The fifth Inspiration story that we would be talking about today is about Dakshyani Velayudhan, an Indian Parliamentarian and one of the members of the Framing Committe of the Indian Constitution.
Dakshyani Velayudhan, was the first Scheduled Caste woman graduate in India, a science graduate, a member of the Cochin Legislative Council and of being one of nine female members of the Constituent Assembly of India.
Dakshyani, was born in Mulavuukad, an isolated Island in Ernakulam. Her school education was at St Mary’s school Mulavukad and MLC School, Chathyathu. She graduated from Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam. When Dakshayani joined Maharaja’s for a Chemistry course, she was the lone woman student to have enrolled. She trained in teaching from Madras to become a teacher. She became member of the Legislative Assembly, Kochi in 1945 and a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1946.
She was the only girl student for B.Sc Chemistry or for any science subjects in the college. It was ‘sheer luck’ to get higher education. (In the laboratory) an upper caste teacher did not show her experiments, therefore she had to learn by looking from a distance and graduated with a high second class in 1935. In July 1935, she was posted as an L-2 teacher in the High School Peringothikara in Trichur District.
On August 2, 1945, Dakshayani spoke for the first time in the Cochin Legislative Council, in English. She raised her concerns about the funds for the depressed classes were dwindling. She also called for proportional reservation in panchayats and municipalities. Dakshayani also said that as long as untouchability remained in our society, the word Harijan was meaningless, it was like calling dogs Napoleon.
There were just 15 women in the 389-member Constituent Assembly. She was the lone Dalit woman and at 34 years old, perhaps among the youngest. In her first speech in the Constituent Assembly (December 19, 1946) she wrote: “I spoke against separate electorates, against slave labour and (said) untouchability should be banned by an ordinance. She was asked by the party — Indian National Congress — to withdraw it as it was going to be one of the articles of the Constitution soon.”
She also argued against appointment of Governors anticipating friction between a State Government and a Governor appointed by another party at the Centre. She also suggested that the final draft of the Constitution be adopted following a ratification through a general election. She again intervened during a discussion on draft Article 11 (Art 17 of the Constitution) which aimed at abolishing discrimination based on caste and making it punishable by law. She said, “We cannot expect a Constitution without a clause relating to untouchability.”
In her speech she held that the Constituent Assembly should go beyond framing a Constitution and “give people a new framework for life”, use the opportunity to make untouchability illegal, and ensure “moral safeguard that gives real protection to the underdogs of India” (CA Debates, 151-152). Her idea of moral safeguards rested on the idea that only an independent socialist republic could uplift, remove social disabilities.
Dakshayani’s interventions in the Constituent Assembly were moulded by time she spent with both Gandhiji and Ambedkar. She became editor of Jai Bheem, an Ambedkarite publication also based in Madras. Along with her husband, R Velayudhan, she was a member of the Provisional Parliament, perhaps the first Dalit couple also belonging to two opposition political parties, Velayudhan having joined the Socialists while Dakshayani remained with the Congress.
Along with a few Ambedkarite middle class women, she organised a national conference of Dalit women in 1977 and formed the Mahila Jagriti Parishad (MPJ). The conference was attended by over 200 Dalit women, with their own stories. The MPJ began work among women sweepers in South Delhi — literacy and alternative employment training. There was no question of looking for funds, but working on the Gandhian ethics of voluntarism.
On November 29, 1948, Dakshayani delivered a speech in the Assembly about untouchability. But before she could finish, she was interrupted by the Chair, Vice President of the Constituent Assembly HC Mookherjee. The Vice President said she had exceeded her time limit, and that he was letting her continue “only because you are a lady.”
In one of her debates, Dakshayani memorably said, “I submit that a Constituent Assembly not only frames a Constitution but also gives the people a new framework for life. To frame such a Constitution is an easy task because there are many models for us to imitate…but to renew a people on a new foundation requires the synthetic vision of a planner…what we want is not all kinds of safeguards. It is the moral safeguards that give us real protection..what we want is the immediate removal of our social disabilities. Our freedom can be obtained only from Indians and not only from the British Government.” ( Dakshayani Velayudhan,19 Dec,1946, CA debates)
Born in 1912, the time that she lived in itself is testimony to her struggle as a woman and as a Dalit, since the oppression of both was considered ‘natural’ at that time. She created history by covering the upper part of her body at a time when women from oppressed castes were not allowed to cover their breasts. Later (from 1813 to 1859) the state witnessed the Maru Marakkal Samaram or Channar revolt for women’s right to wear clothes to cover their upper body.
Dakshayani had other unique achievements to her credit, too. She was the first woman to pass ESLC (Education equivalent to that of present time’s tenth standard) and the first Indian Dalit woman to become a graduate.
Dakshayani’s marriage was also nothing short of a revolution. She married Raman Velayudhan in 1940 at Gandhi’s Wardha Ashram. Velayudhan was a member of the first Parliament. He was also the uncle of former President KR Narayanan. The wedding was in the presence of Gandhi, his wife Kasturba, and a leprosy patient.
Image Source: The Better Indian
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