Babasaheb Ambedkar has not only been responsible for mobilising the anti-caste movement for abolishing inequality, discrimination and exploitation of non-dominant caste citizens, but also inspiring the feminist discourse of his times, particularly the Dalit Feminist movement, and the Indian Feminist movement in general.
While studying Ambedkar’s works on caste, one shall discover his understated feminism. According to Babasaheb, the practice of endogamy was maintained by restraining inter-caste marriages. This involved close monitoring and control over women’s sexuality. In his views, gender was used in the formation, maintenance and reproduction of caste. He believed that the caste-gender nexus was the main culprit behind the oppression of non-dominant castes and women. Thus, for Ambedkar, the elimination of gender was an intrinsic part of caste annihilation.
Babasaheb Ambedkar has demonstrated leadership in the grassroots women’s organisation and movement. Which evolved from the participation of women in general movements alongside men in the 1920s, to forming autonomous organisations of women in the 1930s, and finally political organisations of women in the 1940s. Babasaheb Ambedkar had said, “I truly believe in the movements run by women.”
In 1928, as a member of the Legislative Council of Bombay, Ambedkar supported a bill granting paid maternity leave to women working in factories. He held the view that since the employer was reaping profits through women’s toil, he must financially support them, at least partly while they are on maternity leave.
Babasaheb exhibited both class and gender consciousness as he drew attention to the economic and productive dimension of childbearing of working-class women. The other part of maternity leave pay, according to Babasaheb, should be borne by the government.
Ambedkar supported a bill granting paid maternity leave to women working in factories.
In 1938, as a member of Bombay Legislative Assembly, Ambedkar recommended birth control facilities be made available to women. He said, “If men had to bear the pangs which women undergo during childbirth, none of them would ever consent to bear more than a single child in his life.” Babasaheb further argued, “Many women become invalid for life and some even lose their lives by the birth of children in their deceased condition or in too rapid succession. Birth control is the only sovereign specific remedy that can do away with such calamities. Whenever a woman is disinclined to bear a child for any reason, whatsoever, she must be in a position to prevent conception and bringing forth progeny which should entirely be dependent on the choice of women.” Ambedkar fought for reproductive choice, reproductive control, reproductive freedom and rights.
Where today, women across the world, even in developed nations, are still struggling to convince the regressive and misogynist powers that be to grant them the rights to birth control – from way back in 1938 Ambedkar fought for women’s reproductive rights. He was a man ahead of his times and a man with great, progressive ideals.
On 9 April 1948, as the first law minister of independent India, Ambedkar submitted the draft of the Hindu Code Bill to the Constituent Assembly. The Bill treated the widow, the daughter and the son of the deceased equally in matters of inheritance. The Bill was aimed at removing the legal obstruction in the social advancement of women.
Today, in 2019, we are celebrating 128 years of this great man’s birth anniversary. We have moved so far away from his ideals and principles. I just hope and pray and we can live up to the dreams of the India he wanted to see. As he would say, “I measure the progress of a society by the degree of progress women have achieved.”
Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: OddNaari