Babasaheb, as he is admiringly called, Dr B.R. Ambedkar was perhaps one of the biggest champions of women empowerment to have existed in India, around the period of the final days of its struggle for Independence. Thus, to the very fortune of this country, the foundations of modern India and its Constitution had principles of women empowerment and gender equality embedded in it, owing to the contribution of Dr Ambedkar, among others.
“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”.
Such were his values, envisioning progress and equality, at a time when the country was undergoing a social reorganisation, cultural transformation and a change in its overall political order and system. Being the first Law Minister of Independent India, and Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, Dr Ambedkar left no stone unturned in ensuring that his values and vision found space in the constitutional framework of the nation.
One of his most important introductions towards the cause was the Hindu Code Bill. Dr Ambedkar’s major concern for the status of women was reflected in this Bill. He had even remarked that his work on the latter, would be as important, as his work on the constitution itself, and mark a chapter of gender equality and justice, along with an exodus from ancient orthodox laws.
Through the Bill, women were to be granted absolute, right regarding all property. The fact that Dr Ambedkar envisioned gender equality in all certainty can be understood by his own words, when he said that, “son also would get a share as equal to girl’s share in mother’s property, even in Stridhana (defined in Hindu Law as wealth received by women as gifts from relations) too”.
Regarding marriage, two new clauses were added by Dr Ambedkar; restitution of the conjugal rights and the judicial separation. As prescribed by the ‘Dayabhaga rule’, sacramental marriage was the only acceptable practice, wherein no space existed for a non-theist. Hindu Code Bill, on the other hand, provided a measure of social inclusion with both civil and non-civil (sacramental) marriages, wherein the former provided the highest personal freedom with easy provisions for divorce. This was also the first of its kind when the provision of divorce in a civil marriage was introduced from a woman’s outlook, another reflection of Ambedkar’s philosophy towards restoring the dignity of women. Furthermore, Ambedkar “prohibited polygamy and prescribed monogamy”.
The principal features of the Hindu Code Bill illustrate Dr Ambedkar’s passion towards the very values of liberty, equality, dignity and fraternity. It was a reform, challenging the basic patriarchal foundation to ensure equality of women, true to its essence of empowerment.
The Bill, however, could not be introduced in its original structure, as devised by Dr. Ambedkar and was enacted in a diluted version in four separate acts, namely the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Hindu Succession Act, 1956, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, and Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956. Dr. Ambedkar’s ideas, however, did influence the enactment of a number of subsequent pro-women Acts, such as The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, the Family Courts Act, 1984, the Sati Prevention Act, 1987, The National Commission for Women Act, 1990, Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, among others.
To act on Dr Ambedkar’s vision and endorse his principles is the need of the hour, perhaps more than ever. His idea of India was one that would have social inclusivity and equality at its very foundation, and it’s our prime responsibility to not fail him. This would, in all certainty, ensure in the coming days’, liberty, equality, dignity and fraternity for all, as this was the vision of Dr Ambedkar.