Annie Mascarene signed in to the constituent assembly in December 1948 representing Travancore and Cochin Union. She was also a member of the sub committee for the Hindu Code Bill debates.
On February 21st, 1946 Mahatma Gandhi wrote to an Advocate/political worker regarding a speech that was given by the person addressed in Bombay.
He wrote “Even otherwise, I know that you have no control over your tongue and when you stand up to speak, you blab anything that comes to your mind. This speech also is quite a specimen, if the newspaper report is correct. I have sent the report to Bhai Thanu Pillai. You can read it. Such indiscreet talk can do good neither to you nor to the poor people of Travancore. Besides, by your act you put the whole fair sex to shame.”
The letter was addressed to Annie Mascarene. Gandhi had also written to Pattom Thanu Pillai member of the Travancore State Congress and colleague of Annie, asking him to reconsider her role as co-minister in the Kerala Legislative Assembly.
Gandhi’s admonishment notwithstanding, Annie Mascarene had already established herself as an intrepid fighter and leader in Travancore’s emerging political scene. She along with Accamma Cherian and Rosamma Punnose were the first women to join the Travancore State congress. A brilliant orator, she went on to lead her fellow men and women in Travancore’s prolonged fight against its own dewan to establish a responsible government and seek a place as a state in newly independent India.
Born in 1902 in Trivandrum, Annie Mascarene graduated with a double MA in history and economics from Maharaja’s college in Thiruvananthapuram in 1925 before moving to Sri Lanka to serve as a lecturer. She also completed her LLB degree from Thiruvananthapuram on her return.
Travancore, as a princely state was undergoing a metamorphosis aided by movements and agitations that called for greater participation of people from across all castes and religions, and for a more responsible government representative of all the people in the state. In 1932, the Travancore regent signed a legislative reform bringing to life its first bicameral legislative assembly. The assembly however did not go far enough in establishing a just participation for all communities.
This alongside the repeated undermining of minority communities in the princely state led to a coming together of various religious and caste organisations. The joint political conference went a long way in giving a platform for those opposed to government policies.
It eventually led to the formation of the Travancore State Congress in 1938 with the idea of establishing a responsible government on the basis of universal adult franchise.
P.T Haridas in his paper “Genesis of the Travancore State Congress” points out that this party ran on the platform of accession to Independent India. Annie Mascarene went on to become one of its more vocal presidents
The Travancore State Congress was created with the idea of bringing together the opposition within the state to the then Dewan C. P Ramaswamy Iyer. The dewan was determined to see Travancore established as an independent state post 1947. The party wanted to remain a part of Independent India, and within the state create the right climate for a more equitable distribution of power amongst the various caste groups.
Annie Mascarene’s appetite for politics, politicking and policy making were vetted during her time in the state congress. She was seen as a threat and her work amongst the Travancore citizens as an impediment to the dewan’s ambitions for the princely state. M. Sumathy in her work “Emergence of Travancore State Congress and Early Activities of the Party” points out that in April 1938, there were repeated attacks on her life and property, and assaults on other members. Continual complaints yielded very little results. Annie Mascarene went on to publish a pamphlet detailing the assaults much to the chagrin of the local police.
She was also repeatedly arrested for her activities. Her record includes eighteen months in 1938 on charges of sedition; in 1942, for two years for inflammatory speech, and six months in 1946 for spreading rumors that incite people to acts of violence.
She went on to serve as a member of the Travancore-Cochin Legislative Assembly from 1948-1952, and briefly from 1949-1950 as a Minister in charge of Health and Power, the first time a woman had held a ministerial post. She also earned the distinction of being the first and only women amongst 10 people elected to the first Lok Sabha as an independent candidate from Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency in India’s first general election in 1951. She went on to represent Travancore-Cochin in the constituent assembly.
Annie Mascarene’s arguments in the hallowed halls of the constitution hall were tinted with the same principles and fervor that had coloured her career in the princely state of Travancore. She firmly believed that while centralization of power was necessary for a successful democracy, too much centralization can alter the very nature of democratic institutions. She argued that provincial autonomy and more importantly provincial elections, and legislatures need to maintain their independence, and cannot let the Centre assume the role of “custodian of justice”. She struck down K.M Munshi’s argument of expediency and reality as reasons for Article 289 by pointing out that “We are here laying down principles – rudimentary principles – of democracy, not for the coming election but for days to come, for generations, for the nation. Therefore principles of ethics are more suitable to be considered now than principles of expediency. I am a believer in politics as nothing but ethics writ large.”
She stated that the constitution gave enough leeway for provinces to experiment, err and evolve. She pointed out that in an age of democratic experiments, and it would bode well if India, like many other democracies let itself be guided through its democracy.
She also expressed satisfaction with section 306B of the draft constitution, which tasked certain states to comply with central government directions. Annie Mascarene believed that this would help in bringing all states on par with each other. She took great pride in the fact that Travancore had a semblance of democracy with adult franchise very early (1860 by some accounts).
Annie Mascarene was in many ways a singular character amongst the women in that constitution hall. Her experiences in the politics of her state, and her fight to push the state to become a part of Independent India helped shape her views on the rights of provinces versus the necessity for centralization of powers. She believed that an evolving democracy like India will need a strong Centre and hoped that “when the nation has attained full stature and we can stand on our own legs, we can amend the Constitution and distribute powers equally.”