By Dr. Sohail Ansari
All India Women’s Conference was held in Karachi in January 1935, presided by Mrs. Hilla Rustomji Fairdoonji.
Prominent among its delegates were Maude Royden and Margery Corbett Ashby who were the World Leading Suffragate figures.
Margery Corbett Ashby wrote this article:
Dr. Royden, the famous preacher, and I, had a marvellous flight to India, five days and nights smooth travelling brought us to Karachi, the gate of India, in the cold dawn of a clear moonlight night to find our kind friends waiting with garlands and bouquets at 3 a.m. We were plunged at once into the work of the All India Women’s Conference, 200 delegates were gathered from all India, different in race, creed, color and language, but united by an intense national unity which conquered even the differences of creed and caste. This Conference is the seed of a new and united India.
We brought the greetings of the Alliance to the first meeting, and an invitation to India to send a full delegation to Istanbul, and the response has been splendid.
The Conference divided its resolutions into general educational, social, and labour resolutions. Most of the speeches were in English, others in Urdu and Hindu.
The women are bitterly disappointed in the new constitution and protested against it as a whole in a reasoned statement. They do not approve of the vote being given to wives of property owners, but want the simple qualification of literacy for all provinces alike. They dread the woman’s movement being dragged into communal strife which they have been able to avoid hitherto.
They suggested practical amendments to the Sardar acts which forbids child marriage, but which is not enforced. One mother in four, we were told by a man, dies in childbirth, “it is child murder not child marriage. The women, too, want a government inquiry into the legal disabilities of women for, alas, the Moslems have in many places adopted the worse customs of the Hindus.
After a lively discuss!on on co-education, a resolution in favour was carried unanimously; also for primary education which alone will enable the girls of the villages to get any education, but the need for more women teachers is great.
Reports of the work done during the year varied enormously from province to province. A commission of inquiry into the position of women working underground in the mines came regretfully to the conclusion that they must be excluded as the effect on the children was too bad, but they insisted that alternative labour, for instance, basket making for the miners must be introduced. Another inquiry was made into the effect of opium eating on the population.
The resolutions were practical and carefully prepared, and the discussions were lively and well informed.
This strenuous work took place against a background of tremendous hospitality and entertainment. We have been privileged to see India at play as well as at work. We enjoyed a tour of Karachi under the guidance of Mr. Jemshid Meta, nine times mayor, and saw the admirable lay-out of the city and its institutions. We picnicked in real Indian fashion, 200 of us, on the beautiful beach, and in the evening Karachi girls gave us Indian music, orchestral and vocal, and admirable acting of an old Sind legend. Garden parties, luncheons and dinners enabled us to meet endless interesting people, ending in a lunch in Mr. Mohata’s lovely palace by the sea, where in true Hindu fashion we ate out of tiny silver bowls on a silver tray. Our kind hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Katrak, placed their lovely town house at our disposal and overwhelmed us with kindness. Everywhere Hindus, Moslems, Parsees and Christians worked, played and ate together.
Each host and hostess and their circle of friends added to our knowledge of this vast land and its many problems. The difficulties of poverty, illiteracy, superstition are tremendous, and our wholehearted sympathy and admiration goes out to those brave pioneers who are the leaders of to-day and who are building up the new India.