8 Strong Women Who Changed Indian Political History
Politics in India has never been considered a woman's bastion. Men dominate the buildings in which laws are made, while a third of the seats are reserved for women in an attempt at equality. In the present scenario, we have some strong female faces in Indian politics. People like Sushma Swaraj, Sonia Gandhi, and Smriti Irani are powerful enough to impact Indian politics. But there are, and have been, many more women who have strived to make a difference in the political arena.
Begum Qudsia Aizaz Rasul
Born and married into a royal family, she was the only Muslim woman to be a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, which she joined as one of 28 Muslim League members. She was the first Indian woman to be the Leader of Opposition in a legislative assembly, a position she held from 1950 to 1952. Begum Rasul was known for going against everything her family background stood for; she campaigned for the abolition of the zamindari system and was against religiously-segregated electorates. While she was a member of the Minority Rights Drafting Subcommittee, Begum Rasul convinced the other members to give up their demand for reserved seats on the basis of religion. Begum Rasul was also the Minister for Social Welfare and Minorities between 1969 and 1971.
Begum Rasul was also known for her keen interest in sports. She was the president of the Asian Women's Hockey Federation, and the Indian Women's Hockey Cup has been named after her.
She is known as one of the pioneers of the labour movement in India, especially for women. India's oldest union of textile workers, Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association or Majoor Mahajan Sangh, was founded by Anasuya Sarabhai in 1920. Sarabhai was married when she was 13, but the marriage didn't last and, with the help of her brother, she went to study in London in 1912. While in England, Sarabhai was also involved in the Suffragette movement, which fought for women's right to vote.
Back in India, she started a movement for labourers, especially women who would work exploitative 36-hour shifts, to get fair wages. Mentored by Mahatma Gandhi, Sarabhai was involved in several strikes organised by textile workers to get their due. She also influenced Gandhi to sit on a hunger strike for the workers.
Perin Ben Captain
Her achievements made Perin Ben Captain a part of the first list of awardees for the Padma Shri, one of the most prestigious civilian awards in India. She was involved with Bhikaji Cama in the fight for India's freedom and was reported to have been a part of the plan to secure the release of VD Savarkar, who was arrested in London. She attended the Egyptian National Congress and was said to have been involved in protests against the Czarist rule in Russia.
In 1930, Perin Ben Captain became the first woman to be elected as the president of the Bombay Provincial Congress Committee.
Madhaviamma was the first woman to be a member of any legislature in India. She was one of the founding members of the first legislative council of Kochi.
Deshmukh was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India and the Planning Commission. Throughout her political career, she was a strong advocate for women's rights and emancipation. Deshmukh was married when she was only eight years old, but she broke that marriage to pursue higher education. A Congress loyalist, Deshmukh came to the notice of higher-ups when she refused to let Jawaharlal Nehru enter an event for which he did not have a ticket. While the organisers of the event were appalled, Nehru praised her for doing her job unflinchingly.
Mascarene was the first female Member of Parliament from Kerala. She was elected to the First Lok Sabha as an independent candidate from Thiruvananthapuram. Before that, she had been a member of Travancore-Cochin Legislative Assembly. She was also a member of the Constituent Assembly and was one of the foremost leaders in the movement of integration with the Indian nation. She was one of the first women to join the Travancore State Congress and the first woman to be a part of the Travancore State Congress Working Committee.
This Dalit woman became a rebel when she opted to wear an upper cloth, something that was forbidden for women of the Pulaya community (considered “untouchable”) at the time. Dakshayani Velayudhan became the first Dalit woman to be a graduate, which was a massive feat in a nation riddled with casteism at every stage. She was also the only Dalit woman to be a part of the Constituent Assembly of India.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur
It was the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre that made Amrit Kaur, a woman who enjoyed the luxuries of royalty, join the freedom movement. She co-founded the All India Women's Conference in 1927 and became president of the organisation in 1933. Amrit Kaur was imprisoned by the British government for her participation in Gandhi's Dandi March. Apart from being a vital part of the freedom movement, Amrit Kaur was one of those who spoke out against the purdah system for women and child marriage.
When she took charge of the Ministry of Health in Nehru's cabinet, Amrit Kaur became the first woman to hold Cabinet rank in India. She was also one of two Indian Christians in the Cabinet. In 1950, she was elected as the president of the World Health Assembly, the first woman to hold the position. Among her many achievements was the establishment of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, for which she received aid from various countries like Sweden, Australia, and the US. She also served as the Chairperson of the Indian Red Cross society for 14 years.
All those who feel that women don't belong in politics need to take a long, hard look at history.