Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Vol. 14 Part-I): General Discussions on the Hindu Code Bill
Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956) was a scholar, social reformer, powerful advocate of the rights of Dalits and women, chairman of the Constituent Assembly of India, and the country’s first law minister.
In 1976, the government of Maharashtra set up the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Source Material Publication Committee to compile his complete works. The Committee consisted of the state’s then education minister and noted scholars and writers. In 1978, when Vasant Moon (Dalit activist, author and Officer on Special Duty) joined the Committee, it decided to procure and publish Dr. Ambedkar’s unpublished writings too.
The state’s Education Department started to publish a 22-volume series titled Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches in 1979, and it brought out the 14th volume in December 1995. The series was re-printed by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in January 2014.
Dr. Ambedkar contributed greatly to the Constituent Assembly, which convened from 1946-1950 to draft the Constitution of India (read its proceedings here). This 14th volume contains his Constituent Assembly speeches to ‘amend and codify’ Hindu law and includes the complete debate on the Hindu Code Bill introduced by Babasaheb on April 11, 1947.
The editor of the series, Vasant Moon, notes that the Hindu Code Bill was a step towards adhering to the constitutional guarantee of equality between men and women. The Bill was debated for more than four years, ultimately remaining inconclusive. To register his protest against the deliberate delays, Dr. Ambedkar – who was by then India’s first Minister of Law and Justice – presented his resignation from the Council of Ministers on September 27, 1951.
This is Part-I of the 14th volume, containing a general debate on the Hindu Code Bill, whereas Part-II comprises of a clause-wise discussion. The 786-page publication is divided into three sections. Section I presents the discussion on the Hindu Code Bill from November 17, 1947, to April 9, 1948, after which the Bill was referred to a Select Committee. Section II contains the full text of the Bill along with the amendments suggested by the Select Committee. Section III comprises of discussions on the Hindu Code between February 11, 1949, and December 14, 1950.
This section contains debates on the Hindu Code Bill, which attempted to bring together and codify Hindu laws relating to matters of inheritance, maintenance, marriage, divorce, adoption, minority and guardianship. In his introductory speech, Dr. Ambedkar noted that the rules of Hindu law were innumerable and spread over decisions of several High Courts and Privy Councils across the country, making their consolidation necessary. He proposed referring the Bill to a 19-member Select Committee.
Dr. Ambedkar expanded on the Bill’s various provisions, presenting explanations for his proposed reforms to Hindu laws. With regards to inheritance, Dr. Ambedkar stated that there existed two schools of Hindu personal law – Mitakshara and Dayabhag. In adopting the Dayabhag rule, the Bill ensured that a property held by the heir would be deemed their personal property, giving them the absolute right to dispose it in any manner they choose. Dr. Ambedkar incorporated certain changes to this rule, such as equal rank for “the widow, the daughter, the widow of a pre-deceased son” and the right of sons to inherit the stridhan (woman’s property). The Bill also ensured that dowry would be treated as a ‘trust property’ for the woman in which the husband and his relations would have no interest.
The Bill proposed that the dependents of a deceased person would be entitled to claim maintenance from those who inherit their property. Moreover, a wife was entitled to claim separate maintenance from her husband under circumstances such as abandonment, cruelty, or the husband’s conversion to another religion. The Hindu Code Bill stated that all marriages would be considered valid, irrespective of the caste or sub-caste of the parties involved. Specifications on divorce and adoption, such as the terms on which a divorce could be sought, rules for adoption, and more, were also discussed at great lengths.
Several members of the Constituent Assembly lauded the introduction of the Bill by Dr. Ambedkar, calling it “a progressive measure of reform” and “a great landmark in the social history of the Hindus.”
The second section presents the draft of the Hindu Code Bill introduced to the Constituent Assembly by Dr. Ambedkar, along with the Select Committee’s amendments to the Bill.
Introduced in April 1947, the Hindu Code Bill had 139 Articles categorised into nine parts covering its scope, definitions and application (Part 1); the forms and requirements for a Hindu marriage along with provisions for annulment (Part 2); the requisites and procedures for adoption (Part 3); minority and guardianship (Part 4); inheritance of property and joint ownership (Part 5); the nature and devolution of women’s property (Part 6); succession of property of both males and females (Part 7); dependants and maintenance (Part 8); and miscellaneous information (Part 9).
This section includes the discussions on the Hindu Code after its return from the Select Committee. These debates took place in the Constituent Assembly between February 11, 1949, and December 14, 1950. During these discussions, some members raised concern over the fact that a daughter’s share in inherited property was made equal to that of the son or the window. In his response, Babasaheb stated that in allowing daughters the right to inherit property, “we are merely going back to the text of the Smritis.” He added that there was no system of inheritance anywhere in India or the world that forfeited a daughter’s share.
A few members of the Assembly – including Jagjivan Ram, the then Labour Minister – questioned if the terms of the Bill would attack the very roots of the Hindu religion. On the other hand, most members firmly believed that the Bill must be passed. Sucheta Kripalani – freedom fighter and politican from Uttar Pradesh (then, the United Provinces) – stated that those who were proposing the view that the Bill was an assault on the Hindu religion were simply committing “a great injustice to their own religion” which would then remain “static and dead.”
This section ends with Dr. Ambedkar pressing for a clause-wise discussion of
the Bill, which is included in Part-II of the 14th volume.
Focus by Sayani Rakshit.
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
First edition compiled and edited by Vasant Moon
Second edition edited by Hari Narke
The first edition was published
by the Education Department, government of Maharashtra, in December 1995. This
is a 2014 reprint by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Delhi, an autonomous body
under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.