The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, got a bit of a ‘makeover’ at the hands of Hansa Jivraj Mehta and the result, though little as compared to the charter, was important enough to ensure equality. Mrs Mehta, it is said, politely rephrased the sentence, “All men are born free and equal” to “All human beings are born free and equal” when she was appointed by Pandit Nehru to the UN Human Rights Council.
She was born in 1857 to a family of writers and teachers. Hansa Mehta’s father, Manubhai Mehta was a Professor of Law at Baroda College while her grandfather wrote the first ever novel in Gujarati. She got involved in Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation and Swadeshi movements at a very young age and organised protests against shops who sold foreign goods, for which she even got arrested once.
Remembering freedom fighter, reformist, activist, and educationist, Smt. Hansa Mehta. #MakersofOurConstitution pic.twitter.com/B4JcvpSrWR
— P. P. Chaudhary (@ppchaudharyMoS) January 4, 2017
Due to her educational background (she had studied in London), and her social standing as the daughter of the highly educated Dewan of Baroda, Hansa Mehta had opportunities that were not available to most of the women in the country. She was aware of her unique circumstance and used it to make a point about equality, parity and the need for education.
She later married Jivraj Mehta, the Chief Medical Officer of Baroda, who had briefly been Mahatma Gandhi’s doctor. Their inter-caste wedding caused a mayhem in her upper caste community and the newly married couple soon moved to Bombay. It was here that Hansa became completely involved in social and political activism.
Hansa Mehta, changed Universal Declaration of Human Rights fm “all men are created equal” to “all human beings” #InternationalWomensDay pic.twitter.com/PQRmWeRRBV
— NPG Schools (@NPGSchools) March 8, 2017
Mehta too made major contributions to Gujarati literature, including translations of Pinocchio, Gulliver’s Travels and Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Merchant of Venice. She became a member of the Bombay Legislative Council. Later, when she was elected as the President of the All-India Women’s Conference, she put forth a proposal for the charter of Women’s Rights.
Appointed as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, she became one of the 15 women who helped draft the Constitution of India. Apart from the UN Human Rights Commission, she was also appointed as a member of the Executive Board at UNESCO.
The Padma Bhushan awardee died in 1995 having lived a prolific life that not only benefited the international community but also gave hope to many women back home whose cause she had championed.
As India celebrates 70 years of independence, we bring you stories of women who were part of the Indian Independence Struggle. You might have heard about some of them but most do not find a mention in our history books or popular memory. These were ordinary women from all walks of life who managed to make extraordinary contributions to the cause of freedom. This series is our tribute to these women and their exemplary work. We bring you 70 stories of courage and valour over the next one week leading up to 15th August 2017. Write to us, if you have any names to add to this list. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org