Women's suffrage in India

Women's voting rights in India / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Women's suffrage movement in India fought for Indian women's right to political enfranchisement in Colonial India under British rule. Beyond suffrage, the movement was fighting for women's right to stand for and hold office during the colonial era. In 1918, when Britain granted limited suffrage to women property holders, the law did not apply to British citizens in other parts of the Empire. Despite petitions presented by women and men to the British commissions sent to evaluate Indian voting regulations, women's demands were ignored in the Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms. In 1919, impassioned pleas and reports indicating support for women to have the vote were presented by suffragists to the India Office and before the Joint Select Committee of the House of Lords and Commons, who were meeting to finalize the electoral regulation reforms of the Southborough Franchise Committee. Though they were not granted voting rights, nor the right to stand in elections, the Government of India Act 1919 allowed Provincial Councils to determine if women could vote, provided they met stringent property, income, or educational levels.

Between 1919 and 1929, all of the British Provinces, as well as most of the Princely states granted women the right to vote and in some cases, allowed them to stand in local elections. The first win was in the City of Madras in 1919, followed by the Kingdom of Travancore and the Jhalawar State in 1920, and in the British Provinces, the Madras Presidency and Bombay Presidency in 1921. The Rajkot State granted full universal suffrage in 1923 and in that year elected the first two women to serve on a Legislative Council in India. In 1924, the Muddiman Committee conducted a further study and recommended that the British Parliament allow women to stand in elections, which generated a reform on voting rights in 1926. In 1927, the Simon Commission was appointed to develop a new India Act. Because the commission contained no Indians, nationalists recommended boycotting their sessions. This created fractures among women's groups, who aligned on one side in favour of universal suffrage and on the other in favour of maintaining limited suffrage based on educational and economic criteria.

The Commission recommended holding Round Table Conferences to discuss extending the franchise. With limited input from women, the report from the three Round Tables was sent to the Joint Committee of the British Parliament recommending lowering the voting age to 21, but retaining property and literacy restrictions, as well as basing women's eligibility on their marital status. It also provided special quotas for women and ethnic groups in provincial legislatures. These provisions were incorporated into the Government of India Act 1935. Though it extended electoral eligibility, the Act still allowed only 2.5% of the women in India to vote. All further action to expand suffrage was tied to the nationalist movement, which considered independence a higher priority than women's issues. In 1946, when the Constituent Assembly of India was elected, 15 seats went to women. They helped draft the new constitution and in April 1947 the Assembly agreed to the principal of universal suffrage. Provisions for elections were adopted in July, India gained its independence from Britain in August, and voting rolls began being prepared in early 1948. The final provisions for franchise and elections were incorporated into the draft constitution in June 1949 and became effective on 26 January 1950, the enforcement date of the Constitution of India.

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