Introduction: Status and Social Position of Women
The women are the soul of our community and they are self build and self trained human responsible for the morale development of their children, inspiration for the family and an example for the community to follow. As a wife, woman is his best friend and inspiration. The history conveys that, “Each successful man has an inspiring woman responsible for success”.
According to Swami Vivekananda- “That country and that nation that do not respect women have never become great, nor ever be in future.”
According to Historian Romilla Thapper- “Within the Indian sub-continent there have been infinite variations on the status of women diverging according to culture malice, family structure, class, caste, property rights and morals.”
Tagores said, “Womens are the ornaments of society”. The society was male dominated and he ruled mainly by ethics and morals. But now a day’s womens are enjoying the topmost supremacy and these have won over intelligence and mental capacity of the men. Today if it was that the society was “Male-Dominated” then india wouldn’t have produced highlighting examples such as “P.T.Usha-The Women Athlete”, “Lata Mangeshkar-The Nightingale and the Singer”, “Sonia Gandhi-Political” and “Klpana Chawla-The Indian Astronaut”. Today the proverb given above has proved true. A woman is the pillar of a family, and concussively that of a nation. The statue of liberty which is symbol of peace and liberty is none other than that of a woman. Therefore, respect women and every life.
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In spite of fifty percent of the population on the world wide, women were not in equal status with men. This differential position causes socialization raises from boys and girls are different roles. As a traditional form, the status and social role of the women in every society, specific Indian society have been women are weaker than men. Women are the teachers of the society and they are not competitors. “Woman as the mother is the best friend and teacher for the child, especially girl child (Firestone, Catlett, 1993, the Mother-Daughter Bond)”. Woman as friend is an inspiring support for any task. Woman as wife is a best friend and supportive partner for the husband. Woman as a family member is a best family manager and care taker of family values and traditions. Women as a community member are an example of love, friendliness, inspiration and the best worker. These are the common roles and responsibilities performed by the women community around the world. Woman is an all-round player in the game where, playground is ‘family’. The only difference is that, woman is an all-round player at almost all such play grounds around the world. In family, woman is an excellent manger cum worker.
The social stratification of women in-India however leaves them as a second rate citizen. This is no more evident than the violence to which a woman is subjected in her domestic setup. Violence against woman is present is every society cutting boundaries of class, culture, education and age. Even though most societies proscribe violence against woman, the reality is that she is tortured physically, psychologically, sexually and economically, the right to equality, security dignity and self worth are denied to woman. At times the place where a woman seeks love, safety, security and shelter, becomes a place of terror and violence at the hands of somebody close to them whom they trust.
If we visualize the multiple view of the, woman from various families working for her children, family and herself; we will find that there several women working for the development of their respective families. In broad sense, they are working for collectively development of the family, community and society in which they live because; community is the united from of varied families. A woman is never appreciated for her indirect contribution in this strong development and in the progress of her children, family or external community. She can be said as a silent and selfless leader. We take woman as a strong pillar on which the progress of the family and community depends. If she is educated enough to utilize and manage the family resources in smart manner and every woman does so, than such community will definitely progress irrespective of the variations in the religion, tradition, culture and financial background that are present in any community around the world. There can be many situations that can prevent woman from performing at her best. It can be lack of peer support, illiteracy, lack of knowledge, lack of resources or lack inspiration to name few.
Crime, atrocity and violence against woman is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between man and woman, which led to the domination of a woman’s fuller advancement. Violence in the domestic spare is usually committed by them who are or who have been, is position of trust and intimacy and power-husband’s father, brother, uncle sons or other relatives. It does not mean that women are not violent but their actions account for a small percentage of domestic violence. Such as outside homes these type activity boy friend and unknown person.
The criminals, atrocious abuser and the abused are tied together because of emotional, physical, biological, familial, residential and financial ties, and are often their intimate partners. Perpetrators of domestic violence seek power and control over their survivors. The factors which contribute to the continued prevalence of violence are mainly the women’s lack of access to legal information, aid or protection and also the lack of laws that effectively prohibit violence against women. There is also failure to reform existing laws and the efforts made on part of public authorities to promote awareness of and enforce existing laws are also inadequate. The absence of educational and other means to address the causes and consequences of violence is also the reason behind prevalence of violence.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) declares that ‘Motherhood and childhood are entitled for special care whether born in or out of wedlock shall enjoy the same protection. The Indian constitution enshrines in Art.14, 15, 39(a) (d) and (e) that the state shall ensure a just social order for women based on equality and dignity. In spite of all these, and on the sacred land of Sita, Sabitri and Damayanti it found that women are being seduced, tortured, and enjoyed and betrayed. In spite of Constitutional guarantees and legal protection there is a rise on the trend of committing offenses against women and the domestic violence is one of them. Women have always played a specific and crucial role which has been veiled in society and history. Traditionally, the Indian woman has been the keystone of the family and society in general. She creates life, nurtures it, guards and strengthens it. In her task as mother, she plays a vital role in the development of the nation.
Status and social position of women in India
Women in India have been always topics of concern since ancient period. They can as a exact example of perfect home-makers. With their incomparable quality of the calm ness of mind they easily handle even toughest situation as well. The Indian women are fully devoted to their families. They are preached in the names like as Goddess Durga, Goddess Saraswati, Parvati and goddess Kali. The evolution of the status and social position of women in India has been a continuous process of ups and downs throughout history. For the purpose of depicting a brief survey of the changing position and role of women in India throughout history, four broad periods are considered:
Modern India Period
After Independence Period
Brief described each period on following as:-
A) Ancient Period
Many women have comforted themselves with a view of many scholars that women were greatly honored in the ancient India from Vedic times. They enjoyed freedom good status and learning opportunities. In those days women must have had certainly freedom it appears that the Vedic women were probably comparable to modern women. Recently some women historians have attempted different interpretations of the original Brahmanical Texts. On the one hand Scriptures have glorifies womanhood. They have treated women as the equals of men. On the other hand some sacred texts held women not only disrespect but even in a positive hatred. There are contradictions and generalizations, which can be interpreted in either way.
Women held very important position in ancient Indian society. It was a position superior to men. There are literary evidences to suggest that woman power destroyed kingdoms and mighty rulers.Elango Adigal’s Sillapathigaram mentioned that Madurai the capital of Pandyas was burnt when Pandyan ruler Nedunchezhiyan killed a woman’s husband by mistake. Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharata tells the story of fall of Kauravas because they humiliated queen Draupadi.Valmiki’s Ramyana is also about the wiping away of Ravana when he abducted and tried to marry Sita forcibly. The plethora of Goddesses in ancient period was created to instil respect for women. Ardhanareeshwar, which called God is half-man and half-woman, was highly worshipped. Women were allowed to have multiple husbands.
1. Manu has told that where women are honoured the Gods are leased but where they are not honoured, no sacred rite yields any reward. But it is as clear as day light that the same Manu has formulated the theory of sacred tutelage of women when he said that a woman has to depend on her father in her childhood, on her husband in youth and on her sons during her old age and no woman is fit for freedom. ‘Pita’ rakshathi Kaumare Bhartha rakshathi yavvane Rakshanthi Putrah Stavire, na Sthree svatantram arhati.
2. Yagnavalkya had told that women are the embodiment of all divine virtues on earth. Soma has bestowed all his purity on them. Gandhrva has given them sweetness of speech and Agni has showered all his brilliance to make them most attractive. She is the goddess (Devata as well as a lurer (pramada). Manu says women are able to lead astray not only the ignorant but also even the learned men and make him a slave of lust and anger. Such lofty ideals about women have been repeated in Ramayana and Mahabharata also.
B) Medieval Period
Medieval India has not women’s age it is supposed to be the ‘dark age’ for them. Medieval India saw many foreign conquests, which resulted in the decline in women’s status. When foreign conquerors like Muslims invaded India they brought with them their own culture.
These period women was the sole property of her father, brother or husband and she does not have any will of her own. This type of thinking also crept into the minds of Indian people and they also began to treat their own women like this. One more reason for the decline in women’s status and freedom was that original Indians wanted to shield their women folk from the barbarous Muslim invaders. As polygamy was a norm for these invaders they picked up any women they wanted and kept her in their “harems”. In order to protect them Indian women started using ‘Purdah’, (a veil), which covers body. Due to this reason their freedom also became affected. They were not allowed to move freely and this lead to the further deterioration of their status. These problems related with women resulted in changed attitude of people. Now they began to consider a girl as misery and a burden, which has to be shielded from the eyes of intruders and needs extra care. Whereas a boy child will not need such extra care and instead will be helpful as an earning hand. Thus a nasty circle started in which women was at the receiving end. All this gave rise to some new evils such as Child Marriage, Sati, Jauhar, devdasi, restriction on widow marriage, Purdha system and restriction on girl education.
“Sati” is known as the ritual of dying at the funeral pyre of the husband. According to some of the Hindu scriptures dying at the funeral pyre women of her husband go straight to heaven so it’s good to practice this ritual. Initially it was not obligatory for the women but if she practiced such a custom she was highly respected by the society. Sati was considered to be the better option than living as a widow as the plight of widows in Hindu society was even worse. Some of the scriptures like ‘Medhatiti’ had different view it say that Sati is like committing suicide so one should avoid this.
It is also more or less similar to Sati but it is a mass suicide. Jauhar was prevalent in the Rajput societies. In this custom wives immolated themselves while their husbands were still alive. Jauhar are also known to place a high profile on honour. When people of Rajput clan became sure that they were going to die at the hands of their enemy then all the women arrange a large pyre and set themselves afire, while their husband used to fight the last decisive battle known as “Shaka”, with the enemy. Thus are defending the sanctity of the women and the whole clan.
Devadasi system is a religious practice in some parts of southern India, in which women are “married” to a deity or temple. The ritual was well established by the 10th century A.D. In the later period the illegitimate sexual exploitation of the Devadasi’s become a norm in some parts of India.
It was a norm in medieval India. Girls were married off at the age of 8-10. They were not allowed access to education and were treat as the material being. The plight of women can be imagined by one of the shloka of Tulsidas where he writes [r1] “Dhol, gawar, shudra, pashu, nari, ye sab tadan ke adhikari”. Meaning that are animals, illiterates, lower castes and women should be subjected to beating. Thus women were compared with animals and were married off at an early age. The child marriage along with it bring some more problems such as increased birth rate, poor health of women due to repeated child bearing and high mortality rate of women and children.
Restriction on Widow Remarriage:
The condition of widows in medieval India was very bad. They were not treating as human being and were subjected to a large number of restrictions. They were imaginary to live religious life after their husband died and were not allowed entry in any celebration. Their being there in any good work was considered to be a bad omen. Sometimes heads of widows were also shaved down. They were not allowed to remarry. Any woman remarrying was looked down by the society. This cruelty on widows was one of the main reasons for the large number of women committing Sati. In medieval India living as a Hindu widow was a sort of a curse.
Purdah system is the practice among some communities of requiring women to cover their bodies so as to cover their skin and conceal their form. It imposes restrictions on the mobility of women, it is curtails their right to interact freely and a symbolic of the subordination of women. It does not reflect the religious teachings of either Hinduism or Islam, contrary to common belief, although misconceptions are occurred due to the ignorance and prejudices of religious leaders of both are faiths.
The girls of medieval India and above all Hindu society be not given formal education. They were given education related to household chores. But a famous Indian philosopher ‘Vatsyayana’ write that women were supposed to be perfect in sixty four arts which included cooking, spinning, grinding, knowledge of medicine, recitation and many more.
C) Modern India Period
Modern India witnessed some developments in the status and social position of women. There were many reformers in India who worked for the betterment and upliftment of their other female counterparts. The Begum of Bhopal discarded the ‘purdha’ and fought in the revolt of 1857. Many reformers measures to eradicate social stigmas from the society. Sir Sayyid Ahamad Khan established the Aligarh Muslim University for the spread of education among the Muslims. Among many the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856 was important. The education system was also elevated. English was introduced in this period. Various female English writers like Sarojiini Naidu, Kamala Das made their presence felt in this period.
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In the modern times, women in India are given freedom and right such as freedom of expression and equality, as well as right to get education. Women in Contemporary India are doing the same what a male can do. Various prestigious positions are held by Indian women. They are enjoying the ‘ladies first’ facility in various fields. But still problems like dowry, female infanticide, sex selective abortion, health, domestic violence, crime and atrocities are prevalent in the society. Several acts have been passed to demolish all these problems. But illiteracy and lack of awareness are the obstacles in the path of Indian women to stand against these follies.
British India Period
Women’s Struggle and Reforms
Though women of India are not at par among her counterpart in Western world but she is struggling hard to make her mark in men’s world. We can count on certain names from the British India where women put the example of extraordinary bravery which even men might not be able to show. Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi was the one such woman. She was the one who put even British rulers to dishonour with her extraordinary feat in battle. She fought for her kingdom, which Dalhousie, British Governor General, had unlawfully annexed. She was in a true sense the leader of uprising of 1857. There are certain men who took the cause of women in India. There have been social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekanand, Swami Dayananda Saraswati who have helped women gain their previous status in society.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy
Born on 22nd may 1772 he was the torchbearer of social reforms for the women. He was strictly against the evils prevalent in society in his time. He is the one who has done women a great favour by abolishing Sati lawfully. It was due to his efforts that Lord William Bentinck banned the custom of Sati in 1829. Though this law was not a great deterrent but it changed mindset of people to some extent. Ram Mohan Roy also did great work in the field of women education. He was against child marriage and favoured widow remarriage. He himself married a widow thus setting the example for the whole society. Along with ‘Dwarka Nath Tagore’ he founded “Brahmo Samaj” for the reform of Indian society and emancipation of women.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was popularly well-known as Vidyasager, which means sea of knowledge. Testifying to his name he was truly the sea of knowledge. He was a pillar of social reform movement of Bengal in 19th century. He broadly read ancient Hindu scriptures and came to know that the gender divide which was prevalent in Bengal was not encoded in our ancient texts instead it is the politics to keep women subordinate to men. He strongly supported women education in Bengal and went door to door to persuade people to send their girl child to school. He also did a lot in the field of widow remarriage. He opened many schools for girls.
Mahatma Jyotirao Phule
Born on April 11, 1827, Pune, Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was a genuine philanthropist. He was the one to open first girl school in India. He is also credited with opening first home for widows of the upper caste and a home for newborn girl children so that they can be saved from female infanticide.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati
He was the founder of Arya Samaj and gave a cry, “back to Vedas”. He translated Vedas from Sanskrit to Hindi so that a common man can read it and understand that the Vedic Hindu scriptures gave utmost importance to women. He emphasize for the equal rights for women in every field. He tried to change the mindset of people with his Vedic teachings.
The social reformers of 19th century laid down the stage for the emancipation of women but it was Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi under whose influence these reforms reached masses. He was the one who liberated Indian women from the rule of ‘Purdah’ and other social evils. He brings them from their confinement and asked them to participate in the struggle for independence. According to him women should survive liberated from the slavery of kitchen only then their true potential could be realized. He said that liability of household is important for women but it should not be the only one. In fact she should arrive forward to share the responsibilities of nation.
When Gandhi come to the step of Indian struggle for independence then the average life span of Indian women was 27 years and only 2%women were educated this shows what a Herculean task it was to bring the women of India who was not getting her basic rights to fight for the cause of the nation. But it was due to his efforts that so a lot of women like Sarojini Naidu, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur came forward. He spread the message of equality of the gender to the masses and criticized the desire of Indian people to have male child instead of a female. Gandhiji was strictly beside the child marriage and favoured widow remarriage. He urged the youth to come forward and accept young widows as their life partner. He said that the girls are also capable of everything boys can do but the need of the time is to give them opportunities so that they can prove themselves. It was mostly due to his efforts that when India get independence ‘right to vote’ came naturally to Indian women whereas in other developed nations like England and America women got this right very late and that too after lot of protest.
Spread of Education
The idea of imparting education to women emerged in the British period. Earlier, it was almost universally hailed that since women need not earn their livelihood, there was no need of education for them. After the Bhakti Movement, the Christian Missionaries took interest in the education of the girls. The Hunter Commission too emphasized on the need for female education in 1882. The Calcutta, Bombay and Madras institutions did not permit the admission of girls till 1875. It was only after 1882 that girls were allowed to go for higher education. Since then, there has been a continuous progress in the extend of education among females. Though the number of girls studying at various levels was low, yet there has been a marked increase in the number of female students at every level from 1941 onwards.
After Independence Period
The status of women in modern India is a sort of a paradox. If on one hand she is at the peak of ladder of success, on the other hand she is mutely suffering the violence afflicted on her by her own family members. As compared with past women in modern times have achieved a lot but in reality they have to still travel a long way. Their path is full of roadblocks. The women have left the secured domain of their home and are now in the battlefield of life, fully armoured with their talent. They had proven themselves. But in India they are yet to get their dues. The sex ratio of India shows that the Indian society is still prejudiced against female. There are 933 females per thousand males in India according to the census of 2001, which is much below the world average of 990 females. There are many problems which women in India have to go through daily. These problems have become the part and parcel of life of Indian women and some of them have accepted them as their fate.
The main problems of Indian women’s are includes:- Malnutrition, Poor Health, Maternal Mortality, Lack of education, Mistreatment, Overworked, Lack of Power, Marriage, Dowry, Female infanticide/foeticide.
Generally in India, women are the one who eat last and least in the whole family. So they eat whatever is left after men folk are satiated. As a result most of the times their food intake does not contain the nutritional value required in maintaining the healthy body. In villages, sometimes women do not get to eat the whole meal due to poverty. The UNICEF report of 1996 clearly states that the women of South Asia are not given proper care, which results in higher level of malnutrition among the women of South Asia than anywhere else in the world. This nutritional deficiency has two major consequences for women first they become anaemic and second they never achieve their full growth, which leads to an unending cycle of undergrowth as malnourished women cannot give birth to a healthy baby.
The malnutrition results in poor health of women. The women of India are prejudiced from the birth itself. They are not breastfed for long. In the want of a son the women wants to get pregnant as soon as possible which decreases the caring period to the girl child whereas the male members get adequate care and nutrition. Women are not given the right to free movement that means that they cannot go anywhere on their own if they want and they have to take the permission of male member of family or have to take them along. This results in decrease in women’s visit to doctor and she could not pay attention to her health as a result.
The mortality rate in India is among highest in the world. As females are not given proper attention, which results in the malnutrition and then they are married at an early age which leads to pregnancies at younger age when the body is not ready to bear the burden of a child. All this results in complications, which may lead to gynecological problems, which may become serious with time and may ultimately, lead to death.
Lack of education
In India women education never get its due share of awareness. From the medieval India women are debarred from the educational field. According to medieval awareness women require just household education and this perception of medieval India still persists in villages of India even today. Girls are supposed to fulfil domestic duties and education becomes secondary for them whereas it is considered to be important for boys. Although scenario in urban areas has changed a lot and women are opting for higher education but majority of Indian population residing in villages still live in medieval times. The people of villages consider girls to be curse and they do not want to waste money and time on them as they think that women should be wedded off as soon as possible.
The main reason for not sending girls to school is the poor economic condition. Another reason is far off location of schools. In Indian society virginity and purity is given extreme importance during marriage and people are afraid to send their girl child to far off schools were male teacher teach them along with boys.
The lack of education is the root reason for many other problems. An uneducated mother cannot look after her children properly and she is not aware of the fatal diseases and their cure, which leads to the poor health of the children. Uneducated people do not know about hygiene this lack of knowledge of hygiene may lead to poor health of the whole family.
In India violence against women is a common evil. Not just in remote part but in cities also women bear the brunt. They are subjected to physical and mental violence. They are the one who work most but are not given their due. Women are safe anywhere neither at home nor at workplace. An hour a woman is raped in India and every 93 minutes a woman is burnt to death due to dowry problem. There are a lot of laws such as The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, The Hindu Succession Act of 1956, The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act of 1856, The Hindu Women Right to Property Act of 1937, The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, to protect women and punishment is severe but the conviction rate of crime, atrocities and violence against women is very low in India.
Indian women work more than men of India but their work is hardly recognized as they mainly do unskilled work. Their household chores is never counted as a work, if a woman is working in a field to help her husband it will also be not counted as a work. A study conducted by Mies in 1986 states that in Andhra Pradesh a woman works around 15 hours a day during the agricultural season whereas a male on an average works for around 7-8 hours.
Lack of Power
In India a large percentage of women do not have power. They cannot take decisions independently not even related to their own life. They have to take permission of male members for each and every issue. They don’t have any say in important household matters and not in matter of their own marriage.
The family mainly fixes the marriages in India. The scenario in villages is very bad. The girl is not consulted but is told to marry a guy whom her family has chosen for him. They are taught to abide by the whims and fancies of their husbands. Going against the wishes of husband is considered to be a sin. In marriage husband always has the upper hand. The groom and his parents show as if they are obliging the girl by marrying her and in return they demand hefty dowry.
It’s a serious issue. Courts are flooded with cases related to death due to dowry harassment by husband and in laws. In ancient times women were given ‘Stridhan’ when they departed from the house of their parents. This amount of money was given to her as a gift which she can use on her and her children but her in-laws did not have any right on that amount. This amount was supposed to help the girl in time of need. Slowly this tradition became obligatory and took the form of dowry. Nowadays parents have to give hefty amount in dowry, the in laws of their girl are not concerned whether they can afford it or not. If a girl brings large amount of dowry she is given respect and is treated well in her new home and if she does not bring dowry according to expectations of her in laws then she has to suffer harassment. Due to this evil practice many newlywed women of India have to lose their lives.
As women were supposed to be and in some areas of India are still considered to be curse by some strata of society their birth was taken as a burden. So in past times they were killed as soon as they were born. In some of the Rajput clans of Rajasthan newly born girl child was dropped in a large bowl of milk and was killed. Today with the help of technology the sex of the unborn baby is determined and if it is a girl child then it is aborted down. In all this procedure women do not have any say they have to do according to the wish of their husbands even if she does not want to abort she have any choice.
The divorce rate in India is not accordingly high compared to western countries but it does not mean that marriages are more successful here. The cause behind low level of divorce rate is that it is look down by the society. It is regard as the sign of breakdown of marriage, especially of women. She is treating as but she has committed some crime by divorcing her husband. In some community like Muslim women did not have the right to divorce their husband they were divorced at just the pronouncement of “I divorce you” by their husband thrice and they could not do anything except to be the mute spectator. Recently Muslim Law Board has given right of divorce to women. After divorce women is entitled to get her “Mehr” for herself and her children’s sustenance. In Hindu society women obtain maintenance for themselves and their children after divorce.
That is evident fr
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