One of the major landmarks of Dalit Movement led by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had been the huge participation of women and their articulation for political, social and economic rights for women in general and depressed class women in particular.
It is indeed remarkable to note that at the time when ‘nationalists’ of various hues were defining Indian Womanhood in terms of Sitas and Savitris, Depressed class women were asking for the right to divorce, family planning and compulsory primary education for all, together with better working conditions and equal wages for the female laborers.
On July 20, 1942 at Nagpur more then 25,000 Dalit women participated in the historic All India Depressed Classes Women’s Conference.
While addressing the participants, Conference President Sulochanabai Dongre said:
“One important question is of birth control. In this respect educated women can be successful because they can realize the evils of it. It is no use multiplying sickly, ill-fed and illiterate children at the cost of mother’s health. To stop this evil every woman should consider this question seriously and should act soon. To solve this problem female education on extensive scale is essential”.
Important Resolutions Passed in the Conference
- The Women’s right to divorce her husband be recognized by law.
- The idea of polygamy existing in our society is being unjust to the women and therefore government must make necessary amends or change in law to check this custom.
- Betterment of working conditions for female laborers in mills, bidi factories, municipalities and railways etc like entitlement of casual leaves, adequate com- pensation for bodily injuries and pensions.
- To improve education level among the depressed classes women:
- Government must enforce compulsory primary education
- Each Provincial Government should run separate hostels for depressed class girl students as well as provide scholarships for those among them who are desirous of taking secondary and college education.
- Appointment of female supervisors for female workers in the mills.
- Seats in all legislative and other representative bodies be reserved for women from Depressed Classes
- All India Scheduled Caste Women’s Federation be established
It is unfortunate that today’s Dalit women do not have such platform anymore and like many other institutions initiated by Dr B.R. Ambedkar All India Depressed classes Women Conference also just vanished after his death in 1956.
Source – Sparks, Voices of Dalit Women