The status of women has
been the central concern of many reform move¬ments before and
after independence. It could be said that Indian women’s movements
worked for two goals: one, liberation or uplift of women, i.e.,
reforming social practices so as to enable women to play a more
important and constructive role in society; and two, equal rights
for men and women, i.e., extension of civil rights en¬joyed by men
in the political, economic and familial spheres to women also.
However, not much was achieved. The status of women remained a
neglected sphere. It was around the 1970’s that the contemporary
women’s movement began to be more radical and active. Protest by
women in India against oppressive conditions started to become
vocal. However, there was no strong women’s movement. Atrocities
like Dowry Demands, Bride Burning, Sexual Harassment, Violence
against Women, Disparities in Wages and Job Opportunities,
Illiteracy of Girls, were the order of the day. It was in this
scenario that Mahila Dakshata Samiti took its birth.
Founded in 1977
by a group of enthusiastic and concerned women which included Dr.
Sushila Nayar, Pramila Dandavate, Suman Krishan Kant, Mridula
Sinha, Manju Mohan, Prem Ahluwalia, Indira Saxena and others,
Mahila Dakshata Samiti spearheaded the women’s movement in India.
Dr. Sushila Nayar
became the first President in 1977 with Pramila
Dandavate, as the Secretary. Under their dynamic leadership the
Samiti grew to be the leading women organization heralding many
Dr Sushila Nayar,
a Gandhian, was the first President of Mahila Dakshata Samiti, who
left for her heavenly abode on 3 January 2001 at the ripe age of
87 years. Dr. Sushila Nayar was in close contact with Mahatma
Gandhi since her young age until Mahatma Gandhi passed away. She
got involved in the Freedom Movement and went to jail. Dr. Sushila
Nayar felt strongly about the need for prohibition and linked this
to the domestic concerns of poor women whose lives were often
blighted by alcoholism in their husbands. She was also a staunch
campaigner for family planning, once again seeing this as
essential empowerment for women, especially poor women. In an age
when it was extremely difficult for single young women to have
careers, she managed by sheer grit and dedication to carve out a
life for herself without concessions to her gender or status. In
1952 she entered politics and served as Health Minister in Nehru's
cabinet. She was Speaker of the Delhi Vidhan Sabha from 1955 to
1956. In 1957 she was elected to the Lok Sabha and served till
1971. She was Union Health Minister again from 1962 to 1967. She
was the guiding force and a beacon of inspiration for the Samiti
in its formative years.
who was deeply committed to the cause of women and a champion of
women rights, was deeply distressed by the plight of the young
brides. The status of women in our country was being eroded. She
yearned to stop this violence against women. She gave a wakeup
call to all of us. The first Executive Committee was formed and
the kitchen tool- the Belan, became the logo.
Pramila Dandavate, who was one of the founders and second
President of Mahila Dakshata Samiti, was a veteran socialist.
She left for her heavenly abode on 30th December 2002, at the
age of 73, following a massive heart attack. Known for a frugal
lifestyle, Pramila Dandavate, a general secretary with Janata
Dal-Secular (JD-S), served as a Lok Sabha MP 1980-84 from North
Central Bombay. She had then participated in many agitations in
Maharashtra against the price hike, an era characterised by
latne morcha, taken out by a large number of women carrying
rolling pins. Pramila Dandavate was an able parliamentarian who
devoted her public life to women's empowerment. She stood for
Gandhian values all her life and championed causes that were in
the nation's best interests. A firebrand women activist, she
worked relentlessly for the welfare of women and their rights.
She spearheaded the women movement in the country and was
instrumental in bringing about the Amendment to the Dowry
Prohibition Act and the Sati Prohibition Act. Under her
leadership, many dharnas and demonstrations were organised by
MDS against the dowry system and price-rise. Our logo, Belan
(rolling-pin) and Thali (large steel plate) were used as
effective tools in demonstrations to raise our voice in front of
houses where women were burnt or harassed for dowry.
Suman Krishan Kant
member of the founding committee, was deeply anguished with the
reports in the media of brides being burnt and harassed for dowry
and chose to head the Anti-Dowry Committee. While the newspapers
screamed with reports of women being victimized for lust of easy
materialistic gains by way of dowry, Mahila Dakshata Samiti staged
demonstrations, armed with belans (rolling-pin)and thalis (large
steel plates), in front of houses where the girls were being
victimized by the in-laws. An effective measure, which was noticed
by the government and the media alike.
She was one of the founders, given the charge of Media and
Publicity and became its first Convener. Under her tenure the
activities of the Samiti got wide prominent coverage in both
electronic and print media. Be it the demonstrations, meetings or
seminars, Mahila Dakshata Samiti was well covered with front or
third page stories in the daily papers, helping the Samiti to grow
and spread awareness of rights of women nationwide.Later she
became the National General Secretary and organised several
meetings and seminars along with the then Presidents. She also
represented MDS at several platforms abroad and has been the
National General Secretary for over twenty years.
headed The Consumer Wing, who spearheaded the fight against
price-rise and other related consumer issues. The contributions of
the past office-bearers and members cannot be overlooked and to
name a few, Kailash Rekhi, former Vice President, who for years
took the reins from Suman Kurade, made a major contribution
towards the Consumer Movement.
who was not just the first Treasurer, but she was totally
dedicated to the cause of women and devoted all her time to the
organization. It was Pramila Dandavate and Prem Khanna who
together were responsible for starting Shilpika Haat, which gave a
means of livelihood to the struggling artisans.
took over as the Chairperson for Shilpika Haat and was also the
Treasurer. Tracing the history of the Samiti, the contributions of
Mridula Sinha and Shakuntala Arya, both Joint Secretaries, Suman
Dubey, who headed the Status of Women Committee, cannot be
overlooked and have been overwhelming. Manju Mohan, who in her
quiet unassuming way, devoted a lot of her time to the activities
of Mahila Dakshata Samiti.
Pramila Dandavate was elected as the 2nd
President and Suman Krishan Kant became the General
Secretary. MDS was particularly active in the 1980s in the
anti-dowry campaigns and anti-price-rise agitations. The Sati
Prohibition Law was passed on the behest of Mahila Dakshata Samiti.
Advocates Rani Jethmalani and Kapila Hingorani, our Legal
Consultants, were actively involved with our movement and took
care of all legal issues and cases. Ranjana Kumari and Satish Sood
also contributed to the cause of women empowerment during their
tenure as General Secretaries of the Samiti.
Suman Krishan Kant became the 3rd and present
President. Under her leadership the Samiti grew. From a
Delhi based organizations we grew to become a national
organization with branches all over India and abroad. It is due to
her effort that Short Stay Homes were constructed in Delhi and
other States. She was also instrumental in getting the
ECOSOC Special Consultative Status
for the Samiti. It is due to her efforts that Family Courts were
set up in the country. Suman Krishan Kant has been inspirational
for the members of the Samiti who have worked zealously and
relentlessly for the upliftment of women.
Mahila Dakshata Samiti has become the leading women organization
of the country.
being the secretary of MDS for almost 26 years started the Bal
Shiksha Kendras, Mehrauli branch still fully operational and
successfully run under her guidance.
She was also involved in relief Operations, be it Orissa floods or
Latur earthquake in Gujarat. Always ready to reach any place
devastated by natural calamities.