Isn't it intriguing that in the early years of Indian politics, women's role as political equals wasn't an exception but the norm? Women actively participated and made pivotal contributions––championing social action, fighting for fundamental rights, delegating at the UN, and advocating social equality. Consider historical examples, such as Sarojini Naidu's tireless efforts in the suffragette movement or Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay's initiatives toward women's economic empowerment. Not to forget figures like Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Annie Besant, whose substantial contributions spanned diverse areas – from health and social work to Indian self-rule and women's rights – leaving an indelible mark on history.
Fast forward almost a century, women are still at the forefront, actively engaged in the ongoing struggle for rights and shaping laws. Yet, the conversation about women's roles in politics and legislatures continues, putting a spotlight on the essential question of their inclusion.
On the 75th Republic Day, let's reflect on the incredible journey of these visionary Indian women who, draped in six yards of grace and determination, led the charge in reshaping our fundamental rights.Thanks to these trailblazers, the path toward equality has touched every aspect of life – from education, healthcare, and labor laws to dismantling barriers related to caste, religion, and beyond, fostering a more inclusive and equitable society.
1. Sarojini Naidu
The "Nightingale of India," held multifaceted roles as a poet, politician, and the first female President of the Indian National Congress in 1925. Her significant contribution to fundamental rights lies in her active involvement in the Indian independence movement, advocating for civil liberties and women's rights. Later, she became the Governor of the United Provinces, contributing to administrative reforms and social justice, marking her enduring impact on India's political landscape.
2. Vijaylaxmi Pandit
Pandit, a distinguished diplomat and politician, served as the first female President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1953. Her diplomatic efforts played a pivotal role in advancing India's foreign policy objectives. Pandit's advocacy for fundamental rights extended globally, emphasizing the importance of diplomacy in fostering international cooperation and promoting social justice on the global stage.
3. Savitribai Phule
A trailblazing social reformer in the 19th century, Savitribai dedicated her life to women's rights and education. She, along with her husband Jyotirao Phule, established the first school for girls in Pune. Savitribai's work in promoting education among women laid the groundwork for fundamental rights, advocating for social justice through literacy and empowerment.
4. Bhikaiji Rustom Cama
Cama, a prominent figure in the Indian independence movement, was a key political activist and writer. Cama is widely recognized for her influential role in the international arena, particularly at the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart in 1907. Her efforts in designing the first version of the Indian flag and her passionate advocacy for fundamental rights and self-rule left an indelible mark on India's quest for independence.
5. Hansa Mehta
An unsung hero in the international human rights arena, she played a vital role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. As a representative of India, Mehta's contributions influenced the inclusion of gender equality and non-discrimination clauses in the UDHR, shaping the global discourse on fundamental rights and social justice.
6. Arundhati Roy
Beyond her acclaim as an author, Arundhati Roy has been a vocal advocate for social, economic, and environmental justice. Her writings, including "The God of Small Things," highlight the complexities of caste, gender, and social inequalities in India. Roy's activism extends to issues such as displacement, environmental degradation, and human rights violations, making her a prominent figure in the ongoing struggle for fundamental rights and social justice.
7. Aruna Roy
Aruna Roy, a luminary in Indian grassroots activism, founded the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and played a pivotal role in enacting the Right to Information Act (RTI). Her leadership aimed to empower workers and peasants, advocating for transparency in governance. The RTI Act, passed in 2005, granted citizens the right to seek information, significantly advancing fundamental rights. Roy's efforts ensured access to crucial information, promoting social justice and governmental accountability, marking a transformative milestone in India's democratic landscape.
Author - Vatsala Sanguri