Dr. Ambedkar’s vision of equality through Hindu Code Bill

Transcript of full speech delivered by Mr.Elancheran of AKSC on 127th birthday commemoration of Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar at Stanford University, CA, organized by various organizations where Ambedkar King Study Circle is a co-sponsor.

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Many of you can wonder what’s the connection between today’s theme (Social Justice in Neo-Liberal Era) and the Hindu code bill, this bill is one of largest and targeted to reform the fossilized Hindu society, in which women were treated as a lesser sex and deprive them of their property rights and denied choice of their mobility for long in Hinduism. It’s really important to revisit this bill to understand and see whether the society had made progress the great social reformist Dr. Ambedkar imagined while coming up with this bill, on the social equality front. He stated that he would measure the progress of society with the progress of women. In his own words, how he considered this as an important bill.

“To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu Society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap. This is the significance I attached to the Hindu Code.”

Introduced in the constituent assembly on Apr 11th 1947, the bill was moved by the select committee on Apr 9th, 1948 which was followed by 4 years of debate and remained inconclusive. In his own words “killed and died unused and unsung”. This was probably the longest discussion on any single Bill in Independent India’s Parliament. Congress was not eager to clear the Hindu Code. He, therefore, tendered his resignation on 27th September 1951 to the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru but continued to participate in the Parliamentary debates till 10th October 1951 on the request of the Prime Minister.

While presenting the Hindu Code bill to  the select committee he also acknowledges that “to take this big step and I’ve not slightest doubt in my mind that society which has buckled up courage enough to tolerate the large step that we are asking to take by reason of this bill”

HCB-2The bill generated so much of protests from upper caste groups like “Hindu Mahasabha” and members of the house, and most of the members were accusing this bill would destroy the foundation of Hindu society built up on, especially sanctity of the marriage and the lineage of Hindu joint family system. The main objective of this bill is to codify the rules of Hindu Law which were scattered in innumerable decisions of High Courts and Privy Council which leads to constant litigation.  Many members of the house were afraid of their chances in upcoming election, vote bank politics.

 The main objectives of Hindu Code Bill were

  • Codify the law relating to rights of property of deceased Hindu without making a will (intestate) for both genders, son, and daughter
  • Order of succession among the different heirs to the property of deceased(intestate)
  • Law of maintenance, marriage, divorce, adoption, minatory and guardianship.

Let’s focus on some of the important clauses which were opposed by the majority of the house members:

Marriage – abolition of castes as a requirement –

HCB-6There is nothing in this bill which prevents them doing what one regards dharma, at the same time a reformist who doesn’t believe in Varna system or caste or sub-caste can marry a girl outside his varna, caste or sub-caste. The law regards the marriage as a valid. The Orthodox are left free to what they think is right according to dharma. “The reformers who do not follow dharma but who follow reason, who follow conscience, have also been left to follow their reason and their conscience.”  Some states were already approved the Anuloma (an upper caste man can marry a lower caste woman), but not Pratiloma (lower caste man cannot marry an upper caste woman).

Prescription of monogamy – a new innovation, he cites the practice followed in TN by Natu Kottai Chettiars that the husband had to get consent and after the consent, he had to allocate a share of his property to his first wife and it becomes the absolute property.

Permission of divorce – He sights that Shudras have a customary divorce, and he wonders about the strength of them who is going to compose the Hindu society,    Dr. Ambedkar says that he doesn’t have any doubt that they would comprise 90% of total population of Hindus, it’s 10% of regenerated classes. He questions that for who the law is going to be made? law for 10% is going to be imposed on 90%?

Dr. Ambedkar was very conscious about his identity, he says that he can read some extracts from “your shastras” when the member points it out, he replies “yes I belong to the other caste”.

“My submission, therefore, to the house is that so far as any new principles have been introduced in the law of marriage or divorce, whatever has been done is both just and reasonable and supported by precedent not only for our shastras but the experience of the world as a whole”

The important provision related to Dowry. Under the scandalous affair of dowry, the girls who got the enormous property as dowry or stridhan or gift were treated with contempt, tyranny, and Oppression. Now the bill will make that as a trust property, she is entitled to claim that property when she comes to the age of 18 so that neither her husband nor her in-laws will have interest in that property, which prevents the opportunity of waste that property and leave her helpless for rest of her life.

Adoption: it’s free to do what they want to and whom to adopt. if a Brahmin is so enlightened as not to adopt from his own community, he is free to do, can adopt a boy from shudra, Question: (Seth Govind Das) why do you consider such a brahmin enlightened? Dr. Ambedkar: Well I do not know. From my POV he is very certain he is enlightened, from your POV he may be a very dark man, but that is a difference of opinion.

Coming to the maintenance, dependents including concubine is included, but there is a change where wife claim separate maintenance when she lives separated from husband. Maintenance can be claimed if he is 1. loathsome disease, 2. keeps an affair, 3. guilty of cruelty, 4. converted to another religion 6. any other cause which justify her living separated.

Women’s property – it was life estate, they can enjoy the income of the property, but can’t deal with that. Now the bill converts that absolute estate where they have full control.  HCB-4

Dr. Ambedkar says there is no Hindu law so intricate as women’s property. A woman can get a property as “stridhan” but that based on her marital status. And then succession to the stridhan also very complex based on the marital status and it differs with each school (mitaakshara or Bengal, so on) she belongs to. In a nutshell, women’s property is concerned 2 different sorts of inheritance and set of property, stridhan property or widow’s property, both have a different line of succession. He states that codification of those intricate laws would be defeated if we allow the chaos to continue. So it has been decided that whether the woman will not be entitled to or should have absolute property, and also the line of heirs for a woman.

The next issue in women’s property is the share of the daughter, the daughter is included as heirs in both Mitaakshra and Dayabhaga under compact series. Under the Dayabhaga necessary element in heirship is the capacity to offer an oblation. So there is a preference for the marital status of the daughter. The married daughter having a son is preferred over married and without one. There is a stack of layer here where married & has a son, married and low level is unmarried.

Next is a question of share, it was 1/4th, but the bill had raised her share full and equal to that of the son. He sites that all system, Muslim, Parsi and other parts of the world doesn’t exclude daughter. And he criticizes critics saying that daughter’s share would lead to fragmentation. Cites the example of a father of 12 sons can do 12 shares of son ’s with 1 more for daughter, doesn’t do any harm.

He says that the select committee had both conservatives and radical members. When he defines the conservative nature of Mr. Gharpure, on certain conditions he would hesitate to touch him using barge poll.

Dr. Ambedkar concludes that bill asks for nothing more than repairing those parts of the Hindu system which are almost become dilapidated.  As I stated earlier the bill didn’t pass, but the same bill got passed as 4 separate bills during Nehru’s next term in 1955 and 1956. The bill is so long that I can’t do justice here by capturing all those very reformative changes he had done to make the woman equal to man in every aspect by providing freedom of mobility and right to own the absolute property. So that’s why I picked up only those very important clauses which were opposed by the upper caste members of the house.

Now let’s look at the how we as a society had moved on and progressed as Dr. Ambedkar envisioned equality and social mobility in Hindu Code Bill, how these progressive reforms are under attack from Brahmanical ruling class. Due to lack of time, let’s look at the reform brought in by the marriage act and how it’s is under attack by the Brahmanical ruling class.

HCB-5Marriage clause, the main motive of the reform is to encourage the marriages between different castes and sub-castes,  according to the Indian Human Dev Survey (IDHS) released on 2014 it’s only 5% of marriages are the intercaste marriages. Even in that small number, the brutality on the couples who married inter-caste had jumped exponentially.  Yes, the number of Intercaste marriage Killings were jumped from 28 to 251 from 2014 to 2016, 750% jump. The TN state which prides itself as a shining example for using the affirmative action to advance itself in the fields like literacy, healthcare, etc there are 80 murders registered, UP tops that with 131 murders, in most of these murders, oppressed Dalits and their families were the victims.  

Not only that, the Brahmanical ruling class is hell-bent on destroying the freedom guaranteed by marriage act. Recently Tamil Nadu Govt passed a circular to all the sub-registrar offices, the couples who have to register their marriages should bring in letter of consent from their parents, irony is, TN is the first state which recognized the self-respect marriage, one without the presence of Brahmin priest in 1967 by a Dravidian party, just imagine the situation in other states which were lagging in literacy and development.

This trend of oppression is on the rise by the neo-Brahmanical forces, who have benefitted using affirmative action,  across states of India. The reason, I strongly feel, that Dr. Ambedkar’s ideologies and his thoughts weren’t taken to the masses yet. How many of us read him in our college education? His literature is not even in the list on sociology or political science departments. That’s the fact, just ask an educated liberal woman of India how they got their rights, irrespective of caste and creed.

Friends and comrades, so with that I conclude my speech with a request to all of you to take his thoughts to the next generations and let’s try to achieve the social justice he had envisioned.

References:

http://www.thehindu.com/data/just-5-per-cent-of-indian-marriages-are-intercaste/article6591502.ece

https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/crime/150316/81-honour-killings-in-three-years-in-tamil-nadu.html

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/tn-circular-sneaks-in-parental-consent-in-marriage-registration/article23035524.ece

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