AIWC  and  its  role  in  Dalit  upliftment (1927-1947 A .D)

More on Portrayal of Women in Social World

         In the early 19th century women occupied a very low status in Indian society.Customs such as sati, child marriage and pologamy were widely prevalent.
Widows from the upper castes were prevented from re-marrying and their condition was pitiable.Denied education, vocation and social, economic and political rights,she was wholly confined to the four walls of the house. In poorer families,strenuos daily chores took toll-women fetched wood and water, collected roots, fruites and vegetables, carried food for the menfolk in the fields. Even so, women in the lower rung of society enjoyed greater freedom, not because their people were more liberal or permissive but because economic conditions did not allow them to remain indoors. Women from the middle and upper classes faced greater constraints upon their personal freedom. However the prosses of their socialisation was so strong that the seemed reconciled to this state of affairs and silently accepted their ‘fate’.
  • All India Women’s conference (AIWC)  :
            By the end of the 19th century, women were gathering courage to challenge society vis-à-vis their status. Many hailed from reformist families and they formed their own organisation and , in fact, the emergence of rudimentary women’s movement in India can be traced from this time.Swarnkumari Devi,sister of poet Rabindranath Tagore played a pioneering role at the time, organised the Sakhi Samiti in 1882. And then, Arya Mahila Samaj , Sharada Sadan,Seva Sadan,Gujarati Mahila Stree mandal, Mahila Sewa Samaj and Bharat Stri Mahamandal were started in different regions of India.
The All India Women’s Conference(AIWC) was formed in 1927. Dr. Muthulaxmi Reddy, the first woman medical greduate of Madras was one of the founding members of the AIWC. The first All India Women’s conference on \Educational Reform was held at Poona from 5th  to 8th January,1927.(1) The Irish lady Margaret Cousins, Sarojini Naidu, Begum Saheba of Bhopal, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, Sarala Ray, Rajkumari Amritkaur were the founders of AIWC. At the opening session, about 2000 persons assembled in N.H. Wadia Amphitheater Hall of Fergusson College. Her Highness the Maharani Saheb Chimnabai Gaekwad of Baroda state was the first President of AIWC.
By the mid 1930s the AIWC claimed a membership of over 10,000 women.(2)
  • AIWC  and Dalit upliftment :
Lady Hirabai Tata was the first to bring the issue of removal untouchability at the 4th session in January 1930. Hailing the bill drafted by M.R.Jayakar the relieve the untouchables of their disabilities, she expressed the hope that the crusade ‘to do away with the relics of this most regrettable custom’ would be a success.(3)  A resolution supporting Mr. Jayakar’s bill was passed(4)  From this time on, the campaign to eradicate untouchability gained momentum.
In 1931, the Madras Constituency passed a resolution sympathising with the demand of the backward classes to secure entry into temples, and R.K.Sanmukhan Chetty proposed a bill to remove the disabilities of untouchables. Both were heartily supported. A double action plan was decided upon to educate public opinion on this issue and to get the help of cental and provincial governments to secure for them citizens’ rights.(5) The years 1932 and 1933 saw radical suggestions from the Conference to do away with untouchability. The caste system was identified as being the root cause of evil and a call was given for its eradication, as set out by Mahatma Ganthi.(6) In 1933, specific areas of effort were identified. The AIWC desided to fight for the entry of the untouchables into temples, their use of roads and wells, equal opportunies for admission to schools and public institutions. This was taken up with greater zeal in the south. Both the legislators as well as social workers were involved.(7)
The problem of untouchability was also discussed at great length at the Madras session in 1932 when the resolution on the subject was brought up by Vinodini Neelkanth. The members felt that the caste system was man made and due to the resultant problems, many untouchables had converted to other religious deplething the population of Hindus. There was no improvement of their lot either mentally, physically or socially.(8)
In July, 1939, the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple at Madurai was opened to Harijans. Soon after, temples in Tanjor, Kuttalam and other places were also opened as a result of an intensive campaign conducted by the Harijan Sevak Sangh.Rameswari Nehru member-in-charge Harijan welfare, toured Tamil Nadu and held numerous meeting where thousands of upper caste persons gave support to the cause of the right to temple entry. These temples were opened with the full support of the people, but without the pressure of any law. Later the Temple Entry Act was passed by the Madras government. An ordinance was issued by the governor safeguarding individuals from prosecution.
The AIWC was busy: night schools  for Harijans were opened, quarters were arranged, uniforms and clothing were provided for people in municipal employment. Government increased grants for education and many boys took advantage of this.(9) The Calcutta branch was running a Harijan Bal Mandir where free medical check-up was provided.
Rameshwari Nehru was one of the silent workers of the Conference from its second year. She made the cause of Harijans her own and travelled all over India and convinced many by her sincerity and by the justice of the cause she had undertaken.(10)
Members were urged to:
(a)  keep atleast one Harijan domestic for work other than for sweeping and cleaning toilets,
(b) invite Harijan for social and religious function and to adopt one Harijan family,
(c) regulary visit Harijan bastis in town and villeges and approch government and local bodies to redress the grievances of  Harijan by carrying on vigorous propganda,
(d) direct efforts towards reducing to the minimum the human agency for sanitation work;
(e) discourage the provision of separate quarters for Harijans.
(f) organise talks and lectures to halp Harijans to get rid of their inferiority complex;
(g) give halp to educate Harijans;
(h) make efforts so that all schools, hospitals, hotels, wells, temples and other such public places were opened for them.(11)
Already in Mysore, Harijans were being admitted to schools and colleges. In Cochin, per cent of Harijan women were literate. An official designated the protector of Harijans was appointed and they were were called the privileged class. The same was true of Travancore.(12)
However,  the pace of Harijan welfare was not satisfactory and as member-in-charge Meheraben Jhabwala said, unless the barriers between Harijans and other communities were removed, no progress was possible.(13)
  • Conclusion:-
The All India Women’s Conference complited eighty five years in 2012. This article focuses on the effort of the AIWC in field of social work, especially Dalit upliftment.The Conference played a notable part to remove untouchability.
Gandhiji told the standing committee members of the All India Women’s Conference in 1935, “ the All India Women’s Conference to be true to its name , has to descend to the villages. What is needed is a personal touch with the village women. Even when, if ever, it is establised, the task will not easy. But some day or other the beginning has to be made in that direction before any result can be hoped for. Will the AIWC make common cause with them?
Today, the AIWC has over a 1,00,000 members in more than 500 branches throughout the country.
  • Foot Notes :-

(1)  Leela Kasturi & Vina Mazumdar (edi.), Women And Indian Nationalism,Vikas Publication House Pvt Ltd., New Delhi, First edition, 1994, p-p 75-78’ 94-109
(2)  Forbs Ggeraldin,Votes for women, in Vina Mazumdar, (ed.) Symbols of   Power, Allied Publishers, Bombay, 1979,p- 54
(3)  AIWC Annual Report 1930, P-18
(4)  Ibid, p-41
(5)  AIWC Annual Report 1931 p.p- 42,69-70
(6)  AIWC Annual Report 1932, p.p -71-74, 1933,p-20
(7)  AIWC Annual Report 1933,p.p-60-65
(8)  AIWC Annual Report 1933,p.p-71-74
(9) AIWC Annual Report 1941,p.p-5
(10)  AIWC Annual Report 1941-42,p.p-83-84
(11)  Ibid-p-87
(12)  AIWC Annual Report 1946 p-42
(13)  AIWC Annual Report 1947,p-27


Dr. Manisha Parmar (G.E.S.)
Asst.Professor, History Dept.
Gujarat Arts & Science College.