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.
Dr. Ambedkar was always concerned about women empowerment. In a letter to his father’s friend, young Dr. Ambedkar, during his studies at New York, said – We shall see better days soon and our progress will be greatly accelerated if male education is persuaded side by side with female education…” And Dalit women listened to the advice and participated in the Dalit’s struggle for equal rights.
Further, Dr. Ambedkar believed said that I am a great believer in women’s organization. I know that what they can do to improve the condition of the society if they are convinced. In the eradication of social evils, they have rendered great services. I will testify to that from my own experience. Ever since I began to work among the depressed classes, I made it a point to carry women along with men.
I strongly believe in the movements run by women. If they are truly taken into confidence, they may change the present picture of a society which is very miserable. In past, they have played a significant role in improving the condition of weaker section and classes.
Don’t forget some of our great Dalit women leaders. As Babasaheb said, “They cannot make history who forgets History.” It is not true that our women had not taken active part so far in any movement or in our social movement.
Let’s take a look at a few Dalit Women Leaders who participated in Dalits’ struggle along with Babasaheb Ambedkar.
- In January 1928, a women’s association was founded in Bombay with Ramabai Ambedkar, Dr. Ambedkar’s wife, as its president.
- We have among us Mrs. Anjinibai Deshbhratar who simply for the help of our girls started and continued at her own cost a free boarding house at Nagpur for the Depressed Classes Girl students. This she did out of the savings from the small pay earned by her husband who is employed as a clerk
- Similarly, in the Satyagraha on Kalaram temple and Chavdar tank, Dalit women even from distant parts of Hyderabad volunteered to take part. Dr. Ambedkar believed in the strength of women and their role in the process of social reform. In the Kalram Temple entry Satyagraha at Nasik in 1930, five hundred women participated and many of them were arrested along with men and ill-treated in jails. The historic Mahad Satyagraha witnessed participation of three hundred women along with their male counterparts.
- The work of Mrs. Gitabai Gaikwad is indescribable. Just as the sky cannot be lighted by one solitary star, so our great movement cannot achieve success by the deed of one Mrs. Gitabai. Her deeds show us the way and guide us in our path towards the right passage and our object.
- On 20th July 1942, The All India Depressed Classes Women Conference was organized and 25,000 women attended that conference.
- Let us all unite, march forward in the directions pointed out to us and achieve our rights. In the meanwhile we must continue our fight for the rights of the Depressed Classes unabated and with the help of our sisters, uneducated though they might be who are ever ready to lay down their lives under the leadership of our great leader Dr. Ambedkar, said Mrs. Kirtibai Patil, Chairman of the Reception Committee of the All India Depressed Classes Women Conference in her speech July 20, 1942, Nagpur.
- Sulochanabai Dongre, President of All India Depressed Classes Women Conference. While addressing the participants, 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 an extensive scale is essential”.
In fact, the clear departure of Dalit feminism from the mainstream nationalist women’s movement occurred right at the very beginning. At the AIWC conference held in 1937, Hindu women like Jaibai Choudhuri had insulted the Dalit women by arranging separate seating for them at meals. In retaliation to that “shameful and despicable behaviour” of the caste Hindu women, the Ramabai Ambedkar Women’s Sangh was formed on January 1, 1938. The vexed relationship between Gandhian nationalism and Ambedkar’s reforms came to the forefront during such critical moments.
Ramabai Ambedkar who was hailed for “her goodness of heart, her nobility of mind, and her purity of heart” by no less than Ambedkar himself, Radhabai Kamble whose speeches inspired the labour meets in Vidharba, Sulochanabai Dongre, whose presence at public meetings was awe-inspiring, Tulsabai Bansode, who sang songs and worked at the hand press with her husband, Anjanibai Deshbhratar who organised untouchable girl students in 1936, the three sisters Geetabai, Seetabai and Ramabai who worked tirelessly at home and the movement, Meenambal Shivraj who advocated the role of education powerfully, Mukta Sarvagaud who strongly advocated the role of personal hygiene, Shantabai Dani who travelled as the sole woman along with male activists, Shantabai Sarode who was a wrestler and arbitrated disputes in her area and the many women who converted to Buddhism present us with an amazing range of women who actively engaged themselves in the movement and took themselves seriously. [Source – ‘We Also Made History – Women in Ambedkarite Movement’; Edited by Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon]
Author – Vinay Shende