Dr. Vina MazumdarWomen in post-independent India were part of a new state that developed a bureaucratic structure designed to meet the specific needs of women. This included creating the National Social Welfare Board, assigning special duties to block development officers, and asking the Department of Health and Welfare to prepare a specific plan with women in mind. In the documents of the new Indian state the past had been undone, modernity was triumphant, and women were no longer subordinate to men.
Women in the immediate post-Independent period
However, in the post-independent period, the immediate concerns of women were not constitutional rights but political reality. The partition of British India into India and Pakistan affected millions of women and men as populations fled both countries. When the migrations were over more than eight million people had moved from Pakistan to India or from India to Pakistan. Many women, estimates range from 80,000 to 150,000, were abducted during this time. As a result India and Pakistan agreed on procedures for recovery and restoration.
Constitutional Provisions for Women in the post-Independent period
The Constitution of India declared equality as one of the Fundamental Rights. It also guaranteed equal protection of the law, equal opportunities in public employment, and prohibited discrimination in public places. The Hindu Code, passed as separate Acts between 1955 and 1956, rewrote the Hindu laws of marriage and divorce, adoption, and inheritance. Adult suffrage added women to the electoral roles and political parties pledged their commitment to women's issues. Many of the women who participated in the social reform and political activities of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s were pleased with the constitutional provisions and legal reform. Most of them belonged to the upper and middle classes of society, and they were ready to become the beneficiaries of new opportunities.
Indira Gandhi Women's Organisations in the post-Independent period
The government asked prominent women's organizations to assist them in developing five-year plans. These women agreed with government that economic growth was the most important issue. The best known of the women's organizations became institutionalized as they secured permanent buildings, well-staffed offices, libraries, and bureaucracies of their own. They set up and continue to administer programs designed to serve women, especially day-care centres, hostels for working women, educational centres and medical dispensaries. Their approach, like that of the Government, has been Welfarism. A number of women's organisations have been criticised for this approach and blamed for not helping to prepare women for new responsibilities. It was felt that women themselves were hindering change and bringing about the traditional role of women as dependants.
The Communist women were the most vocal in expressing their dissatisfaction with constitutional provisions, five-year plans, and government and party promises. In 1954 Vibhla Farooqui and her female colleagues in the Communist Party of India organized a national conference to address women's issues. At this conference they founded the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) to focus attention on women's struggle for equal rights and responsibilities in all spheres of life and for improvement in their living conditions. They felt that the existing political forces were trying to reduce the role of women's organisations to charitable work combined with the passing of resolutions. They therefore pleaded for a new orientation and a change in the status of these women's organisations.