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M. R. Masani
1905

Early Life:

Minocher Rustom Masani, popularly known as Minoo Masani, was born on 20th November 1905. He attended Cathedral High School and New High School in Bombay. He went on to study at Elphinstone College, London School of Economics and Lincoln’s Inn. After a brief stint at the Bombay Bar, he gave up his law practice to join the freedom movement.

 

Role in India’s independence movement:

In 1932, Masani took part in the civil disobedience movement and was imprisoned. In 1933 he was arrested and jailed at Central Prison in Nasik for disregarding the British ban on meetings. During his time in Nasik Prison, he met Jayaprakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan, Yusuf Meherally; the three together formed the Congress Socialist Party, a left-wing group of the Indian National Congress that participated in the freedom movement. He actively took part in the Quit India movement in 1942 for which he was jailed.

 

Contribution to Constitution Making:

Masani was one of the socialists to be elected to the Constituent Assembly (on a Congress ticket from Bombay). His interventions in the debates were often informed by socialism.

 

In his response to Nehru’s Objectives Resolution, he noted:

democracy needs to be extended from the political to the economic and social spheres and that, if socialism does not mean that, then it means nothing at all.

 

As a member of the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights, Masani along with Hansa Mehta and Amrit Kaur, recorded their dissent for not making uniform civil code a fundamental right (ed. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution: Select Documents, Volume 2, pg 177). They note:

One of the factors that has kept India back from advancing to nationhood has been the existence of personal laws based on religion which keep the nation into watertight compartments in many aspects of life.

 

Interestingly, Masani, Hansa Mehta and Amrit Kaur argued for a fundamental right to marriage. To solemnize any inter-religious marriage, The Special Marriages Act demanded citizens to denounce their religion. In this context, based on the Swiss Constitution, they argued for incorporating this right to remove ‘such primitive restriction as at present prevails ultra vires of the Constitution’. (ed. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution: Select Documents, Volume 2, pgs 177-178)

 

Later Contributions:

After independence, he was posted as India’s ambassador to Brazil. For a period of 7 years, between 1963 and 1971, he was a member of the Lok Sabha.

 

He set up several advocacy organizations including the Leslie Sawhny Programme for Training in Democracy, Society for the Right to Die with Dignity and Project for Economic Education.

 

Five years after India’s independence, Masani founded  Freedom First, a liberal monthly magazine. During the emergency, Masani as the editor of Freedom First successfully challenged the censorship order in 1976 in the Bombay High Court.

 

Key Writings:

In addition to his writings in Freedom First,  Masani authored several books:Our India; Bliss Was it in That Dawn: A Political Memoir Up to Independence; Against the Tide; We Indians; Our Growing Human Family; Prague (Let's Go)

Masani was a member of three key committees:

  • Advisory Committee
  • Union Powers Committee
  • Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights

  • During his response to Nehru’s Objectives Resolution, he made observations on the absence of ‘socialism’ and ‘democracy’ in the Resolution.
  • When the Assembly was debating Article 18, which dealt with the abolition of titles, Masani argued for the abolition of heritable titles. Also, he introduced an amendment to distinguish citizens and persons holding office under the State which allowed diplomats to accept ‘appreciation from foreign Governments’.