Tuesday, May 27, 2014

DR. AMBEDKAR AND WOMEN EMPOWERMENT: Embracing the plight of women in his works

 A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.”
                                                                  Diane Mariechild

It is not surprise in this present era, to see and hear that there are institutions and individuals who propagate that women need to gain the same amount of power that men have. Indeed the time had been ripen and the stage’s curtain has been lifted for the men to forget that they are the only sole holder of power and the chief decision maker.  However, in India, women are still facing subjugation from the patriarchal culture where society is constructed according to the convenience of ‘man’.  In matters related to women’s status and their futures the initiative taken is very microscopic.  But the great relief is Indian women are slowly getting basking in the rays of empowerment in the sectors like politics, education, the work force and even more power within their own households.  The work force is covered with intellectual women who currently hold the top most executive positions at large corporate firms which were never held by Indian women for a very long period.  Likewise, women are running for election and have achieved remarkable positions in literary fields. Indeed in our country, women have reached a long way eventually and it was not achieved with one single step, it was a journey of miles. With struggles and infallible courage women have discovered a new path for them to come out from the shells and cocoons of despair and pain.

The statistics of educational and job interviews show that women are outshining men. It shows that women are diligent and gone are the days when their aim was to engage in household chores, residing in the four corners of the wall. It arrests our attention that girls are now more confident of getting better-paid professional jobs than their counterparts.  Apparently, there is numerable amount of reason for the girls to be more confident than boys and this is because of their remarkable academic feat around the nation, moreover, this achievement of girls is a total reversal of what would have been expected a generation ago, and as appraisal this is likely to steer to higher-income jobs.   It is to be considered and not to be taken for granted that women rights confines to domestic rights only. The concept of feminism is fashionable and draws jaw dropping attention, in theory it stands for women’s right and efforts to win equality for women and glorifies feminism, women's political and property rights, equal opportunity in education and workplaces, and equal pay.  But in practice the wave of feminism is has not discovered the future of women and is in constant endeavour to seek it out.

India witnessed the works of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Virchand Gandhi; Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Dhondo Keshav Karve in the field of women empowerment.  Quite parallel to it were the works of Dr. Ambedkar who has done an enormous work in promoting in the welfare of the women in his country. His legal bearings and a deep understanding of the society he lived in acted like a guiding star to show him the way. Things were not a piece of cake, he had to meet differences and difficulties in bringing about reforms but like a hard taskmaster he did it with utter hope of uplifting the plight of women. The following section holds weight to the above argument.

Dr. Ambedkar slogged and went to utmost extremities for the upliftment of downtrodden and untouchables. He was strongly against untouchability and fought with determined voice for the backwards to live with respect and honour and to be ascertain of their rights. He championed the cause for liberty, fraternity and equality of every individual, especially considering to take the backward classes in the main stream of society and nation. Through his involvements he gave strength to the downtrodden class from rural area and small non-urban villages to fight against injustice, many a times he had to lead the movements on such occasions coming down on streets. He spent all his life in fighting/debating with the people who were well settled and established in society ignoring the rights of backward classes.

It is chanted that the worth of civilization can be arbitrated by the place given to women in the society.  One of the important aspects of the movements led by Ambedkar was the participation of women along with men in it. Hence, the role of women in the inclusive transformation of society was noteworthy. He was completely aware of the natural and inner strength of women, and he knew that the defensive skills of women could be used to their advantage during difficult situations.  Ambedkar gave ardent importance on the education of girls and women. It was he who made an announcement, “Learn get together and Fight.” He strongly believed that if a boy gets education, he is the only person to get educated in a family, and if a girl child does then the whole family is benefitted. In total, he continuously persisted on the education of girls and women for the all-round development and progress of all the suppressed classes. The backward classes were living a miserable life which was comparable to that of animal. They were totally neglected in society, and in worse case women were struggling hard even more than men of the backward classes. Babasaheb found the only weapon to fight against all sorts of abuses and discrimination in society was by educating women along with men.

In praise of women, he stated that women have the great duty of inspiring men to keep themselves away from all sorts of addictions. He believed that behind every successful person has a woman, guiding and inspiring him. In fact we then on to the pages of Indian history and culture wherein there were ample examples of women who served society and led with equal patience and courage as that of man. Dr. Ambedkar strongly believed in the movement run by women, and also believed that if the women are truly taken into confidence, they may change the present picture of society which is very miserable. In past they have played a significant role in improving the condition of weaker section and classes, and in present too they can play a pivotal role if given a part. He  truly saluted and honoured women for their work and hardships.
While addressing the crowd in conferences, he could easily communicate with women, he was a homely person and conversation with them. As like a patriarch he asserted on the key values to be followed by everyone in the family. He condemned all the bad traditions, habits and ways of life which made life difficult and complex. And to the surprise, even the women with little or no formal education followed his advice from the bottom of their heart. Similarly, like a man who can fascinated with the notion of freedom, he asserted on throwing away slavery and call on people to stand confidently on their own.  The result of that was hopeful and positive. Unsurprisingly, a number of women participated in that second freedom movement of getting education and having progress in all walks of life.                       
Dr. Babasaheb spent his life championing the cause of women, it is said that women who were involved in practices and professions like prostitutions took heed of his words. He gave his view 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. He also insisted and evoked all the parliamentary members to help to pass the bill in parliament. Eventually, he resigned for the same, as we all know what is recorded in the history. The teaching and thoughts of Ambedkar are useful not only to women but for all the Indians even today. His deep concern and feeling for the all round development of women, backward classes is expressed from his each sentence and word.
The role played by Dr. Ambedkar, as chairperson of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution, has left imprint on the social tapestry of the country after independence, and shaped the socio- political fabric of the India today.  It would be true to say that, it would have been a different India without him and, and chances are that much more inequitable and unjust one. He attempted to forge India’s moral and social foundations a new and strove for a political order of the constitutional democracy that is sensitive to disadvantaged, inherited from the past or engendered by prevailing social relations. Dr. Ambedkar had the highest academic credential for an Indian of his time, and his erudition and scholarship have been widely acknowledged.
In his paper on ‘Caste in India: their mechanism, genesis and development[1], Ambedkar described how women were traced cruelly by the way of sati, enforced widowhood and girl marriages just to maintain strict endogamy in a caste. The social evils regarding women in Hindu religion as well as in Muslim society were highlighted by him. As a researcher, Dr. Ambedkar extensively studied the position of women in both the religion (and also in the other religions) and thrown light on denial of rights to her and ultimately the status of individual. He stated that the consequences of purdah system on Muslim were that it deprives her of mental and moral nourishment.  He sought that Buddhism awards women, status equal to men and considered women capable of attaining spirituality. By adopting Buddhism, Dr. Ambedkar expelled in just   for underprivileged segments including women and accepting freed women from inhumane customs, rituals and superstitions and made the way for her liberation.
A long walk taken….
Some of the essential aspects of women empowerment are gender equality, gender main streaming, networking, leaderships, and financial freedom. Dr. Ambedkar realized these at his time and included in the process of social reforms. He started involving women in the struggle, for eradication of caste systems and upliftment of the underprivileged sections. He realized that this could not be achieved without emancipating the women themselves. He motivated women and addressed them to participate in struggle against caste prejudices. For instance, during the Mahad Tank Struggle[1], women marched in the procession along with men. He encouraged women to organize themselves. Impressed by the large gathering of women at Women’s Conference held at Nagpur on 20th July, 1942, he told women to be progressive and abolish traditionalism, ritualism and customary habits, which were detrimental to their progress. Dr. Ambedkar put all his efforts to guarantee the educational opportunities without any discrimination to all the citizens of India.  He knew that empowerment envelops developing and building capacities of individuals, communities to make them part of main stream society; and also education (It is a powerful tool for empowerment of individual) is the only mean by which societies grow out of oppression to democratic participation and involvement.  He had seen how over the generations, marginalized sections and women in Indian society were denied the opportunity to education. The British rule abolished detestable practices like sati but passed several laws to protect customs and traditions of Hindus.
It has been came to notice that Dr. Ambedkar as an architect of Indian Constitution provided strong constitutional safeguards to women. For instance, The Special Marriage Act sets four essential conditions for a valid marriage i.e, monogamy, sound mind, marriageable age and the parties should be too closely related. There are some grounds available to the wife only, both in Hindu and the Civil marriages provided to the women.  Under Section 313, brutal and forceful abortions and abortions without consent of women are crime. The Hindu Succession Act gives male and female heirs almost equal rights to inheritance. Likewise, Section 14 says that any property possessed by a female Hindu shall be held by her as full owner and not a limited owner.  Hindu Code Bill in 1948 which was introduced Dr. Ambedkar was revolutionary in confinement of propriety rights to women but when not accepted by the legislature, he resigned from the ministerial slot from the cabinet in 1951.
Ambedkar had pleaded the cause in favour of women. He argued that due to shortage of labour, the ban on employment of women on underground must be lifted.  Thus, he was instrumental for opening the avenues for women in field of employment. Dr. Ambedkar has advocated the principle of equality, liberty and fraternity for the formation of ideal state. He was inspired by the teaching of Buddhism, as the first law minister of free India; he fought for the equal status of women in India society. He wanted to improve the socio-economic condition of Hindu women and he wanted to bring Hindu women at par with men of the Indian society. He was strongly against the discrimination of women on the basis of inferior sex.
Human resources are perhaps the most strategic and critical determinant of growth, and yet its development has not received the required attention. Even though a country may possess abundant physical resources, it cannot make rapid economic and social advancement unless there are people who are enterprising and have developed necessary skills and attitudes. Human effort is required to mobilise, organise and use these resources effectively and efficiently towards the production of the required goods and services. The economic productivity from the aspect of human resources in the country leave much of be desired.  In India we can see that there is rapid quantitative addition in population and on the other hand there is widespread poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and underemployment, low standards of living and low percapita productivity. The socio-economic structures, institutions and organisations have hampered full development of the human resources leading to rapidly changing socio-economic situations within the structure. Talking in human resource terms, the heavy burden of population can be mitigated and channelled towards economic development only by appropriate education, training and inculcating proper values and attitudes. This should hold good for men as well as women. However, the situation as it prevails in India is far from making use if human resources, particularly women power. Women over the years have had to face worst form of humiliation and discrimination from those quarters which were once considered a safe heaven for them. Women constitute half of the world’s population but continued to be deprived of the opportunities for equality in development. Despite their contribution in primary sector, they were not viewed as being within the production system or being the economic contributor to their families. As a result, the role of women in the primary activities and rural economy has been marginalized even though they have been involved in more labour intensive work. Due to socio-economic constraints, women’s potential for development remained far from fully utilised and they have been pushed back into the social hierarchical system.
As they are now highly qualified, make remarkable contributions to the economy through their paid work, they cannot be considered merely as home-makers in the conventional term. They work in a wide variety of professions around the country from teachers and secretaries to lawyers and doctors to scientists and child care workers too. Indeed, it indicates that these days, women have established themselves that they are equal to men. They have now forsaken their homely image and are making a major contribution to global service sector of the country. It is often considered that women are more diligent and consistent in works; hence more preference is given to them by the employers over male workers.
But, an upsetting place still remains for Indian women is the negative sexual attention that women often receive. Indian societies have earned a bad name for being unsafe for women. Whereby the fair sex is not only being hassled, stalked and raped but incidents of immoral trafficking also are very high. Add to this the heinous practice of female feticide and infanticide wherein nearly 10 million baby girls have been killed in the last twenty years alone, preference for male child act as a catalyst to such crimes. In fact, the level of atrocities against women is an indicator of the coercion of our society and shows that we are a suppressed society. It is the duty of law enforcement agencies to prevent crimes against women but they fail to solve or bring about accurate measures, law enforcing agencies cannot work alone. Teamwork by society is the key to eradicating this threat. People must come forward to help in rooting out such social evils, it is ultimately the people who should be dynamic in their drive against crimes; also the law enforcing agencies should not be police a mute spectator the protectors of citizens; they should co-operate with the people in tackling such problems. On the other hand, youngsters should be motivated to be socially responsible and protect women; for this is the need of the hour. Everyone must think of changing society; if we all abide by the rules and join hands then women in our country will surely be safer.              
If we consider women as a subordinate to man and subjugation based on sex continues then it would be an insult to all the reformers who made an effort to throw away such barriers which hampers the basis of equality in the Nation. Dr.Ambedkar who was a champion for women’s right might be very disgusted with the treatment mended out to women in this 21st century India. The time has come for us as individuals to consider the issue regarding women empowerment seriously. Currently, the women’s reservation bill is pending in India which proposes to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33 percent of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women if passed could be a milestone progress in the political social participation of women, however care should be taken that women who are elected as the representatives should be those who represents the interest of women as a whole and not for some opportunistic gain.

[2] On March 20, 1927, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar led the Mahad struggle for drinking water from the Cavdar tank in Mahad. This was the “foundational struggle” of the Dalit movement, a movement for water- and for caste annihilation.  (www.seekingbegumpura. wordpress.com.20/3/03/022/ the mahad-satyagraha) [Accessed on 25-6-2012]

[1]Caste in India: their mechanism, genesis and development’, paper presented by Dr. Ambedkar at an Anthropology Seminar taught by Dr. A. A. Goldenweizer, Columbia University, 9th May, 1916. Text first printed in Indian Antiquary Vol. XLI (May 1917).