They actively participated in revolutionary movements.

The national movement considered women as political personalities who were not less than their male counterparts in any manner. Many important issues were resolved on the basis of their active participation in the freedom struggle.

If they can lead protest-march, can challenge discriminatory laws and can go to jails and that even without any support from family members, they can also do government jobs, should have the right to vote and may have the right of succession in the ancestral  property. In the 1920’s, woman’s participation in the national movement so liberated them that it was more than what they got in the whole of previous century. Woman’s image underwent a sea-change. In the 19th century they were fighting for justice. In the beginning of 20th century, they supported men with nationalistic ideas and in 30’s and 40’s they became their associates. Women participated in every stream of the national movement.

They were encouraged by the leaders of the Congress Party and they began to participate in trade-unions and farmers movements. They formed distinct women organisations of which Akhil Bhartiya Mahila Sammelan of 1926 was the most important.

distinct personality other than that of her Under the guidance of the top leadership of the Congress Party, Indian women

began to contest and participate in state assembly elections. The noted poetess Sarojini Naidu became the president of the Congress Party. Hundreds of women became the members of municipalities and other local bodies. The leaders of the Congress Party appointed several women as ministers and parliamentary secretaries of the popular government formed in 1937. In this way, the Congress leaders paved the way for the awakening and liberation of women by ensuring their participation in the National Movement. The top leaders of the Congress Party identified Indian women as a reckoning force. The leaders argued that if women had the power and courage to face bullets and to bear atrocities in British prisons, how long they can be assigned the role of “dolls” and “helps” in Indian homes. The founders of the Congress Party, Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru were of the opinion that Indian women must  claim their rights as individuals.

After independence, time was ripe for the consolidation of the aims of the freedom struggle. Naturally, the legal and constitutional rights were seen as the first and foremost option. The constitution provided equal rights to women. Women got the right to vote like men without any discrimination based on education, property or income.

To achieve these rights, western women organisations underwent a long and difficult battle. But Indian women got it. Under the leadership of Pandit Nehru, the government tried to fulfil the demands for which women had been fighting since 1930’s. Taking advice from constitutional experts Pandit Nehru suggested to prepare a draft in which the age-bar for a woman’s marriage was raised; her opinion regarding marriage be considered; right of divorce, maintenance and succession be provided and dowry should be considered as stridhan (or the property of women). This proposal of Pandit Nehru received an overwhelming support from the Congresspersons, women workers and social reformers. Later on, various parts of this draft was enacted separately. Prominent among those were – The  Hindu Marriage Act, The Hindu Succession Act, The Child Marriage Prohibition Act, Right to Maintenance Act etc. These acts were path-breaking endeavours. The Congress governments never hesitated in setting such milestones like true visionaries.

It was a major achievement that Pandit Nehru led congress government brought women into the mainstream of society and encouraged them to claim their rights as individuals. The issue of right to vote for women was considered enthusiastic voters and they are very alert and vigilant about their voting-right.

This fact implies more on rural women. The Congress Party was committed to women’s rights. It resulted in bringing out a positive change in the manner that major political parties and other social organisations including those of women raised women-centric issues.

Every aspect of woman’s exploitation was taken into consideration. Protests against dowry-deaths, rapes and domestic-violence gained momentum between 1970’s and 1990’s. Some of these protests were local in nature while some had far-reaching appeal. It led to mass-awakening.

After independence, demonstrations led by women took many forms and hues. Large number of women took participation in government sponsored activities meant for their welfare. The Congress governments encouraged women-organisations in every respect.

women either lost or abandoned. Their rehabilitation was a major challenge. To build hostels for working-women in cities and to establish vocational training centres for women were also major tasks.

In the first half of 20th century, the momentum provided by the successive Congress governments to women organisations became a little bit slow in 1950’s and 1960’s. But we must remember that after an intensive stage of protests, At the time of partition, thousands of very seriously as women are always a phase arrives for consolidation and creative works. After independence, fight of women was going through such a phase.

Mass political awakening was taking place in the country at the end of 1960’s and the beginning of 1970’s. Women-organisations and their causes ans concerns were more strengthened during the tenure of Smt. Indira Gandhi.

During this period, those women actively took part in political rallies who usually didn’t come out from their homes.

After 1974, women in Uttarakhand actively participated in “Chipko Movement”. Women played an important role in forming Madhya Pradesh Khadaan Shramik Sangh in 1977. Women strongly demanded that state-governments must issue leases and licenses for land, trees and other things in the names of women also.

the Congress Party intervened into the matter. Likewise in 1979, the issue of dowry related exploitations and dowry deaths were raised on a large scale. The leaders and workers of the Congress Party organised protests and rallies against this menace. They demonstrated in front of those houses where women are illtreated.

These protests demanded legal remedy. The then Congress government assigned the Joint Parliamentary Subordinate Committee to prepare a new Bill for the amendment of the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961). This committee visited the whole country and extensively discussed the matter with women and their organisations.

It also recorded the statements of simple women. The Congress Party in 1984 passed a Bill in which there were provisions for punishment for dowry related crimes. Some other laws were implemented later on.

The bigger issue of these demonstrations led by the Congress Party was rape and particularly the rapes committed by the police. Many incidents like Rameeza Bi’s case of 1978 in Hyderabad; Mathura’s issue in Maharashtra and Maya Tyagi’s case of 1980 in U.P. compelled the Congress Party and people at large to think over it seriously.

Women organisations led by the Congress Party raised this issue nation-wide and the Congress government in 1980 presented a Bill to amend the laws on rape. The Bill was passed in 1983. The new provision in this Act was that rape in police custody was considered more heinous.

Through this Act, the onus to prove shifted upon the alleged person rather than the victim. Thus the probability for the punishments of criminals was increased manifold.

The Sati-practice was prevalent in our trying to paint the protests against this improper practice as an attack on Indian traditions. In the meantime, the Congress Party and other women organisations started a demonstration against Sati-practices in Rajasthan.

They extensively visited rural parts of Rajasthan and Haryana. They succeeded in forming public opinion against Sati-Practices. They challenged the Hindu religious saints of Varanasi and Puri to prove that the old Hindu scriptures and religious books endorse Sati-practises. In Odisha, the 10000 strong women  followers of Gandhi gheraoed the chiefpriest of the Puri-temple and challenged him to prove his claim. He failed to prove his claim. Likewise in Maharashtra, The Congress Party workers and women organisations and in Rajasthan rural women strongly protested against Satipractises.  At last, this inhuman practice was abolished from this country.

The Congress Party and its top leaders helped women-organisations to maintain their independent identity. In 1980’s, these organisations changed to some extent. They now started to establish women-cells for legal help to women; to advice them; to collect documents; to do research works and to publish them. It clearly indicates that by the encouragement of the Congress Party women-protests were taking the shape of an institution and was further strengthened and fortified.

On the other hand, the Congress government tried continuously for women-empowerment. It prepared a national policy for women. The policy mentioned health, education and political participation for women in a detailed manner. The former prime minister if India and one of the greatest leaders of the Congress Party, Shri Rajiv Gandhi was very much committed to women-empowerment. When the government in 1989 presented the Panchayati Raj Bill, he proposed to ensure woman’s participation in the local bodies. Though this Bill could be passed country for a long time though in a very hidden and disguised manner.

The Hindu organisations made this issue more complex. These people were Majority of state-governments agreed to this proposal after the top leadership of in 1993, but the Congress governments succeeded in reserving one-third seats for women in Panchayats. The Congress Party launched a new scheme named as DWACRA for the welfare of women and children in rural areas. This scheme suggested forming of women associations and Mandals in rural areas.

It provided an opportunity to poor women to express themselves and their hardships and to unite themselves. They were amply helped by local self-help groups and political workers. An innovative step of forming a Mahila Kosh (fund for women) was taken by the Congress government. It provided loans to women to enable them earning a livelihood by establishing small enterprises. Many organisations helped women through government-sponsored programmes and schemes. The Congress government was relentlessly trying to increase woman’s participation in local and national level politics.

Now, one-third seats are reserved for women in Panchayats, so they are being provided training for discharging their responsibility well.

The Congress Party suggested its governments to prepare health and education related schemes for women. Primary Health Centres were established where free medical treatment was being provided. Like education, if medical facilities are costly, they adversely affect women and girls.

The Congress Party is always of the opinion that the rights provided by the constitution to women also endorse social-justice. Women have achieved these rights through their long battle. The incumbent central government is curtailing heavily in the funds meant for health, education and overall welfare of women and children in a manner which may spoil the achievements of this sector of last hundred years. The aim of women-empowerment will remain an unfinished agenda.