Special Story : Hansa Jivraj Mehta, a freedom fighter who fought for gender equality

New Delhi: Born on July 3, 1897, to the Dewan of Baroda Manubhai Nandshankar Mehta, Hansa Mehta was a reformer, educator and a prolific writer. She studied journalism and sociology in England. Hansa married Jivraj Mehta, the Chief Medical Officer of Baroda, who had briefly been Mahatma Gandhi’s doctor.

Mehta was one of the 15 women members of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution of independent India. As a member of the Advisory Committee, Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights, Provincial Constitution Committee, she advocated for equality and justice for women in India.

Passing laws including the Sarda act that forbade child marriage, movements that ensured birth control for women and education for all women were championed by Mehta.

Mehta’s contribution to the Constitution and nation-building were towering. On August 14, 1947 members of the Constituent Assembly gathered and waited for the clock to strike 12. Right after midnight when then President Rajendra Prasad took the pledge of freedom, Mehta presented the country’s first national flag on behalf of the women of India.

Even before her stint in the constituent assembly, Hansa Mehta had made her mark as an educationist, writer, feminist and reformist.

Hansa Jivraj Mehta : 1st from the left

A prolific writer, she wrote books for children in her native Gujarati and in English and translated books to Gujarati, including Gulliver’s Travels.

As an educator, she fought for continuing education for both boys and girls, set up home sciences as a university subject, and started a post-graduate school of social work.

A staunch feminist, Hansa Mehta drafted the Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties during the 18th AIWC session in Hyderabad in 1946. The charter demanded that women be treated as equal to men, and be given the civil rights, education, health on par with the men. The charter also called for equal pay, equal distribution of property, and equal application of marriage laws.

She also served as the First Lady of Gujarat, when her husband Jivraj Mehta became the first chief minister of the state in 1960.

She served as the Indian delegate to the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) from 1947-48. She is widely credited with making a significant change in the language of Article 1 of the UDHR, by replacing the phrase “All men are born free and equal” to “All human beings are born free and equal”.

Hansa was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1959. She remained the staunch educationist, reformer and feminist who believed in equal rights for everyone till her death on April 4, 1995.