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'Founding Mothers': Remembering 15 Women Who Helped Draft The Indian Constitution

There were 15 women members of the Constituent Assembly whose contribution to the constitution cannot be forgotten

G Durgabai, Amrit Kaur, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Begum Qudsiya Aizaz Rasul, Sarojini Naidu, Ammu Swaminathan (From Left To Right)
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Even after 77 years of independence, traditional narratives regarding the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the country, largely revolve around the ‘founding fathers’ of the document – whereas 15 women, who were elected to the Constituent Assembly, were also tasked with framing the Constitution of India.

The top court in the country made this observation as well last year, noting that most citizens are unaware of the sterling contributions made by women in the framing of the Constitution during the Constituent Assembly debates ."Founding fathers and mothers of the Constitution. I'm reading this for the first time. We call them mothers because otherwise the role played by women members would not be identified. These women really contributed in drafting the Constitution," the CJI had said in a 2018 judgment.

Who are some of the women that contributed to the framing of the constitution?

There were 15 women members of the Constituent Assembly whose contribution to the constitution cannot be forgotten. These women were G Durgabai, Ammu Swaminathan, Amrit Kaur, Dakshayani Velayudhan, Hansa Mehta, Renuka Ray, Sucheta Kripalani, Purnima Banerjee, Begum Qudsiya Aizaz Rasul, Kamala Chaudhri, Annie Mascarene, Sarojini Naidu, Malati Choudhary, Vijayalakshmi Pandit and Leela Roy.

G Durgabai: A freedom fighter at the ripe age of 12, Durgabai played an active role in movements leading up to India’s independence. She was imprisoned in 1930 and 1932 for participating in the Salt Satyagraha in Madras. But even in prison, she studied English and went on to complete her M.A. from Andhra University. Later on, she studied law from Madras University and practised at the Madras Bar for a few years. Within the Constituent Assembly debates, Durgabai argued on issues that include the national language, judicial independence, and human trafficking. With her background in law, she also led the debate on lowering the age from 35 to 30 for holding a seat in the council of states.

Ammu Swaminathan: A founding member of the Women’s India. Association (WIA) at Adyar, Madras, which eventually evolved into one of the largest women’s rights organisations in India that worked towards tackling child marriage and the devadasi practice, Ammu Swaminathan was a strong advocate for women’s rights. Within the Constituent Assembly, Swaminathan participated in debates calling for reform of bills related to inheritance and marriage.

Annie Mascarene: She became the first woman to join the Travancore State Congress Working Committee and played an active role in integrating the princely state of Travancore into the newly independent India. During the debates in the constituent assembly, Mascarene strongly expressed her opposition to centralisation of power from the very inception of democracy. “Centralisation of power is good enough for stable administration, but centralisation of power should be a development at later stages and not from the very inception of democracy. At the very inception of democracy, centralisation would look more autocratic than democratic,” she said in her speech.

Amrit Kaur: Long time freedom fighter, Gandhi's close aide and independent India's first Minister of Health, Amrit Kaur founded renowned medical institutions like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and led initiatives for its development and administration. Kaur was a member of the Fundamental Rights Sub Committee and the Minorities Sub-Committee. While she believed that reservation of seats for women would not lead to equality, she advocated for universal adult franchise that would instead create the path to the same.

Dakshayani Velayudhan: The first and only Dalit woman to be elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1946, Dakshayani sided with B R Ambedkar on many issues related to the Scheduled Caste community during the debates. She staunchly advocated for a campaign against untouchability but was against separate electorate or reservations for Harijans. “​​As long as the Scheduled Castes, or the Harijans or by whatever name they may be called, are economic slaves of other people, there is no meaning demanding either separate electorates or joint electorates or any other kind of electorates with this kind of percentage. (cheers). Personally speaking, I am not in favour of any kind of reservation in any place whatsoever,” she said.

Hansa Mehta: Mehta too devoted her life to fighting for women’s rights. She was the President of All India Women’s Conference and also served on the board of UNESCO. During the Constituent Assembly debates, Mehta advocated for a Uniform Civil Code as “too many personal laws are dividing the nation”. However, she warned that this common code must be on a par with, or in advance of, the most progressive of the personal laws in the country, or else “it will be a retrograde step”.

Hansa Mehta
Hansa Mehta
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Renuka Ray: A prominent women's rights advocate, Renuka Ray also represented India in the U.N. General Assembly in May 1949. Within the Indian Constituent assembly, she argued on women’s rights, minorities rights and bicameral legislature provision.

Renuka Ray
Renuka Ray
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Begum Qudsiya Aizaz Rasul: The only Muslim woman member of the Constituent Assembly, Rasul entered politics at a very young age while defying traditional norms like the Purdah system. In terms of contribution to Constitution making, Rasul argued against reservations and separate electorates. “To my mind reservation is a self-destructive weapon which separates the minorities from the majority for all time. It gives no chance to the minorities to win the good-will of the majority,” she said.

Purnima Banerjee served as the secretary of the Indian National Congress committee in Allahabad, and advocated for greater equality in education and protecting rights of individuals under detention during the Constituent Assembly debates.

Kamala Chaudhary: A celebrated author, Kamala Chaudhary actively worked towards providing access to education for girls in villages and backward areas.

Sarojini Naidu: The first Indian woman President of the Indian National Congress, Sarojini Naidu was known for championing women’s rights and reforms. She spoke about the importance of adopting a national flag in the Assembly.

Malati Choudhary: Apart from participating in the freedom movement, Malati Choudhary formed organisations like Bajiraut Chhatravas (students' hostel) for the children of freedom fighters and tribals in Odisha.

Malati Choudhary
Malati Choudhary
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Vijayalakshmi Pandit: Vijayalakshmi Pandit’s long career in politics is marked by many firsts. She became the first Indian woman ever to become a cabinet minister. In September 1953,  she became the first woman and the first Asian to be elected president of the U.N. General Assembly. 

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Leela Roy: West Bengal’s only woman in the constituent assembly, Leela Roy worked towards establishing educational institutions for women and encouraged women to participate in the freedom movement and general public life.

Leela Roy
Leela Roy
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Sucheta Kriplani is widely remembered for her role in the Quit India Movement of 1942. She also established the women’s wing of the Congress party in 1940 and became the first woman to hold the office of Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1963.

Sucheta Kriplani
Sucheta Kriplani
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