School of Development Studies

National Seminar on the Question of Citizenship of Women

Past Event


Venue: Library conference hall

In pre-capitalist social formations the right of citizenship was limited to specific social groups. In class society these included the upper classes such as kings, feudal lords, nobles, etc. Since Indian society is based on caste, here those rights were restricted to men from the upper castes.Weaker exploited communities like upper-caste women and men and women of the lower castes were excluded from the rights of citizenship. After the establishment of capitalism, when a regime of capitalist law came into existence, this limited scope of citizenship rights was widened, and they became available to all. But the possession of rights had a limited sense for the lower classes. Even though all were considered equal before the law, in fact it was only the upper classes who enjoyed the benefits of capitalist laws.

After British rule was imposed in India, they implanted capitalism within the existing society. And so capitalist laws became prevalent in India too. And for the first time in India, there was a law that was formally equally applicable to all, in contrast to prevailing inequality based on Brahminical religious laws prevailed.

Even though a capitalist law that treated all subjects as equal was imposed during the era of British rule, still Indians remained excluded from several rights of citizenship because of their political subjugation. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a political movement which was a movement for political independence emerged. This movement struggled for political rights and awakened a desire for political rights among the Indian people. The other side of this was that the exploited and backward communities that had been excluded from kinds of rights by Brahminical religious law, found space to struggle for social rights on the basis of capitalist laws; and in various parts of India movements against caste and for social reform came into being.

In Maharashtra in the second half of the nineteenth century, Mahatma Jotiba Phule started the Satyashodhak movement. At the beginning of the twentieth century Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar made his entry as a leader on the stage of Indian politics. He took on the anti-caste, anti-patriarchal legacy of the Satyashodhak movement and widened the scope of the Dalit movement. He awakened an urge for gaining social rights among the dalits who were the lowest stratum of the society, and made them ready to struggle for those rights. He was very clear that citrizenship in independent India should be inclusive of these lowest strata of the society.

After independence, through the Indian Constitution, ‘civil’ rights were granted to all Indian citizens. Accordingly, every individual had certain fundamental rights. Besides this, the occupational restrictions imposed by the caste system were lifted, and citizens gained the right to take up any occupation or form of service of their own choice, and if required then migrate in order to find jobs of their choice. After independence, a policy centred on industrial growth in the metropolitan cities came into effect. The Dalit social groups who had suffered cruel oppression under the caste system in the cities, took the road to big cities (like Bombay and Pune in Maharashtra) in the hope of finding employment. But in a situation where they had no education and /or skills, dalit immigrants to the cities were forced to take up available jobs and to build huts in slums in order to live there. In this way slums or settlements came up in these cities, in which with rare exceptions mostly dalits or former untouchables, people from the nomadic and ‘de-notified tribes’, and over the course of time Muslims, were the main residents. These residents have to put up a tremendous struggle for civil rights and basic amenities.

In Indian society Dalit women are at the lowest level. In the everyday struggles of urban living mentioned above, they are in the forefront. They are the greatest sufferers from lack of civic amenities. Whether it is a battle for getting ration cards, or for roads, water or electricity supplies.

This seminar aims to discuss the concept of Citizenship and take account of feminist contribution to it. Along with the concept of citizenship it will try to trace its historical evolution and dynamics in modern India. It will also try to look upon the relation between caste, class, gender and citizenship with respect to women in general and dalit, muslim, obc , adivasi women in particular.

Organized by Advanced centre for women studies
sponsored by ICSSR

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