The role of women in India have been transforming and also emerging from the past traditions to a new period of freedom and rights. Being a symbol of family, women have always been looked at as the care-giver and as the home-keeper. After the second world war in 1962 there were major developments in the educational system where the raising of the minimum schools and also increase in girls and women into secondary and higher education. In spite of amelioration in the role of women, iniquitous of illiteracy, dowry, ignorance, economic slavery, needs to be fully removed in order to give them a rightful place in the society. Women abide to play a marginal and peripheral role in all-inclusive national factors despite constituting half of the population with a critical role in production and social processes. When it comes to Indian patriarchal society both boys and girls are recognized from the father. But the son is considered as a permanent member of the family whereas girls are generally looked upon to be the transit element of the unit to another, principally to the husband’s family.
The status of women:
In early Vedic civilization Women were graced with distinguished status in society. In Dravidian culture women were honored and empowered in the affairs of home and family and also had their participation in all socio-culture activities of early Indian civilization. Whereas Aryan culture based on the Vedic culture remained the centralizing factor; which involved liberty of women to participate in public activities, archery, war, gymnastics, horse riding, education, decision making and freedom in selecting male partners has described the nature of the status of Women in the Vedic period.
During the Rig-Vedic period women enjoyed high status in the society. Even women were allowed to attain high intellectual and spiritual standards. There was no sati system or early marriage. The Rig-Vedic text of Samhita regarded “goddess Durga – goddess of war”; “Aditi,the goddess of freedom”; and Sarasvati the ” best mother, best of rivers, best of goddesses” were worshipped with complete devotion. In spite of the existence of fondness of son’s, daughters were always welcomed and treated well in early Vedic India where education for girls passed through stages like Upanayana and Brahmacharya leading to the marital state. According to the early Vedic text there were two types of women scholars namely the Brahmavadinis – women who never marry and who study the Vedas throughout their lives; and Sadyodvahas who studied Vedas until they got married. Living in a patriarchal system woman were expected to fetch sons since the sons performed the last rites and continued the lineage. Rig Veda acknowledged the right of inheritance of unmarried daughters on the property of her father but married daughters were spared. Women were considered of having an equal share in social and religious life because a man without women was regarded as an unfit person. She was frequently engaged in religious ceremonies with her husband. As a result of these, they acquired a certain amount of social freedom in the society.
The medieval period
The status of women
As time passed, the status of women became worse in the medieval era, instead of developing some upright changes in their status. Women were regarded as mentally inferior so they were expected to obey their husband blindly. In the early medieval period marrying the daughter of maternal uncle was strictly prohibited. It was believed that a man should marry a girl much younger than himself and she should be married between the age of eight and achieving puberty. If a girl’s custodian is unable to find her a match before she attains a marriage able age, then she has the liberty to choose her partner only after staying in her father’s house for three years after attaining puberty. The system of purdah and jauhar was introduced in medieval period by Muslim and Rajput community against women. In both the systems, freedom of women was diminished by both the community as they are not given right to movement or leave. The political instability in Northern India which was the result of the frequent invasions by the foreign invaders led to increase in social evils like Female Infanticide, Sati, Child marriage, purdah system or zanana (seclusion of women). The concept polygamy came into existence as the women were considered to be a mere instrument of sensual satisfaction. Amongst the Hindus, a man was allowed to have as many wives as he wished. While the Muslim man could possess as many as four wives. In this period dowry was a significant phenomenon. Both Hindu’s and Muslims had the prevalence of the custom of dowry. This ultimately contributed in rapid increase in female infanticide because girls were believed to be misfortune by a major portion of the society.
In the course of East India Company numerous social reformers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Joytiba Phule and Ishwar Chandra Sagar had fought for the refinement of women in Indian society. During this period Governor Bentinck helped Raja Ram Mohan Roy in abolishing sati system from India and also introduced the concept of widow remarriage. One of the social reformers Pandita Ramabai at that time also started the moment of liberty against the society for the protection of women. Though women had potential and capability, still they were not treated equally with men. Women had no right to claim succession in the property of their own family. Hence, had no right of inheritance, this was the reason they needed to depend on the male members of their family. With some reasonable restrictions a widow was sanctioned with the entire estate of her husband if he dies sonless. Therefore, in the medieval era the freedom fighters, bhakti movement figures, social workers and other people worked to enhance and enrich the status of women in India. Even Mahatma Gandhi started a reform for removing disabilities against women in the society. In this period there were several legislative enactments which have been enforced by legislators for protection of women like Act of Sati (Abolish)1829, The Hindu Remarriage Act, 1856, The child restriction Act ,1929, The Women Property Act,1937, The Hindu Marriage Act ,1955, The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act,1956, The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 etc. All of these legislative enactments were being implemented for protection and encouragement of women on a preferential basis at the same time.
The modern period
The status of women
The role of Indian women has primitively changed since independence. Both organizational and intellectual changes provided equivalency of opportunities to women in employment, education and political participation. After the help of these changes, exploitation of women was significantly reduced. The rights of liberty and equality have unfortunately not reached the vast majority of women citizens in India. As per a brief study, it was observed that the sex selection of boy child over a girl child was quite surprising and very disturbing which is performed on a large scale even today in almost all the parts and sections of India.
The Indian Penal Code, 1860, is the official criminal code of India, which is intended to cover all the substantive aspects of criminal law. This code consolidates the whole law on criminal subjects and is exhaustive in matters regarding the laws declared and many penal statutes governing various offenses added to the code. It also defines different kinds of offences which are committed against women and also describes punishment for it. Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides protection of women by provision of some reasonable restrictions.
India has seen increased percentage of literacy amongst women, where women are now obtaining professional fields though the practices of female infanticide, poor health conditions, lack of educational facilities, still persist. The patriarchal ideology of the nation being the real domain and marriage being a woman’s ultimate destiny hasn’t changed much. The matrimonial advertisements demanding girls of the same cast, with fair skin and slim figure or the much criticized fair and lovely advertisements indicates the slow changing social norms. Women empowerment is associated with the total process of social change in the society leading to a just society and therefore its success depends upon the success of the supportive socio-economic policies and the simultaneous change in political processes. The trafficking of women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation has become a high profit, low -risk trade for those who organize it, but it is ruinous to the millions of women and children which are being exploited through slavery like conditions in the global sex industry. In regard to this, the Parliament passed the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956. For the Protection of women from illegal practices of sexual greed and business of prostitution, law has played its important role by enacting such kind of enactments.
Dr Radhakrishnan the Late President of India once said, “The progress of our land towards our goal of democratic socialism cannot be achieved without the active participation of our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters”.
For India to be an economically enriched, politically equipped, socially developed and culturally distinguished future as a country it definitely needs to give women a leg up in all their respective spheres of activity. Over these years women have taken great steps in many areas with notable progress in reducing gender gaps. On one hand women are climbing the ladder of success and on the other hand they are mutely suffering the burden of violence by their own family members. There should be self-empowerment of women all-round the society. It can begin by addressing the day to day issues faced by an individual woman and a proper way to tackle them with the mindset of improving the overall living conditions of women at every level and strata of the society. Hence, in the nutshell it shall help us to reap the seeds of real women in modern India. Compared to the past women in modern times have achieved a lot but in reality, they still have to go a long way. Women have now left their secured domains of home, but a harsh, cruel, exploitative world awaits them, where they have to prove their abilities against the world which thinks women are merely a vessel of producing children. The Indian women have to pave a way through all the social prejudices against them, yet the males have to allow and accept the women to be equal in the country’s way forward.
The constitution of India –M.P. Jain
Landmarks Indian Legal and Constitutional History –Sumit Malik