Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Vol. 14 Part-II): Clause by Clause 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 Ambedkar’s unpublished writings too.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 Ambedkar 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.
Part-I of the 14th volume covers debates on the Hindu Code Bill in the Constituent Assembly between November 17, 1947, and December 14, 1950. This 611-page document is the second part of the 14th volume, and has one section – Section IV in continuation to Part-I. It contains clause-wise discussions on the Bill between February 5, 1951, and September 25, 1951, following which Dr. Ambedkar resigned from the Cabinet. The document also provides, as an annexure, the text of the statement by Dr. Ambedkar (dated October 10, 1951) explaining his resignation.
The Hindu Code Bill – consisting of 139 Articles – aimed to reform and codify Hindu laws in India. It dealt with matters such as polygamy, inter-caste marriages, divorce, adoption and inheritance. An initial discussion on the Bill happened between November 17, 1947, and April 9, 1948. Following this, the Bill was referred to a Select Committee. After the Committee had suggested amendments and returned the Bill, it was further debated in the Constituent Assembly between February 11, 1949, and December 14, 1950. On February 5, 1951, Dr. Ambedkar asked for a clause-wise discussion of the Bill in the Parliament.
The discussion began with clause 2 of the Bill which dealt with the ‘Application of Code’. The clause stated that the Code would apply to Hindus as well as Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. It would not apply to Muslims, Christians, Parsis or Jews. This clause was opposed by many members of the Parliament, primarily because it was deemed discriminatory. The Bill should be made applicable not only to Hindus but “to all citizens who happen to be within our jurisdiction and for whom we can legislate,” said V.S. Sarwate from the state of Madhya Bharat. Banarsi Prasad Jhunjhunwala, a member from Bihar, presented an amendment to ensure that the Bill should apply to all citizens of India “irrespective of their caste, creed, and irrespective of their belonging to or professing any religion.”
Addressing such arguments, Dr. Ambedkar said that they were tactics for stalling the passing of the Bill. The proposed alternative of a Code applicable to all citizens lacked any firm or serious backing from the members of the House, he added.
Members including Naziruddin Ahmad from West Bengal stated that a “large number of classes who would not be ordinarily Hindus” were brought under that category in the Bill. Ambedkar responded by saying that religions fell into two categories: those with a legal system and those without one. The Hindu religion was one of the former. That the Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs follow Hindu laws was simply a result of “historical development.” Ambedkar added, “When the Buddha differed from the Vedic Brahmins, his difference was limited to matters of creed. The Buddha did not propound a separate legal system for his own followers; he left the legal system as it was.”
Members also argued that the Bill attacked Hindu beliefs especially in regards to divorce. V.S. Sarwate stated, “The very basis of the Hindu religion is the caste system and secondly the particular way in which marriage is held […] it is held to be sacramental and therefore it is said to be indissoluble. It cannot be dissolved.”
Ambedkar stated that the idea of marriage defended by certain members of the House did not meet “either the ideal of liberty or of equality.” He described marriage under Hindu laws as “polygamy for the man and perpetual slavery for the woman” and defended the provision for divorce in the Bill.
Arguments were also made on the constitutional validity of the Code. Members including Pandit Thankur Das Bhargava and J.R. Kapoor, claimed that the provisions under the Bill curtailed the Fundamental Rights ensured under Articles 15(1) and 25(1) of the Constitution that guarantee freedom to practice any religion without discrimination. Hence, the government had no right to interfere in religious practices. In response, Dr. Ambedkar asserted that the Parliament exercised authority over personal laws of all communities except their religion. “Let no community be in a state of mind that they are immune from the sovereign authority of this Parliament”, he added.
Despite extended discussions, the Bill failed to move further for consideration. In protest, Dr. Ambedkar submitted his resignation from the Council of Ministers on September 27, 1951. In the statement explaining his resignation, he stated that the Bill “was killed and died unwept and unsung.”
Focus by Kartik Chitrakar.
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 2013 reprint by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Delhi, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment