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STATUS OF WOMEN IN INDIA
INTRODUCTION: In a country which boasts of its glorious heritage, where woman has not only enjoyed the equal status but has been described in the scriptures as more than the better half, it has become necessary today for the Government to create special laws and enforce them rigorously to give the desired social and economic status to the women in India.
DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT: The status of women in India is a matter of serious concern. The violence and crime against women have been ever on increase, since independence. And so has been the perpetuation of structural and cultural inequality practised in various forms despite the constitutional and legal guarantees aimed at equality and against discrimination in any form. The problem is in fact deep-rooted as is to be found in any patriarchal society, of which India is one of the best examples. In the context of ‘feministic problems, four aspects— production, reproduction, sexuality and socialisation of children—have been studied. In India’s context males generally dominate in all the four spheres, though women carry out major responsibilities in these four areas. ,
CONCLUSION: The status of women in independent India occupies an important place and all efforts are being made to establish the significant role that she can play in the uplift of her own self, her family and the society at large. Not only the removal of inequality and imbalance but improvement in the quality and standard of life of the women should be our goal.
During Rig-Veda times women enjoyed a status of equality with men unsurpassed ever since. Some of the features of this equality noted by historians may be briefly mentioned:- Women along with men received education, participated in popular assemblies, took part in debates (Shashtrartha) observed brahmacharya and upanayana was reformed for them. Studied Vedas and composed hymns Ghosha, Apala, Ishvara were outstanding composers of Vedic hymns. Women rishis like Gargi and Maitreyi are well-known names. Could own property and remarry. Marriage was sacrament and monogamy was a general rule. Child marriage, sati, polyandry were unknown. However, there were some cases of polygamy among them, rich. The wife was given a place of honour and participated with her husband in religious ceremonies.
The position of women deteriorated in the later Vedic period. They were denied the right of inheritance and ownership of property. The situation, however, had not altered altogether as they continued to have upanayana and the right to receive-education. During the Buddhist period, women were denied the right of Vedic studies if not learning altogether. The situation worsened in the real sense only since the Gupta period as dowry emerged as an institution, widow remarriage was not allowed, Women had no right to property and Life has to be spent in penance and austerity. However, Purdah and Sati systems were as yet non-existent. We also hear names like Lilavati and Khana experts in arithmetic and astronomy even in this period. In the medieval period, the position of women became worse than what has been mentioned under the Gupta period.
In this period female infanticide, child-marriage, purdah, Jauhar, sail and slavery were the main social evils affecting the position of women. The birth of a daughter was considered had to luck. Giving freedom to women was thought of as the predecessor of doom. Women were largely uneducated and remained confined to their homes Conservatism, superstition and belief in magic, sorcery and witchcraft were part of women’s existence.
During the British Period some of the social problems which attracted the attention of the British administrators and enlightened social reformers were sad, infanticide, child marriage, the prohibition of widow remarriage and the overall deplorable status of Indian women.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the practice of Sati was confined to Hoogly, Nadia and Burdwan districts of Bengal, Gazipur of Uttar Pradesh and Shahabad of Bihar. In Southern India, it was practised in Ganjam, Masulipatnam and Tanjore districts. In Rajasthan, Punjab and Kashmir the practice was confined to high caste women. In Bengal alone, three-fourths of the total incidents of sati took place during British India.
The phenomena were more prevalent among the Brahmans and Rajputs.
The British have shown interest in the abolition of Sati. Ram Mohan. Roy actively campaigned against sati. He announced that the rite of Sati was not a part of the shastras. However, despite the laws against sati, occurrences of sati are reported from various districts of Rajasthan, even today.
Female infanticide was widespread among the Rajputs of Benaras, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and in parts of Punjab and Sind among some Sikhs. The reasons for female infanticide can be traced to the deplorable position of women in Hindu society, the dowry system, hypergamy and the sense of honour and pride. In 1779, infanticide was declared to be murder by the Bengal Regulation XXI. In 1804, this was extended to other parts of India. Howeve4 the practice continued in secret till recently, particularly among the Rajputs in Rajasthan. Dowry was its main cause.
Child marriage is prevalent even today among the rural ‘People and among the urban illiterate people and poor. This institution is the result of hypergamy, dowry, the notion of virginity and chastity. It has resulted in the problems of overpopulation, poverty, unemployment, ill health, dependence upon parents etc. The first legislation was passed in 1860 under which the minimum age for Consummation of Marriage in the case of girls was raised to ten in 1891, the age of consent for girls was raised to twelve. In 1929, the Child Kanlage Restraint Act (Sharda Bill) was passed raising the age of marriage for ‘a \girl to fourteen and for a boy to eighteen. The Hindu Marriage Art of 1955 puts the minimum age of marriage for a bride at fifteen and for a bridegroom at eighteen. This was raised later and today stands at eighteen and twenty-one respectively.
Even today in rural areas sanction against widow remarriage is quite strong, although the Act providing for widow re-marriage came quite early. With the efforts of Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act was passed in 1856. 111.1861, a widowed marriage Association was ‘formed., The Arya Samaj gave top priority to this programme.
Legislations for Hindu women in matters of marriage, adoption and Inheritance are the Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment Act),1929, the Hindu Marriage Disability Removal Act, 1946, the Hindu Women Right of Property Act, 1937, the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Hindu Succession Act and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1%, the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, the Criminal Law Amendment, 1983
The Post-Independence period in India as also the decades 1960s and 1970s saw a universal movement amongst women for equality with men All over the world feminism has its origin in inequalities between men and women and discrimination and oppression against women. For a long time, women remained within the four walls of their households. Their dependence on men folk was total. But in recent years educated women in particular and the poor ones, in general, realised the need for taking up employment outside the household. The middle-class women have taken up the issue of price rise and have launched anti-price rise movements in various cities in India. Within the household, women -have demanded equality with men. What exists for men is demanded, women.
However, the experience shows that men’s tyrannical hegemony is overwhelmingly strong and deep-rooted to allow for any change in the short run. The facts against equality of status are too glaring: Even earning women give their earnings to their mothers-in-law and husbands. She is still identified as a daughter, daughter-in-law, mother, mother-in-law etc and not as a person. ‘Forced Sex’ or ‘restoration of conjugal rights’ contribute to a large extent to the violence against women. Dowry harassment and bride burning have sprung up as violence against women. In the joint family home, the daughter-in-law is treated as an outsider’ and a ‘servant’. She becomes an object of scolding and ridicule for everyone in the family. Due to inequality between men and women among the Hindus, dowry has become a price for a boy. Several legislations regarding marriage, inheritance, dowry, rape and constitutional provisions for equality and against discrimination despite their existence in independent India have not been very effective.
Somewhere in India, a crime is committed against a woman every seven minutes. Every 54 minutes somewhere a woman is raped, every 26 minutes molestation takes place. Every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped and every 102 minutes a dowry death occurs.
Observers say it is common knowledge that for every case registered with the police, scores of cases of crimes committed against women go unreported.
In the recently concluded national conference of the Association for Women’s Studies at Mysore, the protests were indeed the loudest and with positive development.
It was observed that as compared to the past when women remained docile, more and more women were now speaking out against such atrocities.
Crimes against the Indian woman are in international focus now. For in-‘ stance, Amnesty International has observed that Indian women are regularly raped in jail cells. The agency quoted a Guwahati High Court judgement which ruled that women must not be taken to army camps for interrogation or any other purpose. Even a United Nation’s report has pointed out that India has the highest number of custodial rapes by men in a position of power. Constitutionally, the women in India are equal to men in every sphere of life, but this equality is among unequal’s. Even among themselves, women suffer from vast divides of religion and class.
To add to this inequality, laws of succession, marriage, divorce and the like are differently codified for different communities of the country. There is no common civil code.
Of the crimes committed against women, rape continues to be the most degrading and humiliating. Even today rape is increasingly being used as a class weapon and as an instrument of power.
The burning of brides goes on routinely in many parts of India. Brides are tortured for not bringing in enough dowry, and tormented, they often commit suicide. Dowry death cases are on the increase with each passing year: 1912 in 1987, and 5,157 in 1991.
Then there is the practice of Sati, a fiery medieval horror for women. Cases do get reported from time to time but no action has ever been taken against the culprits.
Female infanticide, against which a law was passed as long back as in 1870 by Lord Mayo, still goes on. Observers say that the practice is at the root of the adverse sex ratio determined by the 1991 census. Other crimes against women include molestation, battering, kidnapping, abduction and eve-teasing.
Demonstrations, processions and strikes against rape, dowry deaths and the murder of women have become a regular feature in Delhi, Bombay and other cities. International Women’s Day, International Women’s year, conferences and seminars on women: and women’s studies have been instituted in a big way since the late 1960s and 1970s.
The women’s movement is organized by white-collar middle-class women and social workers from among upper and upper-middle-class non-working women. Feminist publications such as Manushi, Mahila Andolan Patrika, Feminist Network and several other publications are run by women’s organizations managed by urban middle and upper-middle-class women. Women’s conferences and seminars in Delhi, Bombay and Pune have now become a regular means of mobilizing working women, in particular, to achieve equality with men. Intra-household discrimination, women’s economic status, their work situations, occupational patterns etc have become focal themes of these seminars.
However, on the whole, the exploitation of women in the countryside has not received proper attention.
Now more and more women have begun organising themselves to put up a joint fight against these crimes. They have come to realise that unless they organise themselves they will be unable to bring an effective change in this dismal scenario and that laws passed (mostly by men) to contain these crimes will only stay on paper.
Over the years, a woman’s image has gone through several unjust projections at the hands of the media. Indecent posters and hoardings displayed every-where are crude reminders of the distorted images and attitudes to women. Popular magazines with large circulations like the ‘Sunday’ and ‘India Today’ flash vulgar and obscene glossy photographs on their cover pages. The advertising world continues to use women to peddle its products, and to present the women as a sexual object. Advertising also reinforces housework as the sole responsibility of the woman, with household equipment advertisements addressed only to women.
The passivity of female characters in films and television is a major cause of concern. Barring few prime time serials like “Adhikar”, “Udaan” and “Aur Bhi Hain Rahein” which focused on issues concerning women and have women as their central character, rarely is a woman shown as capable of solving her problems, standing up to indignities of violence, facing challenges on her own, or taking decisions.
The image of the educated woman is typecast as insensitive, self-centred and uncaring. The economically independent woman is shown as domineering and ruthless. The woman is considered ideal only when she is in her nurturing roles and. as a supportive supplement to a man. Women-specific programmes on radio and television perpetuate sex stereotypes and cater to women as housewives and mothers, rather than provide knowledge and skills for their role as economic contributors.
Several systematic research studies reveal that the mass media so far have not been an effective instrument to inform and prepare society about women’s new roles in national development. This is largely due to the very limited reach of mass media among the women and girls, especially in rural areas. Even the limited exposure is mainly in the form of entertainment films or film-based programmes providing little opportunity for education about new values, tasks or skills, Media content and production also leave much to be desired in terms of making educational programmes meaningful or attractive enough for the common men and women.
In these circumstances, the expansion of media facilities, especially of electronic mass media like television, is both an opportunity and a risk in the case of women and girls. Used wisely on the basis of a well thought out communication policy for women and girls, mass media like the television can be a great instrument for social transformation towards women’s greater participation and equality.
The National Plan of Action for Women drawn up in 1976 was the first major step towards fixing communication priorities and providing sufficient direction for subsequent media planning. Its recommendations linked to mass media to the priority action spelt out for a mass education programme which stressed the need for a special extension of education activities, publicity campaigns, and innovative use of non-formal, learning facilities. Almost every section of the Plan urged “vigorous campaigns of education and action” so that the Plan goals could come within the reach of women everywhere.
However, there were ambiguities within the Plan which confused the communicators. These ambiguities were removed to a great extent in the Sixth Five Year Plan (1980-85) which was more precise. For the first time, a separate chapter on women and development was incorporated in the Plan. Significantly, it clearly spelt out the need to integrate objective as it called for a re-examination of school curricula, school books, teacher training as part of the needed drive to build awareness and provide the necessary knowledge to girls. It also urged the provision of home science education to both men and women so that the concept of “symmetrical families” could be fostered.
The Seventh Five Year Plan (1985-90) reflected even clearer thinking on the real issues of women’s development. From the Sixth Plan focus on employment, economic independence, education and health, the Seventh Plan moved on to an essential intangible of the desired change: “The long term objective of the development programmes for women would be to raise their economic and social status in order to bring them into the mainstream of national development”. And elsewhere “The basic approach would be to inculcate confidence among women and bring about an awareness of their own potential”. This section goes on to list among key strategies “extensive utilisation” of the various mass media, and the adoption of an integrated multidisciplinary thrust encompassing, employment, education, health, nutrition, application of science and technology, etc as well as the changing of educational programmes and schools curricula ‘to eliminate Gender bias’.
However, laying down certain provisions for positive projection of women by the mass media is not itself sufficient. There is a need to take some concrete and practical steps to make the print media, television and radio conscious to-wards this issue which directly concerns women who form half of the world. The first and foremost requirement is to facilitate interaction between journalists and activists of women organisations so that an effective policy could he evolved in this direction. The communication policy would ‘support and promote the mainstreaming and integration of women, and their conscious participation in national life at all levels rather than single them out as a weak, secondary and dependent group deserving help, but with only a few given functions to perform. It would have to be a courageous and clear-minded policy, capable of setting normative standards, offering new images and ideas, and encourage an honest examination and healthy debate among men, women, youth, children in many structures and institutions that constitute the setting of our country today.
The year 1975 should perhaps be reckoned as a memorable year since it happened to be the International Women’s Year as well as the midpoint of the Second UN Development Decade. All governmental and private agencies the world over were urged by this august body to examine the extent to which women have been “integrated into the total development” of their own countries.
The International Women’s year likewise has been characterised by a call for intensified action on the part of the different nation-states to promote equality between men and women and to ensure at the same time full integration of their womenfolk in the scheme of total national development. They have been requested to take cognisance of the importance of women’s increasing contribution towards the development of the friendly states as much as cooperation among states and ensure their involvement in the strengthening of world peace. All member-states and interested organisations have been asked to adopt suitable steps for the full realisation of the rights of women and their advancement on the basis of the declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
In fact, the International Women’s year has been observed to sensitise states of the world to abolish all discriminatory laws and prejudices and to help women to realise their full potential. the international community could only hope to set a model to be followed in this direction only if men and women with education and initiative rise to the occasion.
As a matter of fact, a new era for women has dawned for furthering the scope of their increasing participation in the job of development of their country and at once of creating a better world. It should, however, be conceded that quite a number of women, victims of age-old injustice and oppression, are largely unaware of the existence of all their rights in various parts of the world.
It is important to bear in mind that the main targets for the second UN Development Decade, to be achieved by 1980, were in respect of administration and public life, health and maternity protection, training and employment and last of all, education so as to bring forth equality between men and women as human assets.
An assessment of the women’s contribution to social and economic affairs is, however, urgently called for so as to have a fair idea of their own awareness and interest in bettering their own lot. Also, ratification of the relevant international covenants is in the nature of a must for the different states of the world. Incidentally, we have to have the enactment of suitable national legislation to conform to various international instruments. Large scale educational programmes should also be undertaken alongside to help the UN achieve its minimum targets within the specified period.
The problem facing us is of closing the unfortunate gap between constitutional pledges and international instruments. The big question is what is the real and effective guarantee of the social rights of women in the relatively backward countries of the world and how to stabilise the universally accepted system of rights on the national plane. Really speaking the success of the UN efforts for improving the status of women will depend ultimately on the political atmosphere within the UN itself as much as on the relative effectiveness of the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a whole.
We have to educate the peoples of the world and facilitate proper communication across the continents on this. A thorough change of priorities at the national levels is moreover urgently needed if we mean to better a lot of womenfolk.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union and especially the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians by its manifold activities have sensitised the world public opinion and parliaments of member-countries to undertake legislation for the amelioration of women. The impressive list of objectives, roles and functions of the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians are oriented to associate more and more women parliamentarians in the activities of the IPU.
In this year’s agenda figures the United Nations proposed Universal Declaration on violence against women. Violence against women has been increasing outside and inside the family. It is through this instrumentality of violence that the subjugation of women is perpetrated and they are terrorised not to assert their rights. This serious’ issue needs to be tackled by concerted action both at the national and international levels.
One of the major objectives of the IPU is to ensure the involvement of women in political life. It was due to the persistent efforts and dynamic action of women parliamentarians that the IPU urged in 1958, the parliaments of countries where women were not ensured political rights to take suitable action to remove this disparity. Another step in the same direction was the declaration of the Decade for Women by the United Nations in 1975, and launching of a programme of action to ensure that women realise their national rights.
The energetic influence of women parliamentarians has resulted in the conduct of studies on the participation of women in political life. The cross-cultural and cross-national studies are indeed a treasure of information in the neglected area of women’s participation in politics.
The persistence of zeal and enthusiasm among women parliamentarians and their drive to understand the deeper ramification of women’s role in society and polity led the IPU to organise a symposium in 1989 on the question of women in politics. It was an unmatched debate among 150 men and women parliamentarians from all parts of the globe. Again, because of the immense initiative of the women parliamentarians, a monumental work on ‘Women and Political Power’ has been published by the IPU in 1992.
Women have long been leaders in the community and at the grassroots and they are strong advocates for the environmental, protection and for peace like Megha Patekar many environmental leaders are women, yet few are recognised. They have participated in building awareness on environmental issues, educated children, protested against dumping of poisonous wastes and pesticides which cause hazards for people and the environment.
The winds of geopolitical changes sweeping across the globe have also brought in their wake conflict, misery and starvation. Also worrying is the fact that more and more casualties from these conflicts are civilians out of which a majority of victims, are women and children. Rather than merely be passive victims, women have been leaders and mainstays of non-governmental peace movements. But as with environmental leaders, few women have been recognised for their contributions to peace. Mother Teresa, the Indian based lady was accorded The Nobel Peace Prize. Also, the leader of Myanmar Nationalist Party Aung San Suu Kyi who is bestowed with the Nobel Peace Prize got her education in Delhi.
While the advent of women in the political sphere and their effective participation in the governance of polity and society augurs well for humanity, a lot still remains to be done. The wide spectrum of views of opinions cutting across national, cultural and geographical barriers will help to globalise the issues relating to women.
The efforts for a changed social order have come from both the Government and women’s voluntary associations. The efforts by women themselves remain confined to the urban metropolitan areas and to urban, educated, upper and upper-middle-class women. At the best, they barely touch the fringe of the women population and the masses of rural, uneducated and poor women remain steeped in ignorance and apathy.
As far as the Governmental efforts are concerned, there is no doubt that the list of major initiatives taken over the years to improve a lot of women is a long one. The committee on the status of women (1974) was followed by the National Plan of Action for Women, the Commission on self-employed women, and the National Perspective Plan for Women (1988) and of the National Commission for women. Despite all these efforts, the states of women have continued to remain the same—a telling comment on the seriousness with which these endeavours have been regarded by the Government.