There were a number of Historical Constitutions that articulated a constitutional imagination which paid attention to women’s rights. The relevant provisions in these documents are broadly of two types.
The first spelled out women’s rights in a general and universal mode calling for equal rights for all: the Nehru Report, 1928 ( ‘Men and women shall have equal rights as citizens’) and the Gandhian Constitution for Free India, 1946 (‘‘All citizens shall be equal before the law irrespective of case, colour…sex’.) are noteworthy examples.
The second type of provisions recognised women as a group that deserved special mention and treatment. M.N. Roy’s Constitution of Free India,1944 under ‘Rights and Fundamental Principles’ gave women workers ‘three months maternity leave with full pay’; so does the Karachi Resolution 1931. The Socialist Draft Constitution of India, 1948 banned women workers from being ‘employed at night. In mines or in industries detrimental to health’. It is interesting to note that of the six historical constitutions that mention women rights, three do so by specifying women ‘workers’.
The Socialist Draft, through a proviso to a section that dealt with non-discrimination, gave the Indian state the power to make ‘any special provision for women and children’. This seems to have been influenced by the deliberations in the Constituent Assembly and the Draft Constitution that it prepared.
It appears that only one historical constitution - Sapru Committee Report, 1945 - provided for reservation as a means of promoting women's rights. It reserved 10% of seats in the union legislature for certain groups – one of these being women. Further, it called for the special interests of women to be represented, through reservation, in a future constitution-making body that would draft India’s Constitution.