On the occasion of World Human Rights Day, here’s celebrating the men who made the world a better place for women by standing strong despite societal ‘norms’, barriers and stereotypes, and fought for women's rights.
On December 10, 1948, the United Nations honoured and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and marked this day as Human Rights Day. 70 years later, we enjoy a freedom today that has been guaranteed by the Constitution that does not separate communities by race, colour, caste, sex, language, political choices or any other social norms.
India experienced a significant absence of human rights until 1947 that marked the end of the British era, and again during Indira Gandhi’s declaration of Emergency in the 1975. While the struggle has been real for the entire society, there was a more intense effort that had to go into the liberation of women.
Before we attained independence, both men and women fought for our rights, but some heroes actually brought about a change in the situation of women in our country. This led to a rise in feminist movements, with the help of which women stood up against discrimination.
These men tirelessly fought for women’s rights and made this country a better place for women.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1774-1833)
One of the early abhorrent Indian practices was Sati, a ritual that forced a widow to sacrifice herself at the funeral pyre of her dead husband. Prominent among the voices raised against this barbaric practice was that of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who fought to abolish this system. Ram Mohan Roy created the Bramho Samaj, that sought to break the shackles of the caste system, and the fight against Sati that saved the lives of many women. He also advocated for property rights for women, and fought child marriage.
Manockjee Cursetjee (1808-1887)
As a member of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Geographical Society, Cursetjee saw firsthand the injustice meted to women through his years of educational and professional experience. In 1859, he started the first English school for girls in India in Mumbai, initially at his house, with the staff comprising an English governess and his daughters. This initiative gained support, and Cursetjee moved the school to another premises and named it the Alexandra Native Girls’ English Institution. The school was open to girls from all castes. Cursetjee remained the president of the school up until his death in 1887. The word ‘Native’ was dropped from the name and the school still functions to this day, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2013.
Jyotirao Govindrao Phule (1827-1890)
Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was an Indian activist and reformer who brought about a drastic change in the lives of women in society. During his time, women belonging to lower castes were not allowed to attend school and receive an education. He vowed to change that, and began by educating his wife. Together, they started their first school for girls, despite being ostracised by their families. He advocated widow remarriage and also started an orphanage to reduce the incidence of female infanticide, which was common among families who had girl children.
Behramji Malabari (1853-1912)
Behramji Merwanji Malabari, hailing from Vadodra, was an Indian author and reformer who battled for the rights of women and stood firmly against child marriage. He expressed his feelings through his powerful writing on enforced widowhood and child marriage. In 1885, a girl named Rukhmabai was forced to return to her husband or be jailed by a certain Judge Pinhey, but she won the case with Malabari’s help.
Dr BR Ambedkar (1891-1956)
Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution is renowned for championing the rights of Dalits and their upliftment in society. Apart from this, he was responsible for the introduction of the Hindu Code Bill - which allowed women the right to file a divorce petition, and the right to inheritance. Despite strong opposition by conservative members of the Parliament, he stood his ground, to allow broadening of the freedom of the individual and equal rights of men and women in society.
While these five men fought relentlessly to provide equal rights to women, continuous change will happen only when men stand shoulder-to-shoulder with women in their fight for equality and human rights. Only then, will the world truly become a better place to live in.