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In search of the Missing Mothers: The women members of the Constituent Assembly of India, by Achyut Chetan

Monday, September 16, 2019 at 12:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

Constitutions across the world continue to flaunt the wisdom of their ‘founding fathers’, men who participated in august assemblies to draft the charters of their nations. In the case of India too, figures like B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Maulana Azad continue to hold sway in discourses, both academic and popular. This is a travesty of truth given the fact that women, though few in number, were important members of the Indian Constituent Assembly. These women, including Hansa Mehta, Renuka Ray, Amrit Kaur, G. Durgabai, Begum Qudsiya Aizaz Rasul, Dakshayani Veludayan are ‘missing mothers’ of the Indian Republic, whose names and contributions have been erased from the history of the making of the constitution.

This lecture will argue that these women had come to the Assembly, not through patriarchal benevolence, but that they earned their rights to be participants in the foundation of a republic. Most of them had a long history of being part of women’s organizations, both national and international, and practiced a form of constitutional politics even prior to their being elected to the Constituent Assembly.   They compelled the ‘founding fathers’ to include components of their feminist moral imaginary in the text of the Constitution. Expectedly, they gendered the debates, but their contribution was not limited to what is termed as the ‘woman question.’ Many articles of the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles owe their distinct features to their interventions and the constitutional text is replete with the authorial intentions of these mothers who have been missing from history.

Achyut Chetan earned his PhD for his research on the ‘The Missing Mothers of the Indian Constitution and the Gender Politics of its Framing’ from Visva-Bharati, the university established by Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan, India. He taught English literature at Visva-Bharati for a year before joining Santal Parganas College, Dumka as an Assistant Professor of English. He continues to teach there with a commitment to pedagogy as a means for social transformation in marginal areas, and with a special conviction in constitutional morality.

He is working on his book on the Indian ‘founding mothers’ about whom he has spoken at Columbia University, Brooklyn College, CUNY, University of Texas at Austin, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Presidency University, Kolkata.  A recipient of Sir Ratan Tata Trust Fellowship and the Charles Wallace Trust India Fellowship, Chetan is involved in a research on ‘Situating Indian Feminism in an International Frame: 1930 to 1950’ . Chetan was a Fulbright Visiting Fellow at the Department of History at Columbia University, New York (2011-12) and is presently a South Asian Studies Fellow at Cornell University.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program


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