HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN INDIA
– Satendra Pratap Singh,
5th Year Student, Institute of Law, Jiwaji University, Gwalior
– Siddharth Sharma,
4th Year Student, National Law Institute University, Bhopal
The position of women in societyreflects the standard ofits civilization. The position of Indian women through the ages has been for the most part, one of honourable subordination to and protection by men. Ever since the days of Indian law giver Manu, Hindu law has assigned women a dependent, thought not dishonourable status in society. It is a truism that the women’s status has changed from time to time in India. At the time of matriarchal families, it is a known fact that women were physically strong than men. But, menstruation, pregnancy and child birth have reduced the physical strength and she has to depend on men for food and protection. Later, matriarchalfamilies have changed to patriarchal families; and polygamywas introduced. But still that time women enjoyed a highly respectable place in the society.1
But, the status and position of women in India, has been a controversial subject, as it reflects the contradictory and the paradoxical nature of Indian society. While on the one hand ,women has been called Devi or Goddesss, the abode of gods, the perfect guide or guru of her children , on other hand , she has been criticized for her unpredictable and impulsive nature and has even been denied the basic right of existence as a human being.2
Women as wife was denoted by the words Jaya, Janni and Patni, each word denoted special characteristics of wifehood. Jaya means the sharer of the husband’s affection. Janni the mother of children, and patni was the partner in observance and performance of religious sacrifices.3
Their status was influenced by economic and political conditions at different times. With the advent of the British in India and introduction of the western system of education in India it affected the status of women. Moreover, Gandhiji’s influence brought theminto the mainstream of the freedom movement. The introduction of concept of equalitythrough various provisions in the Indian Constitution, followed by laws concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance, maintenance, widow marriage, prohibition ofsati, dowry, child marriage etc. laid the foundation of their present status.
STATUS OF WOMEN IN VEDIC PERIOD
Undoubtedly the position of women during the Vedic period was glorious on account of freedom and equality. During this period, the women participated in every walk of life. Women studied in Gurukuls and enjoyed liberty in every sphere. The great women like Apala, Visvara, Yamini, Gargi, and Ghosa stole the lime light and become front runners in society. They acquired efficiency in art, music and even warfare.4 In the Vedic age women, used to be well educated wellcultivated and well refine in their manners and etiquettes. Some of hymns of Rig Veda have been attributed to female rishis.5
The history of ancient India may be said to commence from the period during which the Rig Veda was composed.6 The wife has been blessed to live as a queen in the husband’s house in Rig Veda. This shows a high status of women. The man was not religiously competent to perform religious duties without his wife. There was absence of the purdah system, right to select life partners. However, the system of polygamy and dowry was only prevalent in the ruling class. There was no prohibition in the remarriage of widow and also no discrimination between a boy and girl. As a result girls were permitted to undergo thread ceremony. (Upanayana Sanskara).7
In ancient India, women held equal status with men. During the Aryan period, women were accepted in their own right. This is evident from the Vedas, when women were praised in the hymns. Feminine deities like Saraswati, Kali, Lakshmi, Durga are worshipped even today. Philosophically, women was a symbol of strength i.e. Shakti. Women fully participated in religious rituals. They joined Gurukulas (boarding schools) and participated in public debates or discourses. Women were allowed to choose their own life partners.8
In the Vedic age, women enjoyed all the religious rights and privileges, which men possessed. Some of them were even authors of Vedic hymns. They, therefore, could recite Vedic mantra as a matter of course. In the Vedic age there were no images to worship or temples to visit.
Marriage was Union of the two individuals of two sexes who had attained full physical development. During this period, some girls remained unmarried in their father’s houses. A well-known example of this was gosha. The forms of marriage prevalent during this period were monogamous though there was some reference to pologamy. Marriage was the ideal recommended to society by Vedic religion. The women were not an impediment in the path of religion, her presence and co-operation was absolutely necessary in religious rites and ceremonies. This increased her religious value. Man could not become spiritual, unless he was accompanied by his wife.9
Normally, religious prayers and sacrifices were offered jointly by the husband and the wife. The wife was to take an active and real part in family sacrifice. Like the husband, she too had to perform a special Upanayana on the occasion of same sacrifice. If husband was away on a journey, the wife alone performed the various sacrifices, which the couple had offered jointly.10
Indrani in one place proudly claims that she had started some rites and rituals. Gods and Goddesses usually fashioned after the human model. The researcher may, therefore, well infer that a few lady theologians may have made some contributions to the development of the Vedic ritual. What Indrani did might well have been possible for some of the cultural ladies of the Vedic age, whose songs have been honoured by their inclusion in the Vedic Samhita.11 Women did not remain in door, but moved out freely; they publicly attend feast and dance.12
Classification of groups of girls during Vedic period The girls were classified in two groups
1) The Brahamvadini students, who donned the sacred thread, reminder of the holy vows, tends the fire and study Vedas, but in distinction from the boy students, do the begging for alms with their own parental homes.
2) The Sadyo Vadhay who were given these sacrament only symbolically and formally, immediately before their marriage .Man used to treat them as partner in looking after the affairs of Grihastha.13
The Upnisada represents the aim or goal of the Veda. Sankara interprets the expression ‘upnishad’ to mean what ‘destroys’ ignorance or what leads to Brahamma. There is glorious examples of a brahmavadini as well as a Sadyervadhu. The brahamavadini is Gargi of immortal reputation whose enlightening discussions on meta-physical problems of philosophy with the great sage yajnavalkya have been recorded in classical and elaborated text of the upnishad known as the c`gnkj.;dksifeIV. The famous immortal discussion of Gargi with her husband Yajnavalkya on the eve of his retirement from the world; resulting in her being gifted with knowledge of the absolute. The Brahmavadini Gargi has gained inner most depth of the philosophy.14
In the vedic time, Hindu law imposed a personal obligation to maintain obedient and faithful wife. Yajnavakya stated that if a man abandoned a wife who was obedient diligent, the mother of a son and agreeable in speech, he was to be made to give one-third of his property to the wife and to maintain if she had no property.15
Women was considered more power full than men and treated as Goddess of “Shakti”. The wife was considered as ardhanagini of the husband , which meant that she constitute half of the personality of her husband.16
STATUS OF WOMEN IN POST-VEDIC PERIOD
During the Post-Vedic period, certain limitation and restrictions were placed by Manu on the rights and privileges of women and certainly the status of women suffered and they were confined to the four walls of their houses.17 The birth of girl was treated as a disaster for the family. Girls were denied access to education. Girls were not allowed to undergo thread ceremony (upanayana sanskara). During this period, pre-puberty marriage system was organized, thus the marriagable age of girls was lowered to 9 or 10 years. However, girls belonging to ruling class were allowed to receive education, training in military, science,
Surprisingly, in post Vedic period, the women’s right to property was recognized and the concept of “stridhan” prevailed. As Manu defined- “stridhan” means- “that which was given to her before the nuptial fire, in bridal procession in token of love and which she has received from father, mother, brother and husband.19
The Upanayana rites for the girls were completely abandoned during the period 500 BC to 500AD which can be approximated to the period of early Smritis, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharta and the early Puranas. The law makers restricted the freedom of women not only in deeds and speeches but society became polygamous. During this period there was disappearance of polyandry except in rare cases as Pandava’s practiced polyandry by Draupadi in Mahabharta. The marriageable age of girls was reduced and there were deprivation of women in various areas during the Puranic and Epic period. The observance of the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharta and the women had only duty to obey their husbands blindly.20
(i) Position of Women under Manu’ Code
In one of Manu’s codes, it has been mentioned, “A little girl, a young woman, or a woman advance in year, must never do anything even in her own dwelling place according to her mere pleasure.” During child hood , a female must depend upon her father during youth upon her husband , her husband being dead upon her son ;If she has no sons upon the near kinsmen of her husband :in default ,upon those of her father ; if she has no parental kinsmen , upon sovereign; a women must never given herself as she likes”.21 She should never enjoy independence. Perhaps, this was the basis of the status of early Hindu women.22
It is Manu’s Code that has had the most negative effect on Indian women for countless succeeding generations. Even today, it is his laws which keep millions helpless in the prison of Hindu orthodoxy. Manu for the first time legally assigned to women her definite place in the society. But his law reflects a conflict even within himself between his valuations of women as a spiritual entity on. He averred that a mother is more to be revered than a thousand fathers, yet his laws place women socially on a level with the lowest of all groups. Manu enumerated many laws directing a wife’s conduct he says that a wife must show to her husband such utter devotion that he must be treated like a God, even when he is consciously lacking in virtue. No sacrifice, no vow, no fast must be performed by women apart from their husbands. If a wife obeys her husband she will for that (reason) be exalted in heaven.23
Manu further states that a vicious husband must be worshipped, but a bad wife may at any time be superseded by another wife. Besides this, the husband may leave the wife on other grounds also. A barren wife may be superseded in the eight year; she whose all children die, in the tenth; she only who bear daughters; in the eleventh; but she who is quarrelsome, without delay.24
The Laws of Manu stated that women were created to be mothers and that they may perform religious rites along with their husbands. Yet there are some passages which deny to women the privilege of offering sacrifices.
Concerning betrothal regulations, Manu says that daughter should be given in marriage by her father at proper time, she should be given to a distinguished, handsome, boy of the same caste. In Laws of Manu; woman and low caste sudras are bracketed together, but he also expressed a notably high appreciation for worthy women. There are instance of high appreciation of womanhood in the following law of Manu- “where women are honoured, there the gods are pleased. But where they are not honoured, no sacred rite yield rewards.”25 Manu’s social codes and sanctions left their marks permanently on the future status of the Indian women. Manu clamped down women’s freedomin certain spheres in order to safeguard their position and to preserve the family structure. Manu’s famous dictum “a women must be her father’s shadow in childhood, her husband’s in her youth, her son’s in old age” is too well known. He equated woman with slave and his laws epitomize complete submission of women to men and there are still the sanctioned code of conduct ascribed and largely accepted by women. If the lady of the house is happy, the whole household will be happy, but if she is not happy nothing else would give delight.
Manu vehemently opposed to purchase of women. He never gives sanction to such a marriage. He recognized the adoption of girl child as putrika which conferred on her all the rights of a son. Manu brought down the age of marriage for a girl and advocated child marriage, though he warned fathers not to give away their daughter to men devoid of goods qualities.26
Thus, the laws of Manu as do all the earlier documents of Hinduism show various attitudes both appreciative and depreciative toward women.27
(ii) Position of Women in Puranas
In the period of later to smritis women were declared to be the same status as that of the sudras’, and came to be gradually excluded from the study of higher theology and philosophy. The Puranas, eighteen in number are religious stories of “ancient tales” they belong to popular Hinduism. There is a combination of praise and blame for women. In spite of prohibition laid upon the feminine, there is outstanding praise of goddess, who in the puranas occupies a position of great importance. The idea of goddess being the Shakti, or energy of her husband took definite formin Hinduism. But insame verses the association ofwomanhood with deification is scarcely recognized.
“A king should never trust ladies…………”Agni 224.33.
No wise man believes a vile woman. (Brahma vaivrte, Prakrit Khanda) 16.41-51. “No confidence should be reposed in ………women” (Garuda 1090)28
Women are by their nature make and weak women cannot study shastra” Matsya 2.154.156.
“The women are not entitled to letter the Veda mantras……….” (Agni 152.9-12)
According to Matsya Puranas, women accompanied their husband to the temple. As in Vedic period, In Puranic period too, women appeared in public assemblages. Women travelled and engaged in trade; however they were not encouraged to travel abroad.29
The supreme importance given to Grihastha Ashrama for sustaining social life implied the responsibility of women in building up society. Marriage was one of the necessities of a man or a woman. Kautilya mentions eight kinds of marriage – “Brahma, Prajapaty, Arsha, Daiva, Gandharva, Asura, Rakshasa and Paisacha.” He forbids the practice of cruelty towards each other. The limits of personal freedom hinged on the natural and extent of Shulka (maintenance). Kautilya permits remarriage of women under special circumstances. Women not provide maintenance, Shulka has the right of remarriage with permission of Griatis (Kinsmen).30
The Kautilya Arthashastra deals with the question of harassment of wife by the husband and the possibility ofher deserting the home. Kautilya not only the separation between the husband and wife but also laid down laws as regards her maintenance. The Arthashastra considers the question of dissolution of marriage.31 Kautilya permits divorce for women in case of long absence of the husband or when the partner suffered from terminable illness or infertility. Kautilya advocate that widows could lead an independent life. They were allowed to re- marry with or without the consent of their in-laws under certain condition.32
(iii) Position of Women in Mahabharta
Mahabharata, the greatest epic depicts the social life of India. It was a moral encyclopedia in Indian literature. In this heroic age the poets of Mahabharata portray, onthe whole, womanhood which was noble, intelligent and active. In Mahababharta we see women in the home, at court on the battlefield and in intellectual and spiritual capacities. In Mahabharta women find high praise for the devoted wife as in the laws of Manu and Puranas.
It is revealed from the text of Mahabharta that Queen Gandhari (Adi Parva), who shared in the affairs of state, bandaged the eyes that she might not have any joy which was denied to her blind husband. It is scarce understanding and deep sympathy for her husband.
She did not hesitate to remonstrate with him when she knew her husband treating the wrong path. Hence, the reasons why she firmly requested her husband to disown their sinful sons. Her supreme injunctionYata dharma toto jayah has gained universal significance.
Two wives has been married to Pandu, Kunti, princess of the Yadavas; and Madri sister of a king of Madra whom Bhishm had obtained for his nephew, in exchange for a large quality of gold and jewels. This sale of women was an anomalous incident in the custom of India and was in defiance of Brahmanical Laws.33
There were lots of women but Gandhari, Kanti, Draupadi, Savitri, Damayanti, Sabualata and Satyabhama the great women who, through grihanis, were also reputed brahma vadhinis and saintly ladies.
Women had freedom to acquire knowledge. In Mahabharata women are not only pictured as beautiful mild, tender and long suffering but there are also women of energy, strong will and daring pride. It is reported that women go hunting and cattle branding with men. Women take part in picnics and festivals.34
In Mahabharata there is the highest praise for women and at the same time the bitterest denunciation. They are not isolated but are in close contact with the events of their time. They are capable and serviceable member of society. As a matter of fact, the epic seems to have produced outstanding portraits of women which have helped to stir Hindu women with hope and faith.
(iv) Status of Women in Ramayana
The Ramayana is one of the most effective epic of all Hindu sacred writings. Women have no individual identity their personality is blended with men. The Ramayana enjoys the lifelong inseparability of wives and husband. The Ramayana reaffirmed the deep seated Hindu conception that husband is a women’s greatest deity.
The influence exercises by the Ramayana upon the Hindus reaching down to the lowest starts of society are an immense. The character of Sita has become the grand example to Hindu women as the embodiment of purity, chastity whitely and fidelity. She has furnished Hindu ladies with the highest and noblest conception of their duties in their various and manifold relation of life. Hindu women were denied freedom of thoughts .According to Ramanyna, her husband, however evil might be, nevertheless is to be revered as her God.35
WOMEN UNDER DIFFERENT RELIGIONS
(i) Women in Buddhism and Jainism
Both Budhism and Jainism were ascetic religions and they have not devoted much attention to the duties and ideals of law down. The founders and leaders of both these movements shared the indifference to or contempt of women which is almost universal among the advocates of the ascetic ideal. The Buddha was reluctant to admit women to his Church and the Digambara Jain hold that women can never get salvation except byfirst being reborn as man. But Buddhism did not subscribe to this dharma.
Both Buddhism and Jainism placed nuns center a mere rigorous discipline than monks. Some of the restrictions placed upon the nuns were no doubt reasonable ones, they should not stay alone without protection of monks, theyshould avoid the companyofmen of doubtful character and live together in groups of twos and threes etc.36
Buddha regarded women as feeble by nature and therefore cautions men while keeping their company and also placed women under more strict discipline. But he did not consider them inferior or detestable. They were fully qualified to tread the path of morality and spirituality.37
(ii) Women in Islam
The lslamic teaching is to raise human dignity and honour .It relive mankind from disgrace and provided higher and honourable place in human dignity. The Holy Quran point out that men and women both have helped and cooperative with each other in development of human life
.Both have equally shared the burden of life. Their union has brought the civilization in to existence. No notion of the world can neglect either of them.38
Man has been by the Holy Quran that he should not ill treat his wife or even divorce and discard her if he does not feel satisfied with her, as Allah in his mercy might have put some good in that also.
Mahar, under the Islamic system, becomes a very beneficial check on divorce or dissolution of marriage. These being no maximum fixed for dower, an exorbitant amount is sometimes fixed and that becomes a great deterrent to divorce.
(iii) Women in Sikhism
The Sikh doctrine brought revolutionarychange in the status ofwomen and theyfullyparticipated in “Sangat” and “Pangat” established byGuru Nanak. The practice of Satihas been condemned. The purdah or ghoongat, that is veiling of women’s face, was eradicated. The Guru Nanak has said on the position of women, in his Bani. His Bani is full of references to child marriage, purdah and conditions of widow.39 He has also referred to the life of a householder and the family as a social unit. Guru Nanak said that only a good wife was commendable and deserved love and respect in the family. A bad wife had no physical or moral trails to commend her.40
STATUS OF WOMEN DURING MEDIEVAL PERIOD
During medievalperiod, Muslim invaders came to India. As a result of the Muslim impact, the ancient Hindu order was almost completely destroyed. The position of a woman was distinctly subordinate and in the long run came to be understood as the servant of the male and dependence upon him in every stage of life.41
As a daughter, women lived under the wardship of her father, as a wife under the tutelage of her husband, and as a widow under the core of her eldest son. Her life was a state of perpetual wardship. The girls were unwelcome in this period because of dowry system. It was impossible to marry the girls to suitable bridegroom without handsome dowry to bridegroom’s parents. The poor and lower middle class families ruined because of this social evil.42 She was killed among some tribes even when in infancy. If she was permitted to live she was given away to a husband in an indissoluble tie. If she died in pregnancy, she some time turned the most dreaded ofevil spirits, known as the ‘Churail’, and haunted the neighborhood. Thus, from her birth to her death, the position of a woman was most unpleasant Religion and other ameliorating movement carefully excluded her from every position of power, even from a place in their inner hierarchy.43
The main function of women, according to Hindu ideas was to bring a male child. Indian women were strictly confined to home and domestic cares. Thus, all her dreams were concentrated on providing herself a devoted wife to husband and in trying to please him.
The Muslim tradition with regard to women varies according to the country. The Turks in general gave their women a fair measure of freedom. In Hindustan, the Muslim followed the older traditions of the ancient Persians, which put the women in an inferior position. At that time the women suffered from the lack of association with men. As a daughter they only associates of a girl were her girls playmate and her brother from among boys. When she was married and became a wife, she lived in the company of her husband; but the presence of members of the joint family and perhaps a few other co-wives discouraged the development of healthy love and feelings of companionship between the married couple. In the medieval period in spite of restrictions, women exercised great influence at home and some of them helped husband in their avocations. There were many Hindu women of outstanding ability during this period notably Rani Durgawati of Gondware (who was a brave soldier and a capable administrator), Rani Karmavati, Mira bai, Tara bai etc. Among the Muslims, Nurjahan, Mumtaz Mahal, Chandbidi, Jahanara, Raushanara, Zebunnisa and Sahibiji played an important part in the state affair of that time.44
The intellectual culture of women varied according to class. In villages where a women was part of rural economy, there was no room for cultural growth. On the other hand poorer class of peasant women did not get time for intellectual occupations. Their mental culture thus did not proceed beyond a very backward stage.45
(i) Female Education During Medieval Period
Nonetheless, it is true that the girls were not altogether deprived of parental affection and love. Once a female child was born, it become the duty of the parents to bring her up and educate her properly, but scope of her education was limited. Child marriage restricted the proper education ofwomen. Education imparted to them on condition that theyare taught not by outsider, but by their own parents and brother.
Some girls dedicated to temple as Devadasis or who took up the profession of prostitutes. Such women were proficient in dancing and singing. Girls of royal families were undoubtedly imparts militaryand administrative education. There were queens who governed their respective Kingdom after the death of Kings.46
(ii) Sati: A Popular Custom
Sati systemhad been prevalent since early times in India it was optional and never compulsory. It was mostly prevalent in the ruling families. Hindu widows, either they ended their lives by burning themselves, if they wants to live they had to lead a life of widowhood, full of misery and they prefers the first.47
In medieval period, it was the notion that women, dying on the funeral pyre of her husband would enjoy eternal bliss in heaven. It is clear that Sati was most popular among the warrior classes of India. Women followed the advice of the Dharmasastras without any hesitation and gladly accompanied the dead bodies of their husbands on their funeral pyres.48
Sati System was more prevalent in the royal families than in other classes of the society. As regards the wives of Kings, they are in the habit of burning them whether they wish or not. It was also believed that Sati was a same means of the reunion of the wife with her husband after death.49
The practice of Sati, sanctified by long tradition and encouraged by the Brahmins was established firmly and became an integral part of Hindu social system in the medieval period. Hindu women burnt themselves because they were ill-treated after their husband.50
Purdah was maintained generally by the Muslim women and also by some sections of the Hindu women particularly belonging to the upper and well-to-of classes. Poor women especially in the rural areas who had to work out-doors for their maintenance could not have afforded to observe the rules of Purdah or to remain in seclusion with the same rigidity as their sister belonging to the upper classes of society. Among the Mohamdan women do not allow their faces to be seen by anyone, it being contrary to their law to allow themselves to be seen with a uncovered face. A milder and less elaborate form of Purdah commonly known as “Ghoonghat”. The term “Purdah” may also be used to signify the seclusion of women in a separate building or in a segregated apartment or part of building, which came to be popularly known as the Haram.51
The general adoption of the Purdah system by the ruling and aristocratic families of Hindu community is subsequent to the advent of the Muslim rule. It was accepted by Hindu society partly in limitation of the manners of the conquerors and partly as an additional protection for the women folk.
Purdah was strictly observed among high class families of both communities during Mughal Period. Ladies of high families thought improper to move out without aristocratic veils, princesses would go out rarely and that, too only with the provision permission of the King.
Purdah was no less strictly observed among middle class muslim ladies who dared not move out of doors without a veil, which consisted of a burqa or a chadar and hide her from top to toe. She was thus able to see others through the thin layer of net but could not be seen by them.52
No such coercive purdah system seems to have been observed among the Hindu middle class and certainly not among the Hindu masses. Hindu ladies could move out of doors with little or no restriction during medieval period.
Women of the lower stratum of our society, such as, peasant and working classes, were entirely free from the bandage of Purdah. They were expected to help their husband in all external pursuits and internal economy.53
Other reason was that most of the Hindu women at this time were illiterate. The time was unsettled, there was general feeling of insecurity and Hindu life and honour did not count for much in the eyes of conquerors. The Purdah afforded some addition protection to beautiful women while out on journey from the covetous eyes of an unscrupulous soldiery.54
Before the advent of Muslims, women held an enviable position in the society. They were the centre of all activity in the family. It is said that Muslims were responsible for the growth of Purdah system in India in ancient time. Child marriage had become a popular feature of the social life in Mughal period. Girls were generally married before they reached age of nine or ten years.
The position of women with regard to her husband was that of a dependent, in honourable subordination, at least as long as mutual relation remained cordial. The divorce and remarriage, common among Muslim were prohibited to Hindu women.55
(iv) Child Marriage
Early marriage had become almost an universal feature of the medieval Indian social life. Girls rarely exceeded the age of nine or ten years and the boys sixteen or seventeen before they were wedded.
The Hindus join their children in marriage on the age of only four or five years. Often their daughters are married even before they have learnt to talk. In almost similar kind of practice, generally connected with early marriages continue to exist even today, in some parts of Bihar and U.P. and it is popularly known as ‘Gaune’ or ‘Diiragammane’. Emperor Akbar seems to have disliked early marriages, and he tried to check this practice as far as possible.56
Money played an important part when a marriage was arranged between persons of unequal ages or social status. Some times for the sake of wealth young man would marry a woman older than himself mostly poor girls married to old man. Akbar tried in vain to bring home to his people that the consent of the bride and bridegroom as well as permission of the parents was essential before the confirmation of the engagement.57
(v) Dowry and Divorce
The restriction of caste, marriage, which might have considerably narrowed the sphere of matrimonial relations, may be regarded as important factor of matrimonial relations may be regarded as important factor responsible for prevalence of dowry system in the society which was more universal amongst its richer and well to do sections than amongst the commoners. The nature of dowry varied according to the economic standard and social status of the parties concerned. It was gifts to bride firstly and was known as “Pan” or tilak, while in the second sense, it was termed as Jautuka or dahej.58
Another form of dowry was also in vogue in those days. In this, it was the bride’s side and not the bridegrooms which received the dowry. It was common for a husband to buy his wife and if bride refuse for money, her parents have to return double amount of money.59
It appear that the evils of dowry system prevailed with greater rigour in Bengal .There was also a curious custom of giving away a younger sister of the bride to the bridegroom as a part of dowry.60
Dowry was originally given willingly to the daughter by the parents at the time of her marriage in lieu of her share in the property, meant exclusively for her benefit and economic security at the time of crisis in her life. Now it is turned into a social evil.61
Jauhar was custom more or less, confined to the gallant Rajputs. When a Rajput Chief and his soldiers became sure of their defeat in a military encounter, they either killed their women and children or locked them inside a Fort or an underground enclosure and set that on fire. Then the Brave Rajputs sword in hand died while fighting gallantly against enemies. This custom was popularly known as ‘Jauhar’. The Rajputs did not know of surrender; their watch world in the battle field, were victory or death and this custom of Jauhar was mainly intend to safeguard the honour of the women folk at the cost of their lives. Women folk at the Jauhar in fact the custom refers to the high standard of womanly honour maintained among the brave Rajputs.62
WOMEN’S POSITION DURING THE BRITISH PERIOD
During British period the position of women had undergone drastic changes mainly due to western impact on the Indian social-cultural pattern. The concept of equality, liberty and individual secularism, although, arose but limited to ruling class.63
When the Indians came in vital contact with the British in the latter half of the eighteen century, the position of the Indian woman had reached the maximum degree of deterioration. Ideologically women were considered a completely inferior species, inferior to the male, having no significance, no personality. Socially she was kept in a state of utter subjection, denied any right and was suppressed and oppressed.
Thus, not only social institutions and customs thwarted the free growth of her personality, but the prevailing ideology also assigned the Indian women an inferior status. She was denied independent personality. Her existence was taken for granted. Her opinion, her desires, her likes or dislikes were never to be considered. Thus, moral nature of women was considered as a temptress, a being whose sole aim is to divert man from right path. The daughter is considered by the father as a burden to be disposed off quickly as an object for having male children.64
She was further regarded unfit for participation in social, political or religious functions of any significance. She was not even worthy of receiving education. As a result of this, the Indian women on the eve of the British rule had not only lost her independence but her sense and urge for freedom and consequences ofindependent personality. As Pandita Ramabai describes her position at that time, “she was forbidden to read the sacred scriptures.”65
Great social reforms like Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chander Vidya Sagar also did not overlook the economic background leading to the miserable plight of women in human social injustice heaped on them. Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar highlighted the economic reasons for infant marriage, polygamy etc. in their writings. Ram Mohan Roy’s famous petition to the then Governor-General, signed by many people of high status for prohibition of Sati expresses the filthy property interests behind the inhuman system.66
The idea that girls should receive education outside their own homes had never found place in Indian life. It was taken for granted and the same was true of England also. In the beginning of the nineteenth century in England and there was a practice that girls could acquire all that was necessary in the way of education in their home surroundings. When Lord William Bentink deputed WilliamAdam in 1835 to inquire into the state of indigenous schools, he found a number of boys schools both of scholastic and vocational type, but he did not find any girls school. The first Indians to take an active interest in women’s education were not unnaturally the most Europeanized communities in India, the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal and Parsis in Bombay, one of the greatest member of the former Ishwar Chander Vidya Sagar, working in an official capacity as Inspector of schools, established forty girl schools between 1855 and 1858.67
In the first half of the nineteenth century, official efforts for female education were very formal and nominal. Later the Christen missionaries took up social and welfare work along with enlightened Indian women. Some of the renowned intellectuals, the famous poets Taxi Dutt and Asu Dutt, and Pandita Ramabai, Social workers were converted Christians. The Y.W.C.A. with its missionary aim, engaged itself in spreading women’s education and carried on social and welfare work for women upliftment, but of course, with its own limited purpose.68
Thus, in the late 19th century, through leading social reformers in different parts of India, a movement for women’s upliftment, for their education and legal rights, became wide spread but these movements and social reform activities were limited to the upper middle State of society.69
WOMEN IN POST INDEPENDENT INDIA
After Independence, a number of legal measures were enacted to improve the standard, equality and life of women. The Special Marriage Act, 1956, provided for a form of marriage for person who does not profess the Christian, Jewish and Hindu religions. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 pertaining to Hindus, Buddhist, Sikhs and Jains introduced uniformity of treatment in the matter of matrimonial law. The Hindu SuccessionAct, 1956, conferred on women the right to exhaust and hold property. The Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act, 1956 sought to prevent the exploitation ofwomen and girls. The Prostitutionand Immortal Traffic Act, 1958 abolished prostitution. The Dowry ProhibitionAct, 1961 removed some of the special disabilities suffered by women in regard to dowry. Maternity Benefit Act 1961 passed in 1961. The Domestic ViolenceAct, 2005 prevents women from domestic atrocities.70
With independence, women were granted equal status with men. The government made all out-effort to raise the status of women in the various fields through legislation. Compulsory marriageable age, the Adoption Act, 1956; Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 and legalizing of abortion are all in favour of women with the rapid urbanization and industrialization of the century. Exploitation of women in recent years has been a serious menace to our society.71
Constitution framers were aware about the low status of women in India. So they have made some provisions for women in Constitution for protection of women rights. Article 14 of the Constitution ensure equality before law, Article 15 prohibits any discrimination and Article 15(3) empowers the state to make special provisions for women and children, though the Hindu Code Bill reforms were brought out in matters concerning marriage, maintenance inheritance, adoption of children etc. Various labour laws were enacted based on equal right some opportunities for women in work places. After independence, several women took up leadership in the fields of education, health, social work, politics, administrative service, Indian Police Service and Allied Services.72
In 1974, a committee on status of Indian women was appointed under Chairmanship of Mrs. Phulrenu Guha. The main task of the committee was to undertake comprehensive examination of all the questions selected to the rights and status of women in the context of changing social and economic condition in the country and problems relating to the advancement of women.73
In the voluntary sector, several women’s organizations engage themselves in research, documentation in women’s issues and providing leadership and socio-political climate in favour of women’s development.
The Commission on Self-Employment of women appointed by the Department of Women and Child Development submitted their report which has be come the basis for planning of programmes and activities for self-employment opportunities for women.74 Today in the progressive strata of society all that is changing a wife may meet and entertain her husband’s friends and see her face to face. She can read the news of the world and may playing her part in shaping modern India. She may be a member of an Indian Parliament, a Magistrate, a member of local board or municipality or an organizer of Philanthropic work.75
In the Human Development Report 1996, India Rank103 in gender related development Index. Women’s earned income share is paltry. Mere 2.3 percent women are administrator and manager, 20.5percent professional and technical workers all of whom collectively earn 25 percent of the share income. With the liberalization policy and restructuring, women are likely to be further marginalized. More and more women will be forced out of their homes to join a vast unorganized labour force as the burden of welfare shifts to the family from the state.76
There has been insistent and consistent pressure on the Government of India to formulate a National policy for women since the late seventies which went unheard for two decades. International pressure was the reason for the Government establishing a committee to examine the status of women in India in preparation for the International women’s conference on Mexico in 1975.The report submitted by the committee toward equality.77
Historically women’s status has been one of ups and downs. In early Vedic period the women were treated equally, they participated in public affairs as well as other matters. There was no discrimination between boys and girls. Girls attain education in gurukulas. They also wrote hymns and were skilled in arts, music etc. This was a good period for women.
But in later Vedic Period women faced so many restrictions. Manu’s Code, Samrities, Puranas and epics impose restrictions and prohibit women to move independently. Women were dependent on man during this period. They were subordinate to their father, in growth to her husband and during widowhood to her son. It was the beginning of the down fall in the status of women. She was never allowed to get formal education. The social evil grows this time. She was supposed to produce male child and take care of households. She expected to be good and loving mother, prudent house wife and humble and obedient daughter.
In medieval period the Muslim invaders came to India. To protect the womanhood from invaders Hindu Women put behind the curtain (Purdah). Purdah was observed by only high caste women. Sati system was in full swing. Hindu widows preferred to became Sati because they were being illiterate if they remain alive. But Purdah was not observed by the middle or lower middle class child marriage was famous custom during medieval period. The girls child was married in the age of 6 to 10 years. Unmatched marriage was prevalent in that society. Dowry system was popular in the society. Due to the western effect the women became aware about their right. British government helped to improve the status of women. Special schools were run by the British with the help of Indian social workers such as Ishwar Chander Vidya Sagar, Raja Ram Mohan Roy etc.
In the post-independent era, certain provisions were made in the Constitution to raise the status of women in Indian society and, subsequently several legislations have been enacted for empowerment of women with the purpose to improve the status ofwomen. Inspite of legislative measures and reform movements, women are oppressed from birth and continue till death. The female child is still an “unwelcome intrusion in many homes and society’ a girl is called “Parayadhan” and a boy “Apanadhan”.
The Indian women are still unfree, exploited, sold as commodity, liquidated without the law and held hostage by an exploitative combination. Gender injustice to the weaker sex is the disturbing concern of all Indians, men and women, politicians, professionals and people with a social conscience, and we must battle for the cause of freedom and development of the feminine sector as an integral and strategic part of the struggle for human justice. No society can be free, fair and just until its women enjoy freedom and justice and opportunity for enfoldment of their full potential.78 The discrimination against women is incomparable with human dignity. It is an obstacle to the full development of the potentialities of women in the service of their countries humanities and society.79
Women have a significant role in the social political, economic and cultural life and an indispensable part to play in the family, particularly in the rearing of children. But patriarchal social systems of the world over have sustained bias, prejudices and discriminations against women compelling them to bear perennial travails of disempowerment, subjugation and oppression.80 It is the time to change the society, especially duty of men to bring about a change. Every effort must be make to ensure that a girl child is treated as an integral and equal member of family. Historically women were in sound position. The foregoing study reveals that Vedic period was a glorious period in Indian society. Women were free to move anywhere and to receive education. They were treated equal as men. Women participated in every sphere of the life in ancient society. But the position of women detoriated during the post Vedic period. That was the period of Puranas, Samrities and Epics. The code of Manu was the first written law. Manu was considered as the father of Hindu law and he defined the limitations and conditions of women.81
Medievalperiod was the worse period for Indian women. The women were exploited physically as well as mentally. Social evils like Sati, Pardah, Child marriage and Jaahar were prevalent during medieval period. But, In spite of discrimination some women had proved best warriors, administrators and singers etc.82 During British Period women were in the lowest ebb of the society. But social reformers played important role in the upliftment of the status of women. Freedom fighters also mobilized them in to the freedom struggle. After Independence, certain provisions and legislations have been enacted for the welfare of women. Certain provisions were incorporated in the constitution in order to protect women.