Lately, women had been taking increasing interest in socio – political affairs; boost to this was given by the partition of Bengal, the treatment of Indians in South Africa, the Home Rule League of Annie Besant, the First World War and by the Women’s India Association which came in existence in 1917.
Women of India had begun to understand their rights and responsibilities. Many had suffered the loss of their brothers, fathers or husbands as soldiers who fought for the Allies.
Dorothy Jinarajadasa founded Women’s Indian Association (WIA) in Adyar, Chennai on 8 May 1917 together with Annie Besant, Margret Cousins, Malati Patwardhan, Ammu Swaminathan, and others to improve the lot of Indian women. Members of Tamil Madar Sangam (Tamil Ladies Organisation) joined in masses.
This organization became the pivot around which women gathered to discuss and demand their rights. A decade later an all – India organization, the All India Women’s Conference, was founded and its political goal was self- government. The members emphasized the need for responsible government which could satisfy the aspirations of the people.
WIA grew to 43 branches, 20 centres and 2,300 members across India in the next five years. One of the top issues for WIA was women’s suffrage.
So, Montagu and Chelmsford set up Southborough Franchise Committee to interview Indian women and decide on the potential of women’s franchise. The committee published its verdict in 1919 after interviewing women in Bengal and Punjab, excluding Madras, WIA’s home- ground. The verdict went against women’s franchise.
Feminist leaders of India quickly went into action, especially Annie Besant, Sarojini Naidu, Herabai Tata and Jaiji Jehangir Petit. They increased their advocacy efforts with Montagu and Viceroy Chelmsford.
Mrs. Jinarajadasa had formidable support from Indian National Congress (INC) leaders like Sarojini Naidu, who led a women’s delegation to advocate women’s franchise with Montagu in 1917, and Saraladevi Chaudhurani, who presented the resolution for women’s franchise in Delhi Congress in 1918.
On the other hand women leaders like Cornelia Sorabji, most of the Franchise Committee and large number of Indian princes remained staunchly against women’s right to vote, calling it dangerous.
The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms went against women’s right to vote. Government of India Act of 1919, based on the reform proposal, did not include women’s right to vote.
The politically organised women of India felt betrayed. WIA, INC, Muslim League, the Home Rule League, other Indian women’s organisations and English suffragettes all focused on the provision that local legislature could decided to register women voters.
Mrs. Jinarajadasa personally moved franchise proposals in Bombay and Madras . It took three days of debate to pass the resolution in the Bombay Council, while in the Madras Council it flew through with ease.
Out of 90 council members, 40 voted positive, 10 negative and 40 remained neutral. In June 1921, women of Madras won their right vote. It came two years after England approved women’s franchise and three years after the US.
English suffragette leader Lady Constance Lytton wrote in 1921, ‘Please offer the women of South India my most heartfelt congratulations on their winning the vote. I am thrilled and it seems like a dream the way the experience in our own Island (Britain) has borne wonderful fruit’. Australia’s Women’s Service Guild, France’s Action Speciale de la Femme and the British Dominion Women’s Citizen Union too extended their greetings and hoped other provinces would soon follow suit. Bombay and United Province did follow suit within the year.
After Ms. Besant’s death in 1933 Ms. Jinarajadasa became more involved in the internal politics of theosophists. Unfortunately the faction she supported fell from favour, and her name stopped appearing all documents from that point onward.
Shortly before the independence of India she went back to England. She died on 13 January 1963 in Kensignton, London. But, her work is still in action, as Tamil women show up at voting centres more than Tamil men, often choosing women leaders over men.