Musings On The Constitution-III
The inaugural session began at 11 a.m. with the introduction of Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha (a Supreme Court lawyer) , the temporary Chairman of the Assembly, by Acharya ( Jivandas Bhagawatram) Kripalani. While welcoming Dr. Sinha and others, Acharyaji said: “As we begin every work with Divine blessings, we request Dr. Sinha to invoke these blessings so that our work may proceed smoothly. Now, I once more, on your behalf, call upon Dr. Sinha to take the Chair. Occupying the Chair amidst acclamation, Dr. Sinha read out the goodwill messages received from different countries. (In January 2015, when US President Barack Obama visited India, he was presented with a copy of the first telegram sent from the US to India. It was sent by then acting secretary of state Dean Acheson to Sinha)
Sachchidananda Sinha J. B. Kripalani
After the Chairman’s inaugural address and the nomination of a Deputy Chairman, the members were formally requested to present their credentials. The First Day’s proceedings ended after all the 207 members present submitted their credentials and signed the Register. Seated in the galleries, some thirty feet above the floor of the Chamber, the representatives of the Press and the visitors witnessed this memorable event.
As to the composition of the Constituent Assembly, , members were chosen by indirect election by the members of the Provincial Legislative Assemblies, according to the scheme recommended by the Cabinet Mission. The arrangement was: (i) 292 members were elected through the Provincial Legislative Assemblies; (ii) 93 members represented the Indian Princely States; and (iii) 4 members represented the Chief Commissioners’ Provinces. The total membership of the Assembly thus was to be 389. However, as a result of the partition under the Mountbatten Plan of 3rd June, 1947, a separate Constituent Assembly was set up for Pakistan and representatives of some Provinces ceased to be members of the Assembly. As a result, the membership of the Assembly was reduced to 299.
The Assembly met for a total number of 165 days between 1946 and 1950. 46 days were spent on preliminary discussion in the Assembly and 101 days were spent on the clause by clause discussion of the draft Constitution. Approximately 36 lakh words were spoken during Assembly debates. Two-thirds of all deliberations were during the clause by clause discussion in the second reading. From November 1948 to October 1949, the Assembly met for clause by clause discussion on the draft Constitution. They met for 101 days during this period. Fundamental Rights were included in Part III of the draft Constitution. These were discussed for 16 days. 14% of the total clause by clause discussion was dedicated to Fundamental Rights. Directive Principles of State Policy were included in Part IV. These were discussed for six days. 4% of the clause by clause discussion was dedicated to Directive Principles. Provisions related to Citizenship were included in Part II. The drafting Committee scrutinised and revised the draft created by the Constitutional Advisor, Sir B. N. Rau and submitted it for the consideration of the Assembly. The Committee members frequently responded to comments made by other members during the discussion. This led to a higher participation by these members in the Assembly. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the drafting Committee, spoke the most in the Assembly .A few members who were not part of the drafting Committee participated extensively in Assembly debates. Five such members said more than one lakh words each.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly had this to say on 26 November 1949…“It has undoubtedly taken us three years to complete this work, but when we consider the work that has been accomplished and the number of days that we have spent in framing this Constitution, the details of which were given by the Honourable Dr. Ambedkar yesterday, we have no reason to be sorry for the time spent”.
A fascinating look at Keshava Shankar Pillai’s famous cartoon, during the Constituent Assembly proceedings. And in April, 2012 there was a raging controversy when this cartoon got included in Class XI Political Science course. That is after 63 years of its original publication. We are like that only. And mind you, Dr. Ambedkar answered the ‘delay charge’ in his winding up speech to the Assembly in a brilliant fashion.
Interestingly, during the entire tenure of the Assembly, 15 women were a part of the Assembly, of which 10 participated in debates. They contributed to 2% of discussions in the Assembly .The highest participation was made by G. Durgabai with nearly 23,000 words. She spoke extensively on the judiciary during the debates. Ammu Swaminathan, Begum Aizaz Rasul, and Dakshayani Velayudhan participated in debates on Fundamental Rights. Hansa Mehta and Renuka Ray participated in debates on justice for women in India.
G. Durgabai Ammu Swaminatahan Begum Aizaz Rasul
Dakshayani Velayudhan Hansa Mehta Renuka Ray
Compare this- there were 55 delegates invited to the Philadelphia Convention for the making of the US Constitution in 1787.Only 39 turned up to be ‘signers’. There was not a single woman among the founding ‘fathers’ in the United States. The wives of the top twelve of them are christened as Founding Mothers- as ‘influential’ women behind their husbands. Alas, women were still a long, long way away from the constitutional scheme of things in the US. We can be genuinely proud that no matter the status of women in our society may not be as commendable as it ought to be. Under the Constitution they were regarded as equals, with voting rights, under adult suffrage, from day one. Read what the puisne female judge and the oldest on the bench of US Supreme Court- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Jew, and all of now 87 years, (possibly waiting for Donald J Trump to lose to retire, as it is hugely speculated, as the US President gets to nominate a Supreme Court Justice) has to say on women in the US Constitution, “We have a 200-year-old Constitution, the oldest written constitution still in use, but only since 1971 have we had an evolving jurisprudence of equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities for women and men. The 1787 notion of "We the People," as Justice Marshall recently reminded us, was incomplete- indeed, it left out the majority of the adult population: slaves, debtors, paupers, Indians, and women. As framed in 1787, the Constitution was a document of governance for and by white, propertied adult males- a document for people who were free from dependence on others and therefore not susceptible to influence or control by masters, overlords, or superiors.....”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“Women's status under the law continued largely unaltered at the Constitution's centennial 100 years ago. In 1887, women were still thirty-three years away from securing the right to vote. And the fourteenth amendment, added to the Constitution in 1868, despite its grandly general, growth-susceptible equal protection clause, did not inspire feminists of that day. Rather, the amendment alarmed them; for its second section added to the Constitution for the very first time the word "male," and linked that word to the word "citizens." The suggestion seemed to be that, even if women counted as citizens, as they did for some purposes, they were (like children) something less than “full citizens.”” That was no mean achievement for a largely uneducated populace.
How many of us know or noted that Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar was opposed to the very idea of Constituent Assembly initially. As. Dr. Narendra Jadav says in his ‘Ambedkar: Awakening India’s Conscience’- “Dr. Ambedkar regarded it as a most dangerous project, which may invoke this country in a Civil War”. And then, Babasaheb gets to become the Chairman. History has its own ways of tweaking the individuals to its mysterious ways.
We may also need to know that Sanskrit as the national language was mooted by Dr. Ambedkar and seconded by many members, including T T Krishnamachari, Nazirudin Ahmed, Mrs. G.Durgabai, Mrs. Dakshayani Velayudhan, Dr. B V Keskar. And who opposed it, while going for the Hindi language?