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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 13, March 20, 2010

Lohia and Empowerment of Women

Saturday 20 March 2010, by Radha Ojha


Empowerment is a continuous process. It realises the ideals of equality, human liberation and freedom for all. Women’s empowerment implies equality of opportunity and equity between genders, ethnic groups, social classes and age-groups, strengthening the life chances of collective participation in different spheres of life. Power is not a commodity to be transacted nor can it be given away as alms. Power has to be acquired and it needs to be exercised.1 Activists want the government to empower the poor people including women by legislative measures and welfare programmes. Unless capacity is built in those sections in reality, the power is used by others.

In my opinion, empowerment means self-esteem—self-reliance, self-confidence. Sometimes one thinks if this was there, it could have been done. If a woman is aware of her rights herself and her self-esteem is high, then she is empowered.

According to Lohia, participation of women in the policy and decision-making processes at the domestic and public levels is the most important indicator of women’s empowerment.2

I believe the goal of empowerment depends on a three-fold revolution. The first is to change the people’s heart. The second is to create a change in their lives. The third is to change the social structure. I do not aim at doing mere acts of kindness. I want both men and women to come out of the “psychological trap” in which they have got entangled.

Much more work needs to be done at the grassroots level. The village workers, by living and working alongside the villagers, act not merely as advisors or technical assistants but also work to promote a sense to self-reliance and communal responsibility amongst the villagers. This transcends divisions of family, caste, class, religion and gender. In working together the women can participate in collective decision-making at the community level. In encouraging the women to meet together for such purpose a forum is created wherein they gain confidence in their own abilities and collective strength. Thus they begin to make their ‘voice heard’ in community affairs and the Panchyat deliberations and the Gram Sabhas usually dominated by men.

The ultimate goal of empowerment of women based on Lohia’s vision of a four-piller state is the welfare of all through production in the economic sphere, equal participation in the political sphere, and mutual aid in the social sphere without regard to caste or class or gender. Thus, empowerment of village women cannot be imposed from above. It must grow from the bottom upwards.

In brief, empowering women socio-economically through increased awareness of their rights and duties as well as access to resources is a decisive step towards greater security for them. The 72rd and 73rd Constitutional Amendments on Panchayati Raj and Nagarpalika with 33 per cent reservation of seats in Parliament and States Legislatures will go a long way to let women have their say. In over half-a-century of freedom we have neither been able to clothe our women nor been able to provide them such basic necessities as secure and adequate number of toilets and shelter even in the Capital city Delhi. This problem was brought to our notice in 1953 by Dr Rammanohar Lohia. He said: “The problem of the majority of India women is the lack of water taps and latrines. The Indian woman is condemned to the drudgery of drawing water, often dirty and muddy, from distant wells or ponds and carry it home every morning and evening. She must also save her modesty by easing herself in the open fields either before sunrise or after sunset.”3 In brief, empowering women socio-economically through increased awareness of their rights and duties as well as access to resources is a decisive step towards greater security for them.

The present paper aims at presenting the multidimensional aspects of Lohia’s ideas on women’s empowerment.

Lohia was confronted with the problem of settling differences between human beings in a manner that upheld the oneness of humanity. Lohia was basically a man of practice, not a mere thinker. The full truth is that he was a practical idealist. He never lost the chance to remind his countrymen of the noblest ideals and specimens of humanity, and of womanhood in particular. He emphasised the fundamental oneness in life.

Presenting the actual condition of women Lohia said of all injustices plaguing the earth, the foremost are those arising out of inequality between sexes. Most of humanity suffers from one inequality but one-half of it is weighed down further. Women’s participation in collective life is exceedingly limited also in Russia and America which boast of having achieved equality between the sexes.4


Next to Gandhi it was Lohia who fought the most for the emancipation of women. It was his conviction that in the context of India mere removal of poverty was not enough. For Lohia of more fundamental importance was the removal of the segregations of caste and women. As he says, these two segregations of caste and women are primarily responsible for the decline of the spirit in India. It is wrong to think that with the removal of poverty, these segregations will automatically disappear. He emphasised on the need to start an all-out war on poverty and these two segregations.5

The condition of the majority of women is miserable in our country. They are the victims of cruelties. The fact is that an Indian woman is treated as a goddess outside and worthless at home. As far as her political freedom is concerned, it is complete in the sense that the Constitution provides her complete political equality but in social and economic spheres, barring a few exceptions, she is still subject to orthodoxy and dependence. Different standards are adopted to judge the individual and social conduct of men and women. Since for thousands of years the Hindu mind has been thinking in terms of superiority of the male, Lohia is in favour of such a revolution by virtue of which women become equal to men in all walks of life.6

Like Gandhi, Lohia wanted women to take an active part in the civil disobedience and other movements. To Lohia, a socialist movement with the active participation of women was ultimately responsible for the health of the race and the growth of the new generation. Women’s participation in the civil disobedience movement would help to eschew violence. With groups of women in the ranks of civil resisters, Lohia observed, the possibility of its degeneration into street-fighting or violence would be greatly minimised.7 To him, the woman is a truer agent of civil resistance than the man.

Sexual ethics based on the bondage of women ultimately creates all sorts of perversion. Only a frank, free and clear approach to sex can engender healthy ethics. While men have some sort of freedom in the matter of sexual relations, women are slaves to an age and each individual must discover a specific morality. It is a mistaken notion to think of the woman as merely a machine for producing children.8 He pleads for freedom in sexual relationships.

To him, just one illegitimate child is perhaps more decent than half-a-dozen legitimate brats. Women should be given some sort of liberty in sexual matters as are given to men. Lohia finds only two unpardonable crimes in the code of sexual conduct: rape and the telling of lies or breach of promise. There is also the third offence of causing pain or hurt to another which they should avoid as far as possible. Abortion should be permitted in an overpopulated country. Sterilisation should take place after three children and facilities of sterilisation, or at least birth control, should be made available to every man and woman, married or unmarried, who does not wish to risk pregnancy. People should revive their concept on ‘promiscuity’ if they wish to avoid rape, abortion, professional misconduct and the like in the man-women relationship.9

Lohia felt concerned over the fate of the coloured women because they suffer greater oppression. Coloured women, who are more numerous, are reared on a diet of anxiety and inferiority. Even as a little child, the dark girl, who may be sister to a fairer girl in the same family, has to get accustomed to neglect and treatment reserved for citizens of second grade. The female child suffers lack of opportunities for growth in comparison to the male child, and on top of that the coloured girl experiences an additional portion of shame, or at least the extra burden of an inferior position.10 Women should not be considered inferior on the basis of skin colour. “The colour of the skin is certainly no criterion of beauty. If any quality of the skin goes into beauty... that is, sometimes, seen perhaps at its best in China or among the ochre or wheat-like women of Africa, India and similar lands.”11

In order to emancipate women from the clutches of male domination, Lohia advocates preferential opportunity for them. As he says: “Certain disadvantages of earlier and bodily strength apply to women and the crust of centuries-old customs reduces her to the second sex. Giving her equal opportunity would not solve the problem of inequality between the sexes. When a group of people is held down by debility, physical or cultural, the only way to bring it up to equality with others is through conferment of preferential opportunities.”12

Present Situation and Conclusion

This infinite capacity of women to love and sacrifice has been exploited by the patriarchal society and for a long time women have been subjected to various kinds of atrocities. The Indian women who were deified during Vedic times have been brought down from the high pedestal to be mere objects. History has proved that as long as women are degraded a nation cannot develop and grow in the right direction.13 History is likely to judge the progress in the 21st century by one major yardstick—whether there is growing equality of opportunity among people, men and women; and among nations. This is entirely appropriate since the pace of development has been accompanied by rising disparities within nations and between nations, and gender disparities within nations and between nations, and gender disparity, despite a relentless struggle to equalise opportunities between men and women. As a step to bring down the disparity between women and men, it has been declared that the year 2011 be observed as Women’s Empowerment Year, Efforts are being taken to launch an integrated scheme for women’s empowerment through women’s self-help groups.

But despite sixtytwo years of independence, atrocities on women continue unabated. The crimes against women—rape, kidnapping and abduction, harassment for dowry, dowry deaths or attempts at physical or mental torture, molestation, sexual abuse etc.—are on the rise. According to a recent study, seventy per cent of the rape victims disappear from their homes. They leave due to the scornful attitude of their parents, relatives, threat and continued harassment from the offenders. The offender is mostly a known person and only four per cent of them are convicted.

The National Crime Records Bureau, in its report for 2007, documents that there were 513 reported rape cases in Delhi city. This was way above the number of cases reported in Mumbai, which stood at 171. Bangalore reported 62 cases, Indore 74, Pune 65 and Chennai 46. And this is just a count of those cases that were reported. There are several instances where rape victims in India suffer social stigma and live under fear of physical safety. This speaks poorly of both our society, which is deeply patriarchal in its attitudes, and our law-enforcing machinery. Instead of enabling women who have been victims of sexual assault cope with their trauma, large sections of our society often heap indignity on them.14 The daily newspapers are full of crimes against women and dowry deaths. The greatest tragedy of the present-day situation is that even after sixtytwo years of our freedom and development we have not been able to clothe our women.

Perhaps we should turn to Dr Lohia for guidance for he has already shown the path to reach the goal of women’s empowerment. He wanted men to realise that the empowerment of women is not a threat to them but a way to improve families and societies. His holistic approach to social problems, his stress on harmony with the self and society as against the fragmented approach to problems were small steps in the journey towards a more just and humane world of equal rights, equal opportunity and equal participation. His feminism sprang from a desire to create an ongoing dialogue for the dignity and rights of women. His espousal of the women’s cause provided it a moral legitimacy. He helped the woman find a new dignity in public life, which gave her a fresh identity in the national mainstream. In his own lifetime he was called the conscience of humanity.

Lohia always said: “Women have to be conscious and aware to feel and realise at every step of their life that they are builders of their nation and peaceful world.” His unfinished agenda is the biggest challenge before humanity. Hence, there is no doubt that Lohia’s cosmopolitan views on women can be of great relevance in reconstructing a more dignified identity for womanhood.


1. Meena Kelkar and Deepti Gangavane, “Identity, Freedom and Empowerment: Some Theoretical Reflections”, in Meena Kelkar and Deepti Gangavane, (ed.) Feminism in Search of on Identity: The Indian Context, New Delhi, Rawat Publications, 2003, p. 21.

2. Rammanohar Lohia, Caste System, Hyderabad, RML Samata Vidyalaya, 1986, pp. 102-105.

3. Ibid., pp. 52-54.

4. Rammanohar Lohia, Women, Harijans and Muslims, Vol. 2, No. 8, March 1958.

5. Rammanohar Lohia, Caste System, Hyderabad, R.M.L. Samata Vidyalaya, 1966, p. 7.

6. N.C. Mehrotra, Lohia—A Study, Atma Ram & Sons, Delhi, 1978, p. 181.

7. Editorial comment, Mankind, September 1956.

8. N.C. Mehrotra, Lohia—A Study, Atma Ram & Sons, Delhi, 1978, p. 182.

9. Mankind, February 1960, p. 56.

10.Rammanohar Lohia, Interval during Politices, Beauty and Skin Colour, Hyderabad, R.M.L. Samata Vidyalaya, pp. 138-39.


12.Rammanohar Lohia, Caste System, Hyderabad, RML, Samata Vidyalaya, 1986, pp. 145-146

13.Sudhir Varma, Women’s Development: Policy and Administration, Aakkh Publishers, Jaipur, 1992, p. 9.

14.Patricia Ireland, “Women Interrupted”, The Times of India, January 13, 2009.

Radha Ojha is a Research Scholar, Political Science, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. She can be contacted at e-mail:

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