In light of International Women’s Day, the team will focus on key interventions by women Constituent Assembly members that shaped our constitutional republic. We will showcase three women Assembly members all through March 2021.     

In the third post of the series, we highlight an intervention by India's first Scheduled Caste woman graduate as well as the youngest and only Dalit woman member of the Constituent Assembly, Dakshayani Velayudhan.  

On 28 August 1947, the members of the Assembly debated the need for electorates and reservations. S. Nagappa moved an amendment that required any candidate elected to the seat reserved for the Scheduled Castes to have obtained at least of 35 per cent of Scheduled Castes votes. Velayudhan responded to S. Nagappa in the following ways.  

First, she believed that Nagappa’s amendment was for all practical purposes a proposal for separate electorates. In separate electorates system, all votes cast by members of other communities lost their meaning, she argued. She disagreed with members who felt that they could only represent a particular community if they were elected through separate electorates.  

Second, she felt that a separate electorate system would draw too much attention to the Harijans. Velayudhan argued that they were not in a position to endure such attention and could be exploited or bought. She stated that this would lead to economic slavery and will defeat the purpose of having representative leaders from the community. 

Velayudhan’ speech is quite remarkable seen against the background of the Dalit political demands during the freedom movement. Constitutional and political documents like the The Political Demands of Scheduled Castes (The Scheduled Castes Federation, 1944) and Ambedkar’s States and Minorities, 1945 strongly demanded separate electorates for Depressed Classes. Separate electorates were a key flashpoint in the conflict between Gandhi and Ambedkar, that eventually was resolved through the Poona Pact compromise.  

 Velayudhan however, was sure that separate electorates would not greatly help in freeing Independent India from caste. Her opposition to the separate electorates created quite a fervour in the Assembly and Nagappa’s amendment was subsequently withdrawn.