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Role of Pre-independence Feminist Movements in India's Republic Building

  • Published
    27th Jan, 2024

Context:

The feminist movements in pre-independent India played a pivotal role in shaping the constitutional rights for women, yet their contributions remain underappreciated.

1.  Enfranchisement Struggle:

   - Initial Advocacy (1917): Women activists presented demands for voting rights in 1917 to Edwin Montagu and Lord Chelmsford.

   - Formation of Women’s Indian Association (WIA): WIA, formed in 1917, became the first national body advocating for female suffrage.

   - Advocacy in Britain (1918) and Continued Struggle (1925): WIA and others intensified their efforts, traveling to Britain to garner support, with Sarojini Naidu pushing the issue in Congress sessions. Despite early victories, suffragists          faced challenges, leading to the passage of the enfranchisement Bill in 1925.

2.  Expansion of Civic Rights:

   - Nehru Report (1929): The report called for equal civic rights; a delegation led by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Shareefa Hamid Ali traveled internationally for support.

   - Government of India Acts: - Government of India Act 1919 allowed provincial legislatures to grant women the right to vote, with Madras being the first province in 1921. 1935 Act Expanded voting rights and facilitated women's entry into       public offices, paving the way for the idea of universal adult franchise.

   - Election Participation (1936-37): Women leaders contested elections and joined provincial governments, contributing to the acceptance of universal adult franchise.

3. Social and Personal Sphere Activism:

   - Formation of AIWC (1927): All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) focused on women’s education initially and later advocated against child marriage, raising the age of consent, and banning polygamy.

   - Indian Woman’s Charter of Rights and Duties (1945-46): AIWC adopted a charter demanding equality, economic empowerment, reforms to personal codes, and recognition of the value of domestic work.

   - Reservation Debates: Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Begum Qudsia Aizaz Rasul argued against special privileges based on religion and reservations, reflecting diverse worldviews within the women’s movement.

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