Jan 24, 2023
Celebrating 73 years of the Indian constitution: Rohit De, Barkha Dutt, and Rohini Pande on the constitution’s history and role in women’s empowerment in India
Every year on January 26th, India celebrates Republic Day – the day the Indian Constitution went into effect in 1950, after three years of drafting and debate by independent India’s first Constituent Assembly. The Indian constitution outlined a vision of radical transformation. It established equality before the law for men and women – granting women the right to vote, prohibiting gender pay gaps, criminalizing gender-based discrimination, and creating provisions to protect the interests of women and children. Seventy three years later, how is the Indian constitution protecting women’s rights and advancing gender equality?
In this episode of EGC Voices in Development, Rohit De, Barkha Dutt, and Rohini Pande examine how India’s Constitution has advanced the position of women, and where it has fallen short. This conversation is a special edition of Voices in Development, a podcast series from Yale’s Economic Growth Center exploring issues related to sustainable development and economic justice in low- and middle-income countries, with a group of inter-disciplinary experts coming together for the Yale Development Dialogues.
Rohit De, a lawyer and Associate Professor of History at Yale with a focus on the legal history of the Indian subcontinent, describes the origins of how the Indian Constitution addresses women’s rights, how those rights balance private and public spheres, and how they interact with caste, class, and religion.
“What does it mean for institutions to enter the domain of the family? Legislation in the bedroom is like a bull in a China shop.” - Rohit De
Barkha Dutt, one of India’s most prominent journalists, speaks about how the rights afforded to women in the constitution intersect with lived experiences of the women she’s spoken with in her reporting – especially the poor, survivors of sexual violence, and those marginalized during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I remember one point when the women's [affirmative action] legislation looked like it was going to go through, you had intersectional pushback from caste groups saying [it was] only going to benefit elite women. One politician… said, “this quota is only for… city-slicker urban women. It was, of course, a very misogynist statement, but it made us confront how complex the gender conversation is in India because sooner or later you will collide with caste identity, religious identity, class identity, and so on. I think when we look at women and the rights legally enshrined to protect them, it's a very paradoxical situation.” - Barkha Dutt
Rohini Pande, Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics and Director of the Economic Growth Center, draws on her research on women’s economic opportunity to discuss how India’s laws have succeeded in establishing certain safety nets and have failed to create others, especially with regard to women’s rights in the economy and the home.
“While I think paid maternity leave is a good idea, the way it's implemented in India tells companies they have a choice between expensive women and less expensive men. Even if you want companies to pay, you want them to pay a tax to the state and the state pays women so companies don't see this direct tradeoff between hiring women.” - Rohini Pande
This wide-ranging discussion touches on many aspects of women’s lives, including paid maternity leave, access to technology, freedom from harassment and violence, educational attainment – as well as broader economic trends in India such as the move away from an agriculture-based economy.
“For most people, even... when you agree on very little else, if you say 'is this constitutional?' that still frames the boundaries of conversations in India. Even when you can't actually execute what the constitution looked ahead to, the constitution is always a document of hope. It's a document for what India could be.” - Barkha Dutt