Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the question of women’s liberation in India – I

In 1998, the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre at the University of Pune had published an English translation of Pratima Pardeshi’s seminal text on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s thoughts and position on women’s liberation and rights in India. As part of our special issue to commemorate Ambedkar Jayanti 2022, we will be republishing the full 84-page translation in three parts, of which this is the first.


A note on the translation

The original text written by Pratima Pardeshi is a sixty page text in the series published by the Krantisinha Nana Patil Academy, Pune. The text, with a foreword by Member of Parliament Advocate Prakash Ambedkar is divided into three sections. The first section carries out a detailed analysis of the different ideological positions that emerged during the colonial period on the woman’s question in Maharashtra. The ideological positions are categorized into five major positions:

  1. The Brahmanical Revivalistic Position (represented by the line of thought that can be traced from Tilak to the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti in contemporary times).
  2. The Brahmanical Reformist Position (represented by Lokhitwadi, Agarkar, M.G. Ranade and others).
  3. Non- Brahmanical Reformist Position (represented by Pandita Ramabai, Maharishi Shinde and others).
  4. Non-Brahmanical Revolutionary Position (represented by Jotiba Phule, Tarabai Shinde, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and others).
  5. Marxist Position (which in collapsing caste into class is seen as adopting a brahmanical position). The second section of the text analyses in detailsthe position and thoughts of Dr. Ambedkar on the question of liberation of women in India. Section three, seeks to delineate the path that the non- brahmanical position on women’s liberation has traversed. This monograph presents a translation only of the second and the third sections though our readings of the first section informs the process of translation.

At the Women’s Studies Centre, there has been a constant endeavour on our part to undertake translation work of those texts which we feel are crucial to the struggle for creating alternative and liberatory knowledge. It is with this in view that the centre had earlier undertaken the translation of some important English texts into Marathi. In our interactions with Women’s Studies persons and activists in other parts of India, often there have been requests for translations of the important Marathi texts into English. This is specially true of texts on the caste and women’s question. We hope to undertake this activity as a part of building a network amongst all those who are seeking to develop counter ideologies and struggles against the brahmanical Hindutva position. Translations therefore are a political activity not only in the selection of the text to be translated but also in that it essentially is a step towards extended dissemination of knowledge. In the present translation though we have taken certain liberties in avoiding a word by word translation, there is an attempt to keep the original sharp political polemic and style of the original text.

– Sharmila Rege (Sociologist, and then Head of Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, University of Pune)

Author’s preface

There has been a flood of literature on the writings and works of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. This writing includes both the glorifying eulogies and the analytical essays on Dr. Ambedkar. The year of his birth centenary was marked by celebrations, both official and those organised by activist groups and various political parties and organizations. Several books, pamphlets and essays on the life and works of Dr. Ambedkar, those delineating his contributions and limitations and those seeking a reinterpretation of his ideas were published during this year. The Government of Maharashtra brought out the ‘Dr. Ambedkar Gaurav Granth’ which brings together his thoughts on important issues and events; conspicuous by their absence were his views on women’s liberation.

The brahmanical Right Wing platforms like the ‘Samarasatamanch’ distorted the original writing of Ambedkar and published pamphlets that claimed to be based on the ideas of Dr. Ambedkar. This brahmanical camp having always opposed the Hindu Code Bill, did not dare to articulate the views of Ambedkar on the liberation of women or else we would have had Rithamabara and Uma Bharti claiming lineage from the thoughts of Ambedkar! The Marxist camp published the booklet by Comrade Prabhakar Sanzgiri which stands by the earlier Marxist analysis of Ambedkar as at best, a liberal. It is therefore not at all surprising that this camp does not undertake an analysis of Dr. Ambedkar’s ideas on women’s liberation.

The dalit political parties and organizations claiming to be Ambedkarites have never taken a position on women’s issues. It is a matter of grave concern that the dalit movement, even today does not feel the need to give serious thought to the issues of liberation of women. Thus those claiming to be Ambedkarites have ignored what is an intrinsic part of his thought and writings. The result, patriarchal political practice and thus dissent and the formation of autonomous dalit women’s organisations. Feminist scholars, though they have exerted energies into interpreting and yet once again reinterpreting the writings of brahmanical men and women; they have neglected the works of Dr. Ambedkar which in a sense are the founding of what could be called the dalit feminist perspective.

To put it briefly, the birth centenary year saw speeches and publications on the little known and otherwise neglected ideas in the works of Dr. Ambedkar. His thoughts on the economy, on the Muslim community saw the light of the day but not those on the liberation of women. At this crucial time, at the turn of the century when the struggle for social justice is significantly posed, the views of the one who championed the cause of women, such that he even resigned as Law minister on the issue of the Hindu Code Bill, have been grossly neglected. In fact, there seems to be a conspiracy of silence on this issue and the reasons for the same need to be looked into.

It is against such a background that the present booklet seeks to trace the views of Dr. Ambedkar on the question of women’s liberation. The aim is not to eulogise Dr. Ambedkar but rather to trace through Mahatma Phule, Tarabai Shinde and Dr. Ambedkar the non-brahman revolutionary trend in women’s liberation and to develop this trend further for contemporary times. I do not in any way claim that this presentation is complete, many more issues and details need to be worked out. I am conscious of the need to further analyze some of the issues. Nevertheless, this is a beginning and the debates and discussions that will ensue will definitely lead to reworking of this text.

Several persons have guided me and extended their co-operation in the course of this work. I would like to express my gratitude to Prof. Ranjit Pardeshi, Prof. Gopal Guru, Dr. Surendra Jondhale, Kishor Dhamale, Saroj Kamble, Siddharth Jagdev among others. A special word of gratitude for Advocate Prakash Ambedkar for having spared some of his valuable time; amidst the sandstorm of the election, for writing the foreword.

An analysis of the thought of Dr.  Ambedkar on women’s liberation


The analysis of Dr. Ambedkar’s thought must be located within the different positions on the woman question that had developed in twentieth century Maharashtra. While some posed the question within a brahmanical frame, others placed within the confines of Hinduism. Yet others sought to link the question with the non-brahman thought of the period. The Marxist frame of class gave a voice to the women of the working classes. The non- brahmanical revolutionary stream of thought had launched an attack on three institutionalized hierarchies of caste, class and patriarchy. It is this stream of thought that is reflected in the works of Dr. Ambedkar. He drew out explicitly the links between the subordination of women and the caste system. This can be drawn out in details from the following issues that appear in his works and speeches.

  1. Women are the gateways to the caste system.
  2. The caste system consolidates further the subordination of women.
  3. Brahmanical culture is responsible for the subordination of women.
  4. The Hindu Code Bill as a counter to caste based patriarchal laws.
  5. Attempts to build a identity for dalit women.
  6. The rise of political consciousness among dalit women.
  7. Opposition to the violent practices against women.
  8. The political lineage and intellectual inheritance of Mahatma Phule.

Each of the issues will now be discussed in details.

Women as the gateways of the caste system

In his analysis of the caste system, Ambedkar refers to castes as being enclosed classes, to the origins of untouchability being located in meat eating and concludes that “the absence of intermarriage or endogamy is the one characteristic that can be called the essence of castes.” The most significant issue for us here is that in these discussions of caste, he painstakingly underlines the intrinsic relation between the caste system and the subordination of women. That is to say the factor of the subordination of women is intrinsic to Ambedkar’s analysis of the caste system.

According to Dr. Ambedkar, the idea of pollution or untouchability is not the key characteristic of the caste system. Instead it is endogamy which is the primary and key characteristic of the caste system. If we look into how endogamy comes to be maintained and perpetuated in society, we can discover the origins of caste. In societies that practice sagotra marriages, there is an absence of castes, however in India we find the predominance of castes. Dr. Ambedkar explains that castes emerged in the Indian context when differences (classes) developed within groups.

Dr. Ambedkar then raises questions about how practice of endogamy could have been maintained in a society. It was not possible to have maintained this practice through the mere issuing of a notice to all members, for when people and groups live in close proximity, it is but natural for them to mix and create an integrated society. How was this natural human tendency controlled and regulated so that the emergence of castes became possible?

Obviously it was important that such boundaries be created which could not ordinarily be transgressed by the people and so that marriages within the caste may be ensured. However the restriction of marriage to the caste group presented some problems. Normally the sex ratio in any given group is likely to be balanced that is to say men and women tend to be present in equal numbers. A severe imbalance in this ratio is likely to create problems as ‘surplus men’ or ‘surplus women’ are created. That is to say, if a wife dies before her husband, the man is rendered as a surplus man; if the husband dies before the wife, she is rendered a surplus woman. The group then faces problems; how is this surplus woman to de disposed?

According to Dr. Ambedkar, in order to maintain the sex ratio and perpetuate endogamy and thereby the caste system, four different practices were deployed. They are as follows:

  1. The practice of Sati.
  2. Enforced Widowhood.
  3. Enforced Celibacy.
  4. The Marriage of Child Brides with Older Men and Widowers.

Dr. Ambedkar then goes into a detailed analysis of each of these practices.

  1. The Practice of Sati: After the death of husband, the woman is rendered as a surplus woman and the balance in the group is affected. In order to avoid this imbalance of numbers, the woman comes to be burnt on the pyre of her deceased husband. Such a practice comes to be adopted because if the widow lives then there are several dangers; one, she was likely to marry another man from her caste group and thereby encroach upon the reserved right of young brides from her caste group. If she married a man outside her caste, the boundaries of endogamy would be broken down and therefore burning her live on the pyre of her deceased husband was seen as essential by the group. However it was not always possible to keep the caste group intact by practicing sati and therefore other practices also came to be deployed.
  2. Enforced Widowhood: Dr. Ambedkar argues that this practice of enforcing widowhood on women was a relatively milder one than that of sati. Any possibility of ‘immoral’ behavior from the widow was regulated through practices such as tonsure which were considered as making her undesirable. Further several restrictions came to be placed on her mobility and dietary habits etc. so as ensure that she did not pose a ‘temptation’ to the males of the group.
  3. Enforced Celibacy: The balanced sex ratio is for the groups who seek to become castes, a crucial issue. Since the balance is crucial for the possibility and perpetuation of endogamous marriages, Dr. Ambedkar argues that if the needs of the people cannot be satisfied within the caste group then they are likely to do so outside of the group. Thus the problem of filling in the imbalance in numbers of men and women of marriageable age in a group and the problem of castes is in the final analysis one and the same. Further, Dr. Ambedkar argues that a surplus man is not burnt in society by the sole virtue of his being a man. If the surplus man is thought to be a danger to the maintenance of the caste group, he is not burnt as the woman is. Instead, celibacy comes to be enforced upon him. Some widowers themselves chose to practice Brahmacharya or Sanyaas. However these practices go counter to the natural urges in human beings. If the surplus man continues to function within the group, he can pose a danger to the moral standards set by the caste group.
  4. Marriage of Child Brides to Older Men: A man who is celibate or who renounces the world is in a sense useless or as good as dead for the propagation of the caste group. Every caste has to increase its numbers in the race for survival and hence enforcing celibacy on the surplus man is an impractical practice. It would serve the interests of the caste groups better if the surplus man could remain in grihasthashram i.e. bride can be found for him from within the caste group. If the surplus man is to be kept tied to the caste group then finding a bride from yet to be marriageable age becomes the only way out. This keeps intact both the rules of endogamy and those of caste based morality.

Thus, in this manner, to make the emergence of caste groups possible, the imbalance in the sex ratio is taken care of through the practices of sati, enforced widowhood, enforced celibacy and mismatched marriages. These practices are exploitative for women and thus Dr. Ambedkar underlines the fact that castes are maintained through the sexual exploitation of women. It is only through the regulation and control on women’s sexuality that the closed character of the castes can be maintained and in this sense, Dr. Ambedkar argues that women are the gateways of the caste system.

Mixed marriages have always been opposed by the caste system; custom, religion and law alike have banned this practice. To draw out the argument further, Dr. Ambedkar in his writings on the philosophy of Hinduism discusses the issue in greater details. Quoting from the Manusmriti, he argues that Manu had a clear design for who could marry whom. The twice born in his first marriage had compulsorily to marry a woman from his own caste; in his subsequent marriages he had to marry women from the lower varnas. However the shudra woman could marry only a shudra man. Thus, Manu’s opposition to mixed marriage is apparent as is the fact that in the law of Manu it became regulatory to marry a woman from one’s own varna.

Dr. Ambedkar once again picks up the theme of mixed marriages in his analysis of religion. He asks the question “what may be called religion”? and answers the same “The co-existance of equality, brotherhood, freedom and justice may be called as religion”. He then goes on to discuss how Hinduism does not then qualify by this definition of religion and goes on to underline the utter absence of justice in the Naradsmriti and Manusmriti. For instance in both the Shruti and the Smriti the punishments that are prescribed are such that they vary with the varna. While for the same crime the Brahman paid in panas, the prostitute had to pay more panas, the shudra was publically caned. He thus argues that there is no equality and justice within Hinduism and that there is no scope for social mobility and that is precisely why mixed marriages come to be severely forbidden.

However despite severe regulations, if mixed marriages do take place then the law that regulates is patriarchal and biased. There are two kinds of mixed marriages; Pratiloma (hypogamy) and Anuloma (hypergamy). The latter refers to the marriage between a woman of the lower caste and a man of the higher caste while the former refers to the marriage between a woman of the higher caste and man of a lower caste. The Pratiloma form of marriage is not approved of because the woman has transgressed the boundaries of caste. Such transgressions on part of women could lead to a breakdown of the caste system and hence this form of marriage comes to be severely punished with ex-communication. A religious justification came to be put forth as an ideological ground for the banning of this kind of marriage. Several historical evidences for the same can be found. For e.g. Gail Omvedt in her work ‘Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr. Ambedkar and the Democratic Movement in Colonial India’ gives the instance of the marriage between the intelligent man of the malla caste and a Brahmin woman. The man in pursuit of knowledge goes to a Brahmin household and obviously fakes his caste for the same. Impressed with the brilliance of the malla man, the daughter of the Brahmin marries him. But on realizing that her husband was an untouchable, she commits suicide, for her marriage being a hypogamous one would be ostracised by society. This incident also reveals the near complete internalisation of the caste, racial and patriarchal domination by the women themselves. Omvedt in the same text brings out a very significant connection between the illegitimacy of pratiloma and the legitimation of the devdasi tradition.

She argues that the muralis and matangis were different from the temple dancers and did enjoy some amount of autonomy in the village. But the very matriarchal and matrilineal remnants of the custom were in the late feudal times used to institutionalise the sexual accessibility of dalit women for the high caste men. This accessibility of dalit women to the high caste when juxtaposed with the forbiddance of the relation between women of the higher caste and men of the lower castes reveals a significant sexual dialectics. This sexual dialectics informs caste interactions and behavior even today in the villages of India.

In conclusion, it is apparent that the caste system emerged through the imposition of several restrictions on women. Religious and customary justifications for these restrictions came to be put forth. It is this that leads Dr. Ambedkar to conclude that women are the gateways to the caste system. This theme appears not only in his writings on the origins of the caste system but also in his speech at the Mahad Satyagraha Parishad. Thus his views on the liberation of women in India may be summarized as:

  1. The caste system exploits women.
  2. Patriarchy also exploits women.

The caste system is hierarchically organised and the relation between the different strata in this hierarchy are organised on the principle of inequality and difference. Thus the exploitation of all women is not uniform and it differs by caste. This exploitation is intensified as one moves down the caste hierarchy; the exploitation of the dalit women is of a different nature than that of the high caste women. Thus from within a Phule-Ambedkarite position any claims to all women being dalit is only a rhetoric. To speak on behalf of all women is to deny the very core of Phule- Ambedkarism.

The caste system and the subordination and enslavement of women

The speech made by Dr. Ambedkar at the Mahad Satyagraha is important and needs to be looked at in further details, for it would not be an overstatement to say that it provides a statement of w at could be called dalit perspective on women’s liberation. In an analysis of the ways in which the caste system is responsible for the subordination of women, he argues that “the question of the annihilation of untouchability is more a issue for women than for men. You gave birth to us men and other people treat us even worse than they would treat animals….. at places even our shadows are not allowed. Others acquire positions of prestige in offices and government but we, born to you, are not even given the least of the prestigious jobs. For, we are considered to be of lowly status….How are we in any way different from the children of the kayastha and other savarna women sitting in this sabha? You must remember that you have as much of character as do the Brahmin women and yet why is it that their progeny is acceptable to all but those born to you are so insulted that they are denied even the basic right to be a human? Have you ever given this a thought? Why is birth from your womb considered a sin?” (Bahishkrut Bharat 1928, Speech of Dr. Ambedkar at the Mahad Satyagraha Parishad). The subordination of women in India is intensified through the subordination of class, caste and patriarchal systems. The caste system in the Indian context plays a major part in the subordination of women. The caste based division of labour, the caste panchayat, the caste based personal laws all go towards the subordination of women. In matters of marriage, divorce, remarriage, inheritance etc., the caste based laws and regulations seek to make women dependent on men and dispossessed. Within this frame of caste, dalit and adivasi women’s exploitation is more intense; a majority of them are landless agricultural labour. More of these women become victims of rape and sexual assault; the number of mass rapes of dalit women in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are cases in point. Moreover the state takes no notice of these rapes of dalit women by higher and medium caste men as these are thought to be natural and thus it is these women who continue to be raped. That the women of the ati- shudra castes have no honor and that they are but commodities for the pleasure of men of the higher varnas is an old injunction of the Dharmashastras. Therefore the atrocities against dalit and adivasi women are to be traced to the caste system and not to the class system. (Sharad Patil, Satyashodhak Marxwadi, Jan.1983). This analysis by Sharad Patil assumes significance in this context.

Thus, Dr. Ambedkar underlines the fact that the caste system is a system that exploits women and that this being a hierarchical system, the lower the position of the woman in the hierarchy the more intense is her exploitation. He makes the dalit women at the gathering conscious of their exploitation as women born in the lower strata of the hierarchy. By asking them to ponder on why their status is so different from that of the Brahmin women, he underlines to them the fact that the annihilation of untouchablity is their cause. In this context he calls upon them to join the struggle for the annihilation of the caste system. Thus through this speech, Dr. Ambedkar

  1. Sensitises the dalit women of the chains of caste in which they are bound.
  2. Underlines that women are the gateways to the caste system.
  3. Insists that women have a crucial role to play in the struggle against the exploitation of the caste system.
  4. Highlights the caste based differences and varying intensities of the subordination of women.

Thus Dr. Ambedkar establishes the fact that there is an intrinsic relationship between the caste system and the subordination of women.

Brahmanical culture: responsible for the subordination of women

Dr. Ambedkar, one of the key thinkers in the non- brahman tradition, himself categorises all of the Indian history, tradition, religions and culture into the brahmanical and the non-brahmanical. He also argues that the perspectives on women’s liberation can also be broadly divided into the same two categories. The brahmanical culture in opposition to which Dr. Ambedkar stood, justifies and supports the subordination of women. In his work ‘The Rise and Fall of Hindu Women’, Dr. Ambedkar undertakes a detailed analysis of brahmanical culture, texts and religious injunctions which push women into the dark valleys of enslavement.

Dr. Ambedkar argues that the birth of a daughter has always been a matter of sorrow in the Hindu family, since ancient times. The Buddhist tradition stood in opposition to this brahmanical tradition. The Buddha did not think that the birth of a daughter was a sorrowful event. To prove his argument, Dr. Ambedkar quotes from Buddhist literature, the dialogue between king Prasanjeet and the Buddha. Kind Prasanjeet, disappointed on the birth of a daughter, was asked the reason of his sorrow by the Buddha. On being told the reason, the Buddha gave Prasanjeet, a discourse on the same. The Buddha tells Prasanjeet that there is no need to grieve the birth of a daughter for, a daughter can prove to be a more effective progeny than the son. Your daughter, he continues, will become wise and virtuous. Through this dialogue Dr. Ambedkar seeks to underline the fact that the Buddha did not subsribe to gender discrimination and thought that girls too could be capable and virtuous.

Brahmanical culture denies women the right to knowledge

Dr. Ambedkar highlights the fact that the Buddha allowed the entry of women in the Sangha. Hindu religion on the other hand denied women all access to knowledge and the right of renunciation was denied to shudras and women. The reasons for this are traced to Manu’s dictum that women did not have a right to learn the Vedas and therefore even the performance of the Samskaras for them be done without the chanting of the Vedic mantras. According to the Vedic religion the chanting of the Vedic mantras absolves sin, but since women were not allowed to study these Vedic texts, the brahaminical culture deemed them to be in a perpetual state of untruth and sinfulness. Dr. Ambedkar was not in agreement with this and he argues that this dictum of Manu was in keeping with the tradition of the brahmanical texts that came before him. This brahmanical dictum on women, he argued would lead to the downfall of women in India; for partaking in the process of knowledge making is the natural right of all humans and as such has been withdrawn from women by the Brahmins without any logical reason for the same. Thus, women had to forego the right of spiritual growth and knowledge. The brahmanical culture believes that a man who has no spiritual knowledge is closer to God than all others by the virtue of being a man. Why is this so? Why is this not true for women? asked Ambedkar to all the champions of brahmanical thought.

According to Dr. Ambedkar, the brahmanical camp has in the sphere of knowledge caused two grave injuctices to women. These were abolished by the Buddha. The Buddha allowed women the access to ‘Parivraja’ and thus at once brought an end to two kinds of injustices.

  1. Women could partake in the processes of knowledge as could men.
  2. Women could experience spiritual enlightenment. Thus, Dr. Ambedkar concludes that the Buddha freed the Indian women from their enslavement and brought about revolutionary changes in their lives.

Brahmanical culture denied women the right to freedom, the Buddha however grants freedom to women. This freedom, Dr. Ambedkar argues, was not superficial and women could enjoy this freedom to their minds content. He quotes in support of his argument the dialogues of Mukta, the Brahmin woman who became a bhikshuni, “Aha! I am really free and there are no limits to my freedom”, says Mukta. To which another Brahmin turned bhikshuni woman replies “As I sit in meditation on this rock every day, the breathe of freedom flows ceaselessly over my spiritual dedication”. Quoting thus, Dr. Ambedkar argues that the Buddha by allowing the women to enter the Sangha, propagated the cause of women’s freedom. By breaking the shackles of gender discrimination not only did the Buddha throw open the path of excellence to women but also paved the way for granting women a status equal to that of men.

He further argues that in ancient India, women enjoyed a high social status. Women were in the forefont in the political process as also in the social and intellectual spheres. They had the right to initiation or upanayana and could chant the Vedic mantras. Quoting from Panini, he gives instances of women who excelled in the Vedas and who could debate with men on issues of religion, philosophy, the origins of the universe and the development of knowledge. The debates of Janaksulabha, Yajnavalkya and Gargi-Maitreyi and Shankaracharya and Maitreyi are well known. That it is to say that women have not always been exploited, there were times in which it was possible for them to reach the peaks of success. Dr. Ambedkar underlines the fact that probably India was the only society in which women enjoyed such a high status.

In the first volume of ‘Dasa-Shudra Slavery’, Comrade Sharad Patil also notes that in ancient societies women were in the forefront in matters of political governance. He argues that the simple tribal societies in ancient India were matriarchal societies. Comrade Sharad Patil refutes the feminist assumption of women being always and already subordinated. To say that societies were matriarchal is not to accept the Marxist notion of primitive communism. The matriarchal societies were gendered and differentiated societies. Women in these societies had a right in the distribution of the communal lands, in governance and priesthood. This is probably because it was women who discovered hoe agriculture. Thus, in these societies the reins of governance were in the hands of women, yet, this did not mean that these societies were egalitarian. These societies were both gendered and politically differentiated. This thesis of Comrade Patil is in keeping with the views of Dr. Ambedkar on the status of women in ancient India. Dr. Ambedkar underlines the fact that this status for women was limited to the pre-Manu era.

Dr. Ambedkar argues that Manu is responsible for the downfall in the status of women. He puts forth evidence for the same by quoting from the Manusmriti. For eg. by the rule 2-213 in the Manusmriti, “The essential character of a women’s life is to tempt and corrupt men”. While the rule 2- 214 says that “Women can lead astray and make slaves to anger and lust not only foolish men but also the most learned of men.” Rule 2-215 claims, “None should remain alone in the company of his mother, sister and daughter, for the senses predominate and can pull even the most learned of men into their web”. 9-14 claims, “Women care not for the beauty of men, they will throw themselves into the arms of any man”. Thus through these rules Dr. Ambedkar seeks to underline the lowly status that Manu pronounced upon women.

Manu also stands in opposition to freedom for women. Rule 9.2 claims, “Men must keep a watch day and night over all the women in their family.”

9.3 underlines “Women are not worthy of freedom”.

9.6 claims, “Taking into consideration the highest duty of all castes it is imperative that the most sissy of husbands must also keep their wives under their thumb.”

Manu further stands in opposition to granting women the right to property and divorce. He justifies the atrocities on women. He codifies the law that denies the woman the right to separate from her husband. Thus he binds the woman to her husband while granting the man the freedom that he desires. The man had the right to divorce his wife under the slightest of pretexts. So also he equates a woman’s status to that of a slave in matters of right to immovable property and does not recognize the widow’s right to property. Dr. Ambedkar condemns this.

Dr. Ambedkar argues that the Law of Manu which denied women the right to property and gave them a lowly status, was in keeping with the Brahmanical religion. Dr. Ambedkar claims, “Manu codified the position of the Brahmins on the status of women which had developed after the rise of brahmanical religion”. By the law of Manu social practices assumed the form of religious injunction and came to be enforced by the king. Women and the Shudras were the base of the Aryan (brahmanical) religion and therefore all kinds of laws came to be enforced upon them. The severe forbiddance of mixed marriages that Dr. Ambedkar explicates is a major case in point.

Thus, Dr. Ambedkar explains how Manu comes to cause the downfall of womenkind. He underlines how the brahmanical culture and religion are misogynistic. On the other hand, he sees Buddhism as a champion of women’s freedom, as denying gender discrimination and granting to women access to knowledge and liberation. It is important to note the fact that in his embracing of Buddhism, these tenets of Buddhism which were liberatory for women have played a significant role.

(The rest of this text will be published over the next two days.)

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