A female is constructed more by the society than nature itself. She is already burdened by stringent notions of gender. To unburden her, Ambedkar envisaged the Hindu Code Bill to restore dignity and basic rights to her. He himself came from a background where he had faced every inequality and thus knew the importance of equal rights. The Hindu Code Bill was the means through which he tried to give women a certain kind of equality in that highly unequal society.
The bill sought to change the system of inheritance to “Dayabhaga” in which inheritance is by blood relationship to the decreased rather than cognatic relationship. This provision allowed widows, daughters and widows of a pre-deceased son the right to inherit. Daughters were also to be given half the property in her father’s share. Ambedkar knew the dynamics of power and financial independence and thus wanted to empower the burdened or disadvantaged women by giving them the Right to Property and to inherit equally as men.
To reinforce equality in absolute terms, the Bill changed the law of women’s estate from limited estate to an absolute estate which was the prerogative exclusive to men earlier according to the Hindu law. The bill also provided for the treatment of dowry as a “trust property” the exercise of which would be done by the woman and she would be entitled to claim it. This would discourage the husband or his relatives to have any interest in that property and torment her for it. The provisions of the Bill shows Ambedkar’s deep understanding of Hinduism which was dominated by upper-caste brahmanical order. The bill sought to identify the problems within Hinduism and tried to give a solution. Ambedkar had understood the basic features of Hinduism, those which should remain sacrosanct at all times, thus without altering those he modified only those features which brought any inequality or disadvantage to women. The Bill while encapsulating the changes kept the basic features of Hinduism intact.
While keeping the provisions of “sacramental marriage” unaltered, the Bill validated “civil marriage” to break the barriers of caste in which the marriage will be valid irrespective of the caste of the partners entering into the sacred alliance. The new law mandated monogamy. Also, it changed the nature of marriage from indissoluble to dissoluble. This provision shows Ambedkar’s progressive attitude and an urge to attain equality for women. Women never had the right to divorce and thus were unwillingly tied to marriage bearing all tortures and torments while men could leave his wife or even remarry. This provision gave equality to women in marriage. The grounds of divorce were however fixed and not ambiguous that could disrupt the status-quo of the society.
The Bill embodied the rules of adoption, giving equal say to married man and woman in the case of adoption. The bill however, shows regressive character when it mandates the adoption by widow upon the positive instructions of the deceased husband asking her to adopt. The evidence of such instruction must be in form of a registered deed or by a provision in the will. The regressive nature of the will in this context is obscure. While each provision of the Hindu Code Bill is highly progressive, this provision seems to take the bill a step back reinforcing the dependence of women on men even when he is no more. It comes contrary to Ambedkar’s reformative nature which coerce us to debate the probable reasons in his mind when he drafted this provision.
In this compilation of Ambedkar’s speech, one could easily see the reflection of Ambedkar’s experiences of inequality that he had faced and seen around him. The piece shows Ambedkar’s belief in equality in society. He knew women if given equal rights can contribute the progress of the country. Through his experiences he learnt that society cannot be transformed by mere ideals or beliefs of equality unless they are legally enforced on people by state.