Durgabai Deshmukh: Legendary Woman Who Helped In Drafting India's Constitution

India is a patriarchal society. Women have struggled and are still struggling to find their rightful place in this country. But time and again we have seen some icons rise against the male oppression and become an example for other women. One woman who played a major role in drafting the Constitution of India but is now being forgotten among the millennials is Durgabai Deshmukh. She fought for the women’s property rights within the Hindu Code Bill in the Provisional Parliament.

Today, Durgabai is remembered as the ‘Mother of Social Work’ for her immense contributions. She laid the foundation for organised voluntary efforts and lobbied for them to be recognized by the state.

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Early Life 

Durgabai was born on July 15, 1909 at Rajahmundri in present-day Andhra Pradesh. Her father, BVN Rama Rao was a social worker. Durgabai was brought up in Kakinada. She has been observing the mistreatment of women since a very young age. She was influenced by Gandhi’s ideas. When she was just 12, she learned that Gandhiji was visiting Kakinada. She wanted the Mahatma to address Devadasis and Muslim women and she made sure she makes it happen.

During the famous salt satyagraha, she took over as the leader of movement in Madras which began after T Prakasam was arrested. This led to her being arrested and sentenced to prison for nearly 3 years from 1930-33. The time inside prison was not just physically agonizing, but it also showed the poor state of women to Durgabai. Several women inmates had committed to crimes they had not done, due to illiteracy. She made a firm decision to become a lawyer who could provide pro bono legal aid and also empower women with education.

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She left politics after being released from jail and continued her education. She started a condensed course for adult women who had discontinued school. Later, she pioneered the Andhra Mahila Sabha in 1937, which blossomed into a pivotal institution of education and social welfare. In 1946, she was elected to the Constituent Assembly as a Congress candidate. With her legal background, she led the amendment to the draft Constitution in lowering the age for holding a seat in the Lok Sabha from 35 to 30.

Major contributions post-Independence

Durgabai was appointed to the Planning Commission as leader of social services. In 1953, she got married to Chintaman Deshmukh in a civil registered marriage. The couple had a mutual understanding that while one earned, the other would give their services to the nation for free.

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“As the first chairperson of the Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB), she set up things which are really enabling to women on the margins. Durgabai recognised that increasing welfare and better status for women would not be possible without budgetary provisions for them,” says veteran economist Devaki Jain, who personally knew Durgabai since the late 60s, in an interview with Indian Express.

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She was also among the first advocates of establishment of family courts in India. She believed that such an institution was necessary for a country of India’s size. It would reduce the workload of High Courts and Supreme Court and also provide a good forum for preventing family break-ups and restoring happiness to men, women, and children, making it possible for them to remain united.

Durgabai passed away on 9 May, 1981 but left behind a story of a woman’s strength, determination and contribution to the Indian Constitution.

 

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