The Twelveth Inspirational Woman that we have today is Purnima Banerjee, she was one of the members of the Constituent Assembly, which drafted the Constitution Of India.
Secretary of the Indian National Congress committee in Allahabad, she took part in the Salt March and the Quit India Movement and was subsequently imprisoned. Later, she became a member of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly and of the Constituent Assembly of India. She was Aruna Asaf Ali‘s younger sister. As secretary for the city committee, she was responsible for engaging and organizing trade unions, kisan meetings and work towards greater rural engagement.
Purnima Banerji became a part of the Indian National Congress since its inception in 1934. She was also the secretary for the Indian National Congress city committee in Allahabad. As a secretary, she effectively engaged the rural communities, organized trade unions and kisan meetings efficiently. As a socialist herself, her Marxian ideology diversified the culture of Congress.
She took part in the 24 days Dandi March in 1930 which was an act of non-violent, civil disobedience in colonial India. In 1941, she, along with Sucheta Kriplani started individual satyagraha for which both of them were eventually arrested. Banerji was again arrested in 1942 for taking part in the Quit India movement. She had to take her B.A. exams from prison. Neither did she ever shy away from the forefront of the freedom movement even if that meant imprisoning herself repeatedly, nor could anything deter her spirit. She was a staunch feminist in body and soul. However, when we read about Dandi March or Quit India movement, the texts usually resonate only the contributions of Gandhi or Nehru.
Some Highlights of the Constitution Debates
- Banerjee argued that the preventative detention clause in Draft Article 15A (Article 22 of the Constitution of India) must prescribe time limits beyond which a person cannot be detained. Further, she went on to assert that the detained person, if they are the earning member of their family, must be given maintenance allowance.
- When the Assembly was discussing the Preamble, Banerjee sought to expressly state in the Preamble that ‘sovereignty’ is derived from the people of India.
- During the discussion around the qualifications of Rajya Sabha members, Banerjee believed that the age limit should be reduced from 35 to 30 years.
She represented the United Provinces in the assembly. Let’s have a look at some of the remarkably progressive amendments she had proposed in the Rajya Sabha during her tenure.
She wished to add a new paragraph in Article 16:
‘All religious education given in educational institutions receiving Statewide will be in the nature of the elementary philosophy of comparative religions calculated to broaden the pupils’ mind rather than such as will foster sectarian exclusiveness.‘
State’s control over religious instruction in schools has never been more relevant than in the present times. She also felt strongly that along with education, right to livelihood and right to earning of honourable bread, must be made part of the fundamental rights. The ideal of common good must always prevail over a country’s profit.
Her amendment to Article 18 (2) read,
‘That after the word ‘State’, the words ‘and State-aided’ be inserted.‘ This was extremely important to extend the protection to minorities against discrimination in public funded educational institutions. She also agreed with the amendment proposed by her friend Mr. Shibban Lal Saksena which stated that instead of imposing a minimum tax limit on everyone, tax should be calculated with respect to an individual’s income and family condition.
She pleaded to extend the provision to women, which formerly stated that casual vacancies with respect to minority communities like Sikh or Muslim are filled with members only of those communities. Since women were a minority in politics, they clearly needed reservation to represent themselves. She defied many male chauvinists to establish the fact that women’s role in politics is indispensable. Nobody could have described the plight of women in such a vivid way. When we look at the gender disparity in the Parliamentary Cabinet today, we sure know why she pointed this out decades ago.
Purnima Banerji believed that ultimate sovereignty lies with people. She also wanted to drop the word “sovereign” from the Preamble. She believed that just by giving the public the right to vote in every 5 years, it’s not appropriate to use the word sovereign. When we compare today’s politicians treating the public as vote banks and later forgetting all their promises after getting elected, we can see the relevance of her concerns. At the same time, she truly believed that it is the common masses who vest power in the positions elected.
Even when Purnima Banerji stood up in support of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar to pass the Draft Constitution, she was never hesitant to express her apprehensions. According to her, the Constitution only provided the basic means for a just and civil society. However, it is always dependent on people of power to scale our society to new heights of glory.
Banerji felt that the key industries and mineral resources of the country should have been taken over from private enterprises in order to save the government from foreign aggression. Keeping in mind, India’s tryst with salt, salt should have been kept duty free as a gift to free India. Her biggest disappointment with the constitution was the restrictions that it had put on the fundamental rights of speech and of meeting and forming associations.
She was the first woman to lead the chorus of Jana Gana Mana after it was officially adopted as our National Anthem on 24th Jan, 1950.
Image Source: Feminism in India
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