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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 changes


First President (1977-1983)

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.



Pramila Dandavate, 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.


Second President (1983-1993)
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.


Prem Ahluwalia 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.


Suman Kurade 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.


Prem Khanna, 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.


Tara Punj 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.


In 1984 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.


In 1993 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 United Nations 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.


Chamma Kushwaha 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.


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