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Alternate Modernities? Reservations and Women's Movement in 20th Century India Author(s): Mary E.

John Reviewed work(s): Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 35, No. 43/44 (Oct. 21 - Nov. 3, 2000), pp. 38223829 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly Stable URL: . Accessed: 03/06/2012 11:22
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they did not precipitate wholesale or one-sided changes.Securing theparticiparliamentary pation of women in the institutionsof democracy and governance is now an item on the global agenda ' so important the ubiquity much so thatit is acquiring not so long andscope thatwas associated with 'women and development'.has repeatedly education emergedas a critical issuein thepoliticalhistoryof 20th has No other India. and second. the years surrounding 3822 Economicand PoliticalWeekly October28.even though equality they haveoftenprovokedmajorconflicts and controversiesboth before and after . The history of reservations in India is also centrally about caste and communalism. Though these issues were sought to be resolved at moments which had a direct bearing on women's rights. India is hardlyalonein havingfocusedon the low presence of women in legislative and bodies. two significant moments in thehistoryof the 20th centuryareurgently in need of further investigation: first. This makes our contemporary feminist common sense a rich but also a contradictory combination of past and present beliefs and ideologies.andeven as recently as the 1970s. most women's resisted andtheirsupporters organisations forreserved andopenlyrejected proposals stanceseemsto seats. It is particularlymarked and marred by the legacy of colonial modernity. Today. it is interestingto note that. government for a similar demand lowedby thecurrent and state assemprovisionin parliament blies. including especially Ramsay Macdonald's 'CommunalAward' of separate electorates in they no doubthave during the course of the women's movement in India. forwomenin parliament. and the conflicts over reserved seats among women's organisations.majorsectionsof the women's havebeencampaigning movement actively. tutereservations a radical Thismarks perspective change. 2000 . while 'second world' nationsof eastern Europeandthe SovietUnion. century policymeasure raised so many fundamentalquestions of Indian andcomposition about thenature of modem society.thatis. where blocked critiques have gone handin-hand with the deepest questioning.reservations policieshave independence the kindof informed not produced public debateor serious scholarshipassociated with other development policies. the 1920s and 1930s. is yet anotherreason why a special effort is needed to uncover the many latent fears and tensions that may be implicated. T hesubjectof reservations urgingfor the rapidpassing of the 81st Bill andviewingits repeated Amendment stallingas a defeat at the handsof patriarchalforces. especially among the middle classes. and acknowledge the deep imprint it has left on the political common sense and the conceptual vocabularies that we have inherited. ago However.given thecomplexities ourrecenthistory. this introductory essay attemptsto open up the issues involvedto debate. This essay argues. Prominentfirst world nationshavehadto contendwithscandalously low levels of women's political and in many of the erstrepresentation.of becauseeversince the 1930s. rary WS-22 .mightbe the most relevant this question?One ways of approaching obviousanswerwouldbe to learnfromthe experience of other countries.andhow the structures may promotecitizenshipand governance within it.the bill itself mayonly be the proverbial tip of the iceberg. of higher publicservicesand institutions . thewomen-in-development unlike debates.Alternate Modernities? Movement Women's Reservations and India 20th Century in This paper examines the conflict over and opposition to reserved seats during the preindependencedecades of the 20th century and its Constitutionalresolution as critical inputs to the 1990s. to instiwithconsiderable publicsupport.then. Finally. that we must begin by untangling the multistranded history of reservations.As our probably own debates expand to accommodate differentpositions and to arbitrate their need conflictingclaims.the number of women in political institutions has afterthecollapseof precipitously dropped state socialism.we mayeven have further of to concedethat. the fact that a subject like reservations carries such a powerful emotive charge. nor did they ensure that prior assumptions and ways of thinking were discarded. But to do so effectively we must first get a better handle on our own history. What.has to be seen withinthis larger context. this is not a discourseaimedat andabout the third world. And yet . The specificsubjectof this issue of the review of women's studies .Indeed. Even when shifts and breakthroughs have occurred. for most of this history has been and continues to be invisible to us. battle-cry.we will certainly to exploreandlearnfromthe experiences of other countries. MARY E JOHN of statutory the creation quotasfor specificgroupsin the legislatures.There is now a growing on the subject. In this context.reservationsfor women. therefore. different electoral Anne Phillips' The Politics of Presence is systems. we have yet to understandthe implications that these conjunctureshold for feminist politics. This is not an easy task. and new political theories. or even that the presuppositions accompanying such shifts were explicitly stated. Gandhi's famous Poona fast.of which global literature the best knownin India.Thepro-reservation havebeguninthelate 1980swhenthe73rd introduced 33 per and74th Amendments for womenin local selfcentreservations Thishasbeenfolinstitutions. to the point where increasing seemsto women's representative presence have become somethingof a contempoinstead of simply However.

colonial. andwho enactedthis new womanon have invariablyunderscored the critical.benevolence.Unfortunately.and misrecognising . but unitedby nationalism.In her muchaddressto the All lematic. It seems to me that these two periods are critical components of the pre-history of the 1990s and the revival of the demand for reservations for women duringthis decade. when the new nation state and its Constitution were being shaped.the MuslimLeague.. over-determining SarojiniNaidu was arguably the growingforce of nationalism for ap. From the superiority colonialresponse was repletewithcontra. anddoes not commentat all on the comhasbeendefinitive fortheself-understand. of any autonomousstruggle by women "Theeducational of the late themselves for equality and freedom". with the opening decades of the 20th century.the earlydecadesof the 20th effectivelydegendered. Chatterjee's betweenthesocialandpolitical. distinctions"betweenwomen "produced thatwent beyondthe household" [Forbes in the world outsidethe home"'werefar of becoming moresignificant: Itwasagainst 1996:64].refusedto grantwomen the rightto. Caste and communalism have been central to the history of reservations. Chatterjee mark theacknowledged on the"seeming absence century beginning goes on to remark of a fresh phase in women's organising. even make the women's questionan issue of perhaps more so thantheirprioreffortsto justify political negotiation .legitimacyrestedpreciselyon being dis1993:131-33. 'women's rights' were invariably posed in opposition to the political claims made by 'untouchables' or 'minorities'. experiments it is said. I would like to argue that. In termsof the historyof the women's (and post-colonial) public sphere was movement.andasyetundefined domain settingin placea revisedpatriarchy whose of the 'political'.independence and its ratification.thecolonial nothingless than severe.whichwere'separate' terrorist onthepart of somewomen) ones.In otherwords. tivityvis-a-visthe state. then.butthe vantagepointis different..raisingthe educationand emancipation of the 'scientific' of self-sacrifice.a broader canvas spanning the last century is indispensable.state". 'traditional'.even thoughthisdemand enjoyed wheredomesticor the support of most of the women's revolutionary potential of the time. devotion.of excessively'westerised'. we cannot afford to contextualise the 81st Amendment Bill solely in terms of our prior experience with the 73rd and 74th Amendmentsforreservationsin panchayats and municipalities .League. ties about the relationshipbetween so.this relationship Now it is indeedpossibleto findpromidirectly shaped different women's re.including accountstopswiththe turnof thecentury. Instead of being in public competition 19thand early20th centuries". the revival of the demand for women's reservations offers us the opportunity to interrogate these colonial and post-independence frames of reference within which we have been organising . thechanging contours of boththeserealms. As we are only beginning to discover. womenthe moreover. to diencethatgiving womenthe vote would according TanikaSarkar. publicisedpresidential Nationalismwas able to successfullyre. frozewomen's as men.plex evolutionof a women's movement ing of the women'smovement rightup to in the subsequentdecades. peasants and workers. As we shall see.set off major modern. however. the present. these of the mostfamousof them. 2000 3823 . Nor can protest was formulated in a "language.steepedin tradition and reli. The 'paradox'.IndiaWomen'sConference in Bombayin solve the majorconflicts'produced in the 1930. encouraging spiritual qualities methodsof childcare. embodiments of public politraordinary Historiansof the women's movement tics.hitherto definedas wasfashioned-themodern womanwhose were tied to promotingfemale education.our world. age marriage. many stages .vote as self-conscious alternatives to alien andstandfor electionson the sameterms gion Thisinturn westernnorms".especiallypoliticalac. through a strategy of devolution of power by stages. for the anti-brahminmovements of the south. including an women' s question addresses thesameprob. tionandso on.and'low-class'womenthatthenew norm called 'social' containing such as the women's movement were the real historyof the women's question withinthe middleclasshome. today. were a 'turningpoint'.nationalists"refusedto dictionsandmanipulations. any form of centuryby producing WS-23 Economic and Political Weekly October 28. on their part.handicraft thus andreligiosity. nationaland inrole of colonialismand ternational. for the history of the dalit movement.and the In1989:241].turn of century. a 'new with woman' interests with men. during the late colonial period.The implications vote without the need for a suffrage of thisfor the-development of movements movement. At stake is nothing less than the (as yet largely unexamined) conception of an alternate modernity. as well as for the often violent production of communalism. for tribals.were actively involved in negotiating these diverse struggles and growing demands for freedom.I believethatthis avowed[Chatterjee emphacomplexandoftenconflictedrelationship sis original]. In other words. This had a direct impact on how these issues were 'resolved' afterindependence.nent women who drew from (while also of reservations transforming) the potent ingredientsof sponseswhenthequestion for womenin thelegislatures andcouncils culturalnationalism to become quite exwas posed. Early 20th Century Context and Women's Movement Let me begin. Indeed. the HomeRule family relationswere concerned[Sarkar organisations formula. we have yet to understand the consequences of these conjunctures for feminist politics.initially opposed Gandhi.Moreover.with the colonial theircivilising missionthrough the regu. imagery it be denied that it was the Britishwho and idiom. especially the 1920s and 1930s. produc. when the question of reservations for women was first articulated in the context of new initiativesby Britishcolonial policy-makers towards their subject population. Though both these questions came to a crisis and were sought to be resolved at moments which were also critical for the 'women's question'. ParthaChatterjee's tion of the nationalistresolutionof the dian National Congress.l The British.This spiritual of thenation. theygranted lationof social reform. was thatthe grounding of by no meansinterfere with the 'destinies' publicpoliticalaction(evenrevolutionary of menandwomen. representinga 'new conjuncture' on many interrelatedfronts: For a nationalist movement whose popular base expanded on an unprecedentedscale.Already her Congressauproachingwomen's politicisationin the in 1918 she persuaded 20thcentury.The new demands conceptions uncertain. Sarojini Naidu explained in no wake of social reform during the 19th uncertain termswhy womendid not want woman' preferential a modernr treatment(i e. with the declared intent of enabling 'the gradual of self-governing institutions' who was to be the embodimentof the development under a new Indian Constitution.

to use politics to advance her sisters' cause."we do not want to form a separate caste" she said. many things make for combines. Moreover. wasforcompulsoryfree primaryeducationfor both girls andboys. It is surely significant that while they opposed many of the colonial recommendations such as the wifehood qualification. their lack of economic independenceandinheritancerights. i e. This is not the place to enter into a detailed account of the mixed fortunes of different women's delegations before the British government.Women'staskwas nothingless than the 'spiritual reform of the world'[AIWC limited even nationalism Thus. 2000 . then. she asserted. she said.His influence was also paramountfor how women's organisations approached communalism and untouchability. Unlike SarojiniNaidu. established in 1926." especially from provincial assemblies and localbodies [Forbes 1996:107-08]. When the next FranchiseCommittee was set up at the close of the Second Round Table Conference to tour India and collect opinions in 1932. even though theirown recommendationssought to engineer an improvement in the male/ female vote ratio from 20:1 to 5:1). that implementing the franchise across the country would be 'impractical'.Born into a devadasifamily. At the same time she voiced her feelings against separate electoral rolls for women . as we shall see.2 Clearly there were deep differences and conflicts even within women's organisations such as the All India Women's Conference (AIWC). women were ideal administrators of the municipality.fron- Council (which. she was educated and becametrainedas a medicaldoctor. But if a figurelike Sarojini Naiducould of colonialsubjection turnthe experience into a romantic projectof femininespiritualism and humanism. and the responses of British colonialists and feminists. (once again British opinion claimed that the majorityof Indianwomen were 'not ready'. The official stance of the three major women's organisations in 1932 against any 'privileges' notwithstanding. She also questioned men of the depressed and backward classes and minorities.butwomanhood areone. their compromise included the restriction Economic and Political Weekly October 28. In 1926 her name was submittedby the Women's IndianAssociation(WIA) for nominationto the Madras Legislative WS-24 3824 "the indivisibility of womanhood . a memorandumfrom the all-Indiawomen's organisations. engagementwith the colonial state.abolition of the devadasi system. the need for marriagelaw reform. Much has been written about Gandhi's surprised discovery of women's remarkable potential as public political actors. nist.for thiswould nomination or reservation). At the height of political nationalism. he said.irrespective of any propertyor literacy qualification. This aspect of Gandhi has been the subject of both celebrationand critique. "there was a great deal of support for special electorates and nominated seats. tiers. the public glorification of femininity became the very ground for persuading women of the illegitimacy of their demands.thiscannot whobecameactive be saidformanyothers in settingup women's organisations and women's issues. in a situation where a majority of educated women were not would qualified to vote.The division. wars. and with no expedients such as nomination and reservations of seats". thatthe firstdemand for women'srightto vote (presentedto Montague in 1917) appearsto have been something of an The initialdeputaaccidental by-product: tion by Margaret Cousins. With some reluctanceshe agreed. Muthulakshmi Reddy's own descriptions and explanations of her work as a legislator were multi-voiced: Accounts of women's inferiority. the "backwardness of Hindu women" was much worse. 1930:21]. that for nationalism the colonial public sphere must be degendered. subject to property and income criteria). It was only when she was informed thatthe termsof the MontagueChelmsford enquirywere strictly'political'.andthetime queenandthepeasant shouldknow hascomewheneverywoman her own divinity"[Reddi 1964:124]. When their demands were not met. Muthulakshmi Reddy's relationshipto the question of reservedseats was quite different. her "Adi-Dravidabrothersand Mohammedans". ParthaChatterjee's claim. Jana Everett has tried to account for such differences amongst women in their relation to politics and reservations by referring to the 'uplift' and 'equal rights' factions among women's organisations [Everett 1979]. moreover. AIWC and National Council of Indian Women (NCIW) reiterated their demand "for the Universal Adult Franchise . separateelectorates enfranchise conservative women 'not conversant with the moving world' [Reddi 1930:155-61]. than the condition of backward class or minority men (p 155). and his subsequent conversion to the cause of women. amount to an admissionof women's 'inThiswas why she was no femiferiority'. but highly significant transformationwith Gandhi. for "men and women rise and fall together". especially during the civil disobedience campaigns. and so on. required reservations "to represent the women's point of view". For some of promoting these women who were drawn towards underthechangof socialreform agendas and turbulent decadesof the ing politically 20thcentury. was the first to extend the franchise to women on the same terms as men. Pearson 1989:201-02].(an Irishfeminist andsecretary of the Women'sIndian with the backing Associationin Madras). thequestion of political rights. undergoes a subtle. It was men. I think. women who had previously supportednominationandreserved seats [such as MuthulakshmiReddy] added their voices to the demand for "equality and no privileges" and "a fair field and no favour". meant to initiate a constitutional of self-government. the scope of women's transformative Onanother occasionsheevoked potential. along with Bombay in 1921. SarojiniNaidu led a separatedelegation on the thatwomenbe included demanding sametermsas men in any politicalsettlement for one and the same breathdismissingfeminism in the nameof women'sglobalunity. Geraldine Forbes has pointed out how "one by one. Indeed. As mistresses of the home. Any account of the growing pressure on women to drop their demands for reserved seats must make space for the extraordinary relationship of Gandhi with women and the women's movement. It is. of D K Karveand the senateof Poona's Indian Women'sUniversity.who stressed more upon othergrievances thanthe education of their girls (p 123). who needed to learn from the Indian woman's supreme powers of self-sacrifice. which became the most influential national women's organisation in the next decade. In one of the first extensive studies of the Indian women's movement. thatsheclaims process to have linkedthe demandfor education to the need for Indianwomen'sfranchise [Reddi 1956. women's organisations agreed to work out some sort of transitional compromise. races. the demandfor the franchiseandthe contentious issue of reservedseats were not so Itmaybe worth recalling easily'resolved'. less wellknown that Gandhi's intense personal relationships with women were the conduit for turning demands for reservations or special electorates into signs of antinationalist betrayal.the WIA. only.

the meaning of 'communalism' changed dramatically and came to be conceptualised in zero-sum terms.oraccusedof being disloyal. Right into the 20th century.whichsoughtto provideseparate seatsto Muslims. beginning with the very construction of the notion of 'communalism' itself.This to urban of women'sfranchise statement wasbecause. they thereby theirwritten put to the it. from the 1920s. we cansee how Onone level. andotherlocal bodies." [AIWC 1932-33:51]. Understandings such as these were clearly dominant in organisati6ns like the AIWC. loyalty to country had to exceed that of any sectarian attachments (whose public political place thereforehad to be diminished). Other members.however.areas.Finally. andindividual was that of course. electorates andreserved and SikhsandAnglo-Indians. declarations of dissent were not recordedby the AIWC Franchise Committee. raised questions and objections. of Nations to the CensorBoard [AIWC as GailPearson 1934-35:70.factorsof vital importance.espoused the role of separate electorates. Once we are divided into sects and communities all will be lost. as Forbes goes on to add. Begum Sakina Mayuzada opposed the resolution. legislatures. members of these organisations had always known that Muslim women were in a minority. Maitrayee Chaudhuri has also perceptively commented on the opposed perceptions of communal representation for different women: While the unity of women and the nation were en- dangered by communal electorates in the dominantdiscourses. Christian and so on (whatever the problems attached to-such a vision. in a relation of opposition to a much narrower definition of nationalism. Muslim. Christians.this is the language of minoritism and majoritarianism. but with all that was pernicious in the British policy of 'divide and rule'. Aruna Asaf Ali referred to the 'evil of separatism'. even when it came from such importantfigures as Begum Shah Nawaz. therefore. Gandhi's fast was referred to in the subsequent discussion as having brought "this disgrace to Hinduism and the Hindu community" finally into prominence all across the country (p 60). Thosevoicesthatbelievedspecialelectorseats would enablea ates and nominated and amelioration of truerrepresentation the social problemsfacing women were soughtto be wonover. In the space of this paper. They even publicly. choice in favour these women'sstrategic of formalpoliticalequalitywas not unrelatedto their own social. The legislaturesmust be filled with those who really feel thatthe country's interestsstandabove personal or communal considerations" (p 53). Much of this must be familiar and commonplace. It wouldbe a majormistake. they attached "equalimportance quality as well as the quantity of the anurban votewouldensure woman's vote".indeed. has pointedout. Hindu.even if it meant fewer seats. until. But. "thevery method. Its lasting effects cannot be underestimated.which evolved sideby-side with the demands of a new 'purified' nationalism.from against Award' of 1932.. thusenabling"theedujuncture". Minorities and Majorities The host of issues thrown up in the name of the Communal Award need much more examination than either women's organisations appear to have been capable of at the time or that feminist historians have provided since. Seconding the resolution.especially if we are to make meaningful links between the establishment of organisations such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS in the WS-25 Economicand PoliticalWeekly October28. however. municipal affectorcommittees on anycommissions fromtheLeague ing womenandchildren. Communalism. and parallel efforts to demarcate boundaries between 'social' and 'political' domains). and not only because of the series of Hindu-Muslim riots in many parts of the country during that decade.therefore we do not want the canker of communalism amongst us. and K B Firozuddinraisedthe problemthat Muslim women representatives might be prevented from competing under a system of joint electorates due to their comparative educational backwardness. it is only possible to mention some of the more important aspects. naturalised their own representative claims to speakfor all of Indianwomanhood. as it was 'Communal known. "We women must do our uttermostto see that our country is not left to the mercies of job hunters. was not just synonymous with religious community. which would only lead to being told yet again that 'we are unfit for self-government'. However. any reference to communities. calling on women to work wholeheartedly for its abolition and for the equal admittance of the so-called untouchables in public spaces and institutions.opposition 1933-34:18]. educational Thesupreme advancement. Sikh. in spite of its obviousness anddemocraticstrucapparent ture . 2000 3825 .. forthedepressed made'special' provisions classes. A separate resolution was passed condemning the practice of untouchability. it was the very settlement of the communal question thatwould ensure the safety of the'nation in the notes of Muslim women members [Chaudhuri 1993:157]. "there is no question as to the reality of unity amongst us women. and well-organised "a more independent at the vote . finally. present of Indiato coordinate catedwomanhood lines"[AIWC thewoman's voteontheright At which women were acceptedas partof the Indianparliamentaryculture(underthe termsof the Govof IndiaAct of 1935) was first ernment vehemently opposedby those nationalist women whom it was later to benefit" [Pearson1989:199]. saying that desiring the good of one's community did not imply she wished harm on others. was reiterated to any kindof reservation . Nationalism now claimed to stand above and outside the primordial pulls of religious community or caste [Pandey 1990:235]. But these views were brushed aside as creating barriersand 'artificial communal hedges'. decided thatonly the majorityvote counted" [Forbes 1979: 15].'meritand meritalone' was to be the criterion. to isolate women's protestsagainst the and special electoridea of reservations theirresolution theBritish ates. liberal nationalists envisioned the future India as being made up of discrete religious communities. We want to send our best women and our best men to the councils . Thoughpledged not to get involved in partypoliticsandstay focussed on mattersrelatingto women's status. their official oppositionto nominationsand reservedseats did not stop them from of womenin the the presence demanding andprovincial central district. while professinga languageof no privileges or favours. As far as possible. Women's organisationsthus insisted that they were untouched by communalism. But there is anotherdimension to communalism whose contours and strategies are far less clear.reserved seats . Moreover. in spite of clear expressions of disagreement.187]. figureswithinthe AIWCwere prominent able to condemn the awardby interweav- ing their conception of the 'best' system of representation with the theme of the unity of all women: As RajkumariAmrit Kaur put it. 'Minority' opinions were regarded as since "ithadbeen numericallyunimportant.

"this was organisations' views on caste. "Those who speak of political rights of ing Muthulakshmi Reddy to the Madras legislative council.through'reformist'struggles they were even awarejust how such political of improvement as much as more 'radical' rights were in fact being articulated. it is not even clear to what extent existing working-class and peasant organisations. the effects of Gandhi's the first conference. growing fears among Muslims that they were now condemned to being a minority in need of protection. administration as well as on whom he represented needed political legislative bodies. when the objectives resolution of the constituent assembly had resolved to provide adequate safeguards for 'minorities. it did not take much to dismantle and drop them altogether. a women's organisation untouchables do not know how Indian 3826 Economic and Political Weekly October 28. actually closest to the nationalist one" Having also been instrumentalin nominat. cal force. and 'class' was said to be sufficiently inclusive. to any of the other interest groups Madras included critiques of caste and .[Omvedt 1994:169]. and claims to cultural autonomy from upper especially of Ambedkar's own demands caste society. Prominent nationalwomen's organisations' own naturalisationsof the 'Hindu'. historical developments brought together His demand at the First Round Table Muslims. different regions of the country. in his view. in particular. In this context. of a communal system of political representation. the WIA maintained that from the time of the Communal Award to although adult franchise was the real the framing of the new Indianconstitution. The self-respect movement in matter. By 1930. for that 1996].achieved by a less visible denial . and reserved seats and special 'non-brahmin' banner as far back as 1874 safeguards for untouchables. not political. fragile majority in their own homeland. in the context of claiming the space of a united women's movement.landlords. Christiansand castes such as the Conference was for a unitary state. the tenor of these debates was such that the rights of minorities had to be encapsulated as primarily cultural and religious. These were the last time such a possibility [by the the very years that saw the emergence of WIA] was entertained. backward and tribalareas. 1932 following the announcement of the Ramsay MacDonald award a month before. Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru juggled between the 'untenability'. unigender in their attacks on brahmin and versities and labour. the federal power the administrative system [Thimmaiah accorded to the princely states. by demanding representationin Ambedkarstated thatthe depressed people education. the framework of an independent India. the term 'minority' was dropped. by the time the question was re-opened in 1949 after the horrorsof the partition violence had subsided." This meant that non-brahmin and dalit movements in women's self-sacrifice of their interests. continued to use them. Ambedkar's position campaigns against untouchability on (adult suffrage and reserved seats) was women's organisations are disturbing. along with the asymmetry of political power that the majority/minoritydyad implied. especially as proof of their devotion to Gandhi. The distress and ambiguity of the moment was such that it was even possible to radically undermine the political relevance of notions such as minorities and majorities in a secular independent state making a breakwith the colonial past.3 like theWIA was. of all things. and immediate role in shaping women's But. Right up vations and minorities were played out to Gandhi's fast. It appears fairly certain that sent forward by the officially recognised Gandhi'scampaignsagainstuntouchability associations of women" [cited in Forbes during the 1920s played the most direct 1979:14]. answer. Gandhi's fast 'against untouchability' on September 20.political rights to representation of the ments were making their presence felt in 'untouchables' or 'depressed classes'. for instance." This was in 1930. As a result of the efforts of B R Ambedkar. 'caste' and 'class' in the course of his deliberations more or less interchangeably. But overall. Anandhi 199?]. while also advising the majority not to ride roughshod over the of the power. in fact contributedto the creation of a 'secular-Hindu' movement. central and western re. Indeed. or. which could only be gained within princely state of Mysore.who were all granted upper caste dominance [Geeta and special representative rightsundertheterms of the award. and significantly as a politi. and the minoritisation of other groups.the gions of the sub-continent. 2000 . the first Backward Classes Committee of its Second Conference and the Ramsay kind was appointed in 1918 as a result of MacDonald award of separate electorates this political awakening amongst groups should have developed specifically into who were able to give voice to their lack Gandhi's opposition to Ambedkar. The asked themselves why. and the complex politics attached to caste. having lost out in modem opportunities and advancement.positively disposed towardsreservedseatsfor women. was notjust widely reported in the journal of the WIA (significantly named Stree Dharma) but draQuestion of Caste matically broke their own demand for If this is how relations between reser. depressed and other backward classes'. for manyyears. which explicitly included reservations of seats in the central and provincial the new and enlarged legislatures and pinge on the women's movement? These proposes that they be voted for by propormay well be the hardest questions of any tional representation by the newly elected that this paper hopes to open up for further members of council from a panel of names discussion.1920s.and not of presence and representative power in to the other minorities. However. a principle of representation in the cabinet. for example. Even though the constituent assembly as late as August 28. Ambedkar himself appears to WS-26 have used 'community'. commerce and industry. as Forbes goes on to state. Nehru. was in the southern.reserved seats and nominations. the aggressive construction of the 'Hindu community' as a beleaguered. adult vokkaligas and lingayats undera common suffrage. Historians of in a bid to breakthe monopoly of brahmins the dalit movement like Gail Omvedt have in the'Mysore government services. 1947 (after Indian independence and the creation of Pakistan) sought to ratify the special rights of minorities. when he declared that any demand for safeguards by minorities betrayed a lack of trust in the majority. In the .and representationsto the British. "Of all the participants in Rajadurai 1997.the phrase which finally found its way into Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India was 'any backward class of citizens'. it was not as though these terms were abandoned. These move.did the reservation of 20 per cent of the seats questions of reservations and caste im. "for a transition period it suggests what 'aboutcaste? How. and a due share in the services. Already in 1947. and claims that the Congress must make it "the business of the state to give favoured treatment to minority and backward communities.

expandedmale and female electoratesto proceeded tativedefinition.the next elections of 1937. even as they effectively 'reserved' for themselves . 2000 between the necessary corollary politicisation of women and the actual advancement of their cause" [Nair 1996:140]. The constituent assembly was not the place. Hinduism andreformed caste relations an 'indivisiblefamily'.threekindsof preference were Finally.Gandhiwent dence period."thereis little doubt that it was the willing and spontaneous participation of women in the civil disobedience movements ratherthanthe radicalideas of sexual equality that finally tilted the balance in favour of political equality between the sexes in the Congress Party and later in the constituent assembly" [Mazumdar 1979:xvi].who had been the most vociferousadvo[Galanter tutionwas ratifiedin 1950.for all theireffortsto enlargethe envisaged: specialelectoral representation numberof women voters. Award not only fundamentally affected of India Act was women'sorganisations' when the Government of understanding of thenotion caste andcommunalism.separateelector. Eleven women were nominated to the constituent assembly to participate in its deliberations on the ultimate finalisation of the Constitution. underwent of numberswhich requiredproof of the emergeas the so-called 'otherbackward numericalsupremacyof Hindus at any classes' in the languageof the state. tionsof the 'Hindu'.1930sto 1950.holdingpublicofficeinthe 1935act.meantto designate fromthescheduled castesandscheda 'blight'thatuppercastes must (apart problem. the direchad to be reached and tion taken the women's by compromise rights from the PoonaPact was signed. According to Vina Mazumdar.By 1935. where women members discussed any of these contradictions. which withoutthe benefitof a conno.By the time the Consti.after that. In country. These claims to unity had to be maintained. as we have seen.all of these Women's Question mightgo some way towardsrecognising In comparison to the trajectories of the why thepoliticsof castewas so especially threatening.specific castes and tribesin the constituwith Ambedkarmust tion. employment. Even though leaders like allocated amongdifferent Ambedkar keptthe focus of untouchabil.with only minoradditions [Sitaramayya:909]. a total of 56 entered thelegislatures. however.since no single criterion 43 per cent and 9 per cent respectively. organisationsthereforefelt specifically If it wasGandhi especiallyforregionsof thenorthandeast betrayed by theCongress: 1984]. couldbe foundthatworkedfor the whole Forty-one reserved seatsfor womenwere communities. after a four-dayfast. if the regressitself.backward In any event. Reservations prevented women from standing from WS-27 3827 .wassignificantly different. the sameness of their condition. As cost. has argued that the question was settled much earlier. moreover. on the grounds of 'cultural' not 'political' nationalism. 'scheduled castes'astheycametobecalled. they appeared eager to declare their opposition to any special privileges in the form of reservations. (wifehood remaining primary). society is constructed" preferential treatment. the 'constitution fathers' never debated the issue. Partha Chatterjee.urban. it.Some As a number of commentators modifications sentation. Aftertheratification An adequate answerfor Gandhi'sexclu.the right to represent Indian womanhood. a classes andthe 'untouchables'. and were staunchpartyworkersin anycase. as cessively betrayed. at any cost. thepivotalquestion of 'untouchability' Thefirstto do so were a unique disability and form of social the British. for whom." more or less stable in the post-indepenateswouldsimplyvivisectanddisrupt Indeed. but withinthe Con.thedistinctcareers of thedepressed classes(whichcontinued resolveof manyto holdonto 'equalrights' to be the preferred term of the British). On the contrary.came togetherwhen the need declaration rightsor nonto drawup a 'schedule'or list of castes discriminationon the basis of sex for was required for 'special'electoralrepre.who refusedto provideany of fundamental exclusion.'non-brahmins'. of uledtribes)whowerenevertheless andGandhi's own reconception in need purify.the name suggests. and so on. which enabled middle class 'modem' women's entry into the public sphere by domesticating the nationalist project within the home. ity on thosewho sufferfromthecontempt womencandidates and aversion of higher caste Hindus. women's organisations wereevolvingin Mysorearid were sucMadras. and the effective disavowal of distinct political rights to the 'untouchables'. out of which only 10 came fromgeneral of economicbackwardness and seatsandfive werenominations."So far as and preferential (Interestingly thelistingfrom1935wastoremain hinduismis concerned. butstiffenedthe finalised. weremaderegarding qualihave pointed out. "the social backwardness of women had been sought to be exploited in the same manner as the backwardness of so many sections in this country by those who wanted to deny its freedom" [CAD 1947:668]. political rights of minorities. I have been suggesting that the issue of women's rights was much more complicated than either of these two views indicate. as of special treatment.) on.notjust for explicitly the 'backward Hinduorganisations.We havealready seenhow theCommunal ables and a generalelectorate. it wouldbe preferable of theschedules for ables convertedto Islam or Christianity. tier system of voting between untouch.strugglesand coalitionsin the names of therefore classes or communities'. Thus Renuka Ray referred to the Government of India Act of 1935. 'depressedclasses' and a majorchange. this was a residual thosegroups ability as anything more than a social category. creed. where. the selection of the ficationsfor votingin different provinces. the principle cateagainstreserved seatsfor women. in the face of the loss of Muslim women's membership. educated. race or sex' took concrete form in the protractedproblem of reserved seats.enough. Conflicts over the relationship between 'social' issues and the abstract language of political rights 'irrespective of caste. modem and progressive . an inabilityto look upon untouch."therewas no Economic and Political Weekly October 28. In the yearsleadingup to and of 'backwardness' which followingtheGovernment of IndiaAct of political concepts and 1935. the numerous pre-independence sive confrontation account for theuniqueconstruc. As she notes. one for which he Constitutional Resolution of wasreadyto laydownhis life .the that was appliedcame to rest on groups Congress now had little room for any whichhadhistorically sufferedbothhos. nor did they realise the social and political implications of what they were granting. Women's questions lack of education were also drawnupon. Women's organisations were caught in contradictoryproclamationsof the 'unity of all women'.A complexmix of the politics so on. to the minoritiescommittee.women candidatesotherthanthose who tile discrimination anddisadvantage.declaredGandhi inthelegislatures.involvinga two.

In the experts. both public and private. scheduled tribes. the Committeeon the Statusof Women rejected WS-28 to by majorityvote the recommendation reintroduce Indiareserinto independent vationsfor women in legislativebodies. and 'community'. implying [Mazumdar mentthata systemof specialrepresenta. The post-independence women's movement. might help us understandthe peculiar (p 365-66). an for womenwas firsttabledin parliament attitude that has undergone some change in 1996. isolated pockets" was to be rectified by compensatory policies. part of our present. Till very recently.Againstthe argu. regretting. as he put it.thereby that they are the product of a pretenden. lems have held back our understandingof The resurgenceof caste and minority the post-colonial marginalisation of miissues withina 'women'sissue' seems to noritiesandconsolidation of secular-Hindu takeus rightbackto thepre-independence dominance. of their report Towards Equality were the has come a long way from its early 20th of women century struggles. hostility of academiaandthe nationalpress. to societyas the minority groupmightbe. It is worth noting that this intervention took place 'spontaneously'. The preferential programmes and tershedyearsin India'shistory. in powerat the centre. legislatorsand the reluctance partiesto sponsorwomen .tion. which feared by the critics. More thantwo decades later in 1974. Most of the demolition theensuingriots. problematic. past centuries of oppression. Champaka Dorairajan. the Supreme Court subsequently ordered the incorporation of Clause 15(4) concerning special provisions "for the advancement of any socially or educationally backward class of citizens" into the Constitution. backward."and "wouldnot create what is wardness of caste discrimination. backwardness) and minorities (i e. it is a viable. inimical to the national interest. of the BabriMasjidand ity. and to pit these concepts in opposition to the claims of modern womanhood.but with one vital difference: decadesafterindependence. a young brahminwoman.andwas soonmired in theconflict only after Mandal.Women are of dissent'(written andLotika no longer considered to be victims of reservations) byVinaMazumdar Sarkar beginsby recallingtheirown mis. reborn in the 1970s.colonial or colonial past. Their very legititionmight"precipitate fissiparous cies". cases like these helped to cement concepts undergirding the very nature of caste (i e. we areforced reservationsfor . it is so often said. Five That is why I believe that the revival of years. or placedpriorcriticismsof "thesystem of the ruses of colonial subjection.dence. the reservations to theotherbackward classes. In my view. that men had not yet come up to the standard of women: "Let us hope that nothing will be provided in this Constitution which would make exception in favour of men [in a situation] where women object [to similar exceptions being made in their favour]" (p 674). unable to carry out their of the economy. stymied by liberalisation Mandalagitation againstthe extensionof the negative attitudes of the state.It There was practically no support for conthatis currently is in this contextthat the 81st Women's stitutionally sanctioned reservations even Bill forone-third Reservation reservations from left and democratic organisations. this over the demandfor special quotas for has been part of the common sense of the womenof the otherbackward classes and women's movement as well. though the Madras Court struck down the system of reservations of the Madras government as unconstitutional. Similar probminorities.andthatpatriarchal power groupsis visibleevenhere:Thusthe 'note is manifested in multiple contemporary in support of women's forms.the recognition of injustice in the present. the anti.This has been the decade of the regionalised. petitioned the High Court of Madrasin 1951 claiming that her fundamental right (to pursue a medical education) was being denied by the Madras system of proportional 'communal' reservations in higher education.tendencyto make a case in not disappeared.However. 2000 . Vallabhai Patel took full advantage of the situation. Feminism reservations for scheduled castes and is visible and enduring.womenin the 1990s - 3828 Economicand PoliticalWeekly October28. andconstituted "an impediment to our growth and an insult to our very intelligence and capacity" (p 669). and from successive decliningtrendsin the number of political efforts to 'resolve' the women's question. it is now clear that gender favourof women'srightsin opposition to oppression is not merely a relic of tradition notions of backwardnessand minority butfully modern. when the nation state we scheduled tribes were never premised on wassubjected to unprece. 'caste'. so to say. It took an interestingly different form in what became the very first constitutional amendment. the careers of caste and comperiod.generalconstituencies. The. in the context of a discussion over requests for the modification of territorial representation for the remote and sparsely populated hill tribes of Assam.4 took for granted dented pressures from without and Backward class commissions were within. if asa legacyof thecolonial. the heavy They are not a dispensablepart of the emphasis on the historical past and backsociety. in the end both the terms 'practice' and 'propagation' were retained. religion). the very Even if old debates on modernity. In the Minorities Sub-Committeei though the othermembersinitiallyagreedto Rajkumari Amrit Kaur's suggestion that religious freedom be limited to religious worship. The pattern whereby 'communal' or 'minority' rights were counterposed to women's rights took many forms during these years.are 'still' with us. and the westerness of feminism have chise. with the proviso that this did not preclude social reform [Roshni 1941:150-61]. case of caste for instance. however. upper caste domination of a Bharatiya JanataParty-led coalition became invisible in a 'casteless' ethos. of caste in the Questions for the Present national imagination following indepenThe 1990s.andtherisetodominance difficult of all. were wa.tradition. tradiwake of freedomand the universalfran. they cited the views of one of the macy as active sites of contemporary Sirsikar: "women arenotmarginal struggle is frequently in question.assigned tasks meaningfully. It emerged in the Constituent Assembly Minorities Sub-committee in 1949 when 'freedom of religious propaganda and practice' was seen to conflict with 'social reform' for women.a time of policies aimed at the scheduled castes and iransition. Amongstthe many shockingdiscoveries to recognise the divergent post-independence trajectoriesof 'gender'. Now it might seem that these two examples disprove my arguments: After all. and the emergenceof lower caste parties Preferential policies have therefore had to such as the Bahujan SamajPartyand the struggle in a climate which swiftly turned This wasalsothedecade them into exceptions to the rule of equalSamajwadi Party.whichinstitutionalised nessof certain sectionsof ourpopulation" munity have been far more confused: They 1979:363]. as we all know. or rather non-place.

References Notes [Thispaperis a revisedversionof the introduction to the PlenaryPanel 'ReservationsPolicies and the Women's Movement' at the IX National Conference on Women's Studies. Work and the State.JanaM (1979): Women in India. of the dominant elites. Nair. Pattabhi B: TheHistoryof the Indian Sitaramayya. Womenin ColonialIndia:Essays on Survival. 1800-1990. and struggle. Women in Colonial India: Essays on Survival. for all their cooperation to link . Geeta. Cambridge. Pearson. National Congress 1835-1935.(1956) (ed): Mrs Margaret Cousins and her Work in India. Delhi. Chaudhuri. Samya. Forbes 1979.January 8-11. in Paris .I am not convinced of the overallframeof herargument thatthe historical creation of Pakistanhad little to do with the weakeningof minorityrights. Gail (1989): 'Reserved Seats . . 'Women's on PublicPolicy'.Sumit (1983): ModernIndia. Chaudhuri 1993. patriarchies. Vol 1-12. To concentrate solely on poverty anddisadvantage. Tejaswini Niranjana.theirambitions. need what we do not yet have: a better of the diverse patriarchal 5 understanding forces which condition women's life andtheirability chances. Adyar.Sage. the so-called middle classes and within 3 See various volumes of the Constituent the women'smovement. New Delhi. Vina (1979): 'Editor's Note' in Symbols of Power: Women in a Changing Society I. New Delhi.of the Joint Action All India Women's Conference Annual Reports (AIWC). Mazumdar.Development Studies for their support. Reddi. Though reproducing tional vacuum' (The Hindu. 1931-37. Allied Publishers. especiallyamong Nair 1996. Bajpai. class or minoritystatus in the Studies. Delhi. various volumes. to represent women's and men's experiences politicallyin ways that'we' cannot to know. Sarkar. Macmillan.offers us the chance to conceive of Manasa women's organisation in Bangalore. Delhi.Radiant. of Maharashtra. Sinha 1999.IqbalA (1999): 'MinoritiesandthePolitics of ConstitutionMaking in India' in Gurpreet Mahajan and D L Sheth (eds). morecarefullyon the social composition Forbes 1996. Ayodhyaand globalisation Committee at Hyderabad Central University. Ansari. Rochana (2000): 'ConstituentAssembly Debates and MinorityRights'. the emergence of OBC partiesis in fact squarelyblamedfor having"blockedthe participationof women at key entry points".Also the ideathat notions of backwardness were upheld by 'dominant'sectionsof the Assemblyoverstates thecase. This also 2 There understanding are a number of studies that dwell on meansthatwe haveto re-examine the last differentphasesin thedevelopmentof women's 50 yearsof independence. Chatterjee. Madras. of all of them.New Delhi.Kali for Women.While the freedom movement is laudedforhavingbrought'outstanding women' into politics. Kumar.New Delhi.For all its claims to have improved on the 81st AmendmentBill . to Maithreyi Krishnaraj.these classes have been on the loss of political rights to the minorities themselvesin an 'informasee Ansari 1999. Delhi. Nivedita Menon. andSocial Change Everett. A Question of Silence? The Sexual Economies of Modern lndia.New Delhi.Maitrayee (1993): Indian Women's Movement: ReformandRevival.Women and the Vote in Bombay' in J Krishnamurthy (ed). . Geraldine(1979): 'Votes for Women' in Vina Mazumdar (ed). Whatever the limitations of the 81st Amendment Bill. student members. Delhi. Cambridge University Press. SiT1 Bajpai's extendeddiscussion of the competing conceptions of backwardness and minority rights is instructive.afterMandal. Pandey 1990. May 27. Babasaheb: Writingsand Speeches. Kali for Women. and Omvedt 1994.Oxford University Press. New York. our 1 For furtherdetails on this period. S (1998): 'Reproductive Bodies and RegulatedSexuality:BirthControlDebatesin Early 20th CenturyTamil Nadu' in Mary E John and Janaki Nair (eds). Kali for Women. These include Everett 1979. Allied Publishers. Radha (1993): A History of Doing: An IllustratedHistoryofMovementsforWomen's Rights and Feminism in India. I am grateful to the Indian Association contextof a commondemocratic of Women's Studiesandthe Centrefor Women's broader To recognisecaste andcommu. (1946-50). 36. Kumar 1993. one is hardput to figuringout how this constitutes an advancement. Triplicane. 2000. DiscussionswithSatishDeshpandehavehelped clarify the importanceof this issue for me. Perspectives in Hyderabad.ratherthan and interest in revising the panel presentations thanan opportunity to rightsbased for publication in this Review of Women's women's rights oppose on caste. see Sarkar thereby transforming 1983. Gyanendra(1990): The Constructionof Communalism in ColonialNorthIndia. Sarkar. Calcutta. Anandhi. it displays a not very wellhidden resentment that women even need reservations. KrishnaRaj nalism asmodem forms of inequality (rather especially and the editorialteamat the EPWfor all theirhelp thanas symbolsof our 'backwardness'). Constituent Assembly Debates: Official Report (CAD). as we havebeendoing so far. Current Thought Press. even if thedemand for 'quoMoreover. St Martin's Press.(1996): Womenin Modern India.I am grateful to Janaki Nair and Vasanti Raman for her comments on an earlier draft. Many thanks are due to the other five participants in the panel . Galanter. Symbols of Power: Women in a Changing Society I. Mrinalini (1999): 'Suffragism and Internationalism: The Enfranchisement of Britishand IndianWomen UnderAn Imperial State'. Tanika (1989): 'Politics and Women in Bengal . Madras.TheIndianEconomicandSocialHistory Review. Partha (1994): The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Economicand Political Weekly. Delhi. tas withinquotas'hadneverbeen raised. Omvedt. Delhi. . Pandey.] we mustintegrate themwith questionsof classandgender. and patience. and Bajpai 2000. . Oxford University Press. 2000). Any progressive-democratic debateon the Women'sReservation Bill thatwishesto learnfromthe legacyof the 20thcentury mustengagewiththisreality as fully as possible.and to alternate This is nothingless and Danielle Haase-Dubosc modernities.(1964): Autobiography: A Pioneer Woman Legislator. Oxford University Press. Women's Indian Association. New Delhi. Janaki(1996): Womenand Law in Colonial India:A Social History. Even more disturbingis the cavalier mode in which 'resentment' towards reservations for SCs and STs is discussed.Fordifferentinterpretations put it recently. 2000 3829 . Sinha. Workand the State.The growingeconomic presume and social disparities thatare a hallmark of liberalisation shouldalso alertus to the in contemporary reality that patriarchy society is neithera single monolithnor a set of discreteunconnected enclaves. Delhi. Gail (1994): Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in ColonialIndia. New Delhi. Minority Identities and the Nation. andfocusmuch organisationsand theirbattlefor the franchise. As GailOmvedt AssemblyDebates. 4. Ambedkar. a feministperspective on the questionof 'reservations forwomen'todaywouldhave to takeaccount of subjugated ordominated This is we urgently 4 where patriarchies. Oxford UniversityPress. 1885-1947.The Conditions and Meaning of Participation' in J Krishnamurthy (ed). WS-29 Economicand PoliticalWeekly October28. The 'Alternate Women's Reservation Bill' prepared by theForumforDemocraticReforms and widely publicisedby MadhuKishwarwas circulatedafter this paperwas drafted. Oxford University Press.especiallywhenwe considertheoverall aversion to caste by precisely these dominant sections.. Forbes. Marc (1984): Competing Equalities: LawandtheBackward ClassesinIndia. V and S V Rajadurai(1997): Towardsa Non-Brahmin Millennium: FromlyotheeThass to Periyar. is no longerenough.Oxford University Press. Pearson 1989. March 25. Education Government Department. Muthulakshmi (1930): My Experiencesas a Legislator.Bhagwan Das (advocate and human rights activist).but a complexarticulation of unequal rather.