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Sansad TV: Makers of Indian Constitution- Rajkumari Amrit Kaur

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Introduction:

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur: She was the founder of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and argued for its autonomy. She was a firm believer in women’s education, their participation in sports and their healthcare.

About:

  • Amrit Kaur was the first woman in independent India who joined the Cabinet as the Health Minister and remained in that position for 10 years.
  • Before taking up the position of a Health Minister, Kaur was Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary.
  • During these 10 years, she founded the Indian Council for Child Welfare. She also laid the foundation of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Lady Irwin College in Delhi in the following years.
  • Born into the Kapurthala royal family, she was educated in Oxford and returned to India in 1918, and began to be drawn towards the work and teachings of MK Gandhi.

Independence Movement:

  • Kaur developed her inclination to politics during the time she spent with her father, who had close associations with many Congress party veterans such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale.
  • By the 1930s Kaur had ventured into the Indian freedom struggle. She strongly criticized Ramsay MacDonald’s 1932 communal award which presented separate electorates to several minority communities and oppressed castes.
  • At the 1932 All-India Women’s Conference, she moved a resolution to register their opposition to the award for ‘touching the womanhood of India’ and to unitedly push for joint electorates.

Imprisonment:

  • For her participation in various Indian freedom movements, Kaur was imprisoned by the British on multiple occasions.
  • During the Salt Satyagraha, she was arrested for her involvement from Bombay.
  • In 1937, she went to jail again – this time on charges of sedition.
  • Kaur returned to jail in 1942 for taking part in the Quit India movement.
  • The brutal lathi charge she went through during the process took a toll on her health. Eventually, she was brought out of jail and put on house arrest in Shimla.

Constitution Making:

  • She was elected to the Constituent Assembly from the Central Provinces and Berar province on a Congress ticket.
  • Though Kaur did not speak much during the Constituent Assembly proceedings, she was a member of important sub-committees in the Assembly and was instrumental in shaping many constitutional provisions.
  • She was a prominent member of the Assembly’s Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee and the Minorities Sub-Committee.
  • Within the sub-committee, she expressed her opposition to the inclusion of freedom to practice religion as this could give constitutional protection to various discriminatory practices such as purdah, sati, devadasi system etc.
  • Her protest was effective as the condition that freedom to practice would not restrict the State from making laws for social reform eventually found its way into the Constitution.
  • Kaur also voted in favour of the State framing a Uniform Civil Code. Though the provision was voted out, it was included in the non-justiciable Directive Principles of the State Policy.

Writings:  

  • Woman in India(1935)
  • Challenge to Women(1946)
  • To women(1948) etc.
  • She wrote Gandhi and Womenas an engagement with Gandhian principles, particularly concerning the question of women.

Independent India:

  • In 1947 she became independent India’s first Health Minister when she joined Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s interim cabinet and served in that capacity for ten years.
  • She was also the first woman member of the post-independence cabinet.
  • In 1956 she introduced the AIIMS Bill in Parliament, making way for the establishment of the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to raise the level of medical education within the country.
  • She was also a strong advocate of the nursing profession, pushing for the setting up of many nursing training centres.
  • Education and health remained the main focus of her work for the next several years. She was the Deputy Leader of the Indian delegation to UNESCO in 1945 and 1946.
  • In 1950, she became the first female and first Asian president of the World Health Assembly, and also led India’s delegation to the World Health Organization several times between 1948 and 1953.