Women have had variegated treatments from men and society. If some have treated them as Goddesses, then others have treated them as slaves. There have always been discords about the actual status and the ideal status of women. Many poets have portrayed women in ways that reflect their patriarchal hegemony, and have called women as Woe unto men,while many others have displayed empathy towards the pain and sufferings women had borne and have rather portrayed women as pristine and holy beings. Such has been the state of women in History and it still persists in the 21st century.
Indian Society is formed around diverse regional, religious, social and political beliefs, but by and large the overall belief system regarding women is framed out of Patriarchal hegemony. Despite several changes made to the status of women at various points of time, inequality between men and women still prevails in the country.
Time and again many voices have been raised from various quarters that women must be educated and play an active role in economical and political matters and be given due respect. There have also been many instances where women have played a prominent role and made a difference. We have many powerful women, who have created niche in various fields, but these are not many in number. Despite this, there is a huge chunk of women in various parts of the country who are vulnerable to various types of exploitation. Even today many problems associated with women, prevail like: limited access to cash, employment opportunities and education; male dominance in the family, gender bias, dowry, honor killing, female infanticide, domestic violence, crime against women, problems at work place, et cetra.
Though it is not easy to find out, when exactly did the status of women started to flag, yet some knowledge from the history would help to make it clear. It cannot be clearly said that in ancient times equal status was given to women as to men, however it can be assumed that people held liberal attitude towards women, as women were allowed to participate in religious and social events and were given right to choose their partner for marriage. But a widow was never permitted to remarry and if she did, she was looked down by everyone in the society. As India started heading towards civilization such discrimination against women increased. Prejudices against women, that claimed women as weaker sex in many ways were expressed through various canons and maxims by various religions. The status of women started to deteriorate as the legacy began to be handed down to the sons in the family. Once the social and economic status of men began to ameliorate the status of women further deteriorated. During the period of dharamshastra the status of women in the society flagged to an unprecedented extent. This period brought with itself many demeanor guiding the behaviour of women. It was during this period that child marriage was encouraged. During this era the birth of a girl child was considered an inauspicious thing and some people also practiced female infanticide.
With the arrival of the East India Company, the status of women transformed. To expand its network of trading in India, it started to acquire territories in India. With their expansion across different territories the company had to acquire the rights to make laws, in order to maintain order. The Company consulted the pundits and moulvis to frame laws and the result was that the women’s matrimonial rights to property and various other such rights were also taken away. Then with the dawn of the 19th century the wave of transformation pervaded into the Indian society when the Queen’s proclamation of 1859 declared that the British authorities will not interfere in the religious matters of the people. Then various laws transforming the structure of the society were introduced in the Princely States. In the first place Baroda introduced the divorce provision. Another Princely state Mysore ratified the Infant Marriage Prevention act 1894. Following the suit, the Malabar part of the Madras Presidency and Travancore also introduced such reforms. Though the Princely states introduced such reforms, unfortunately they could not keep a check on their violation.
The very first challenge in front of the reformers of that time was the abolition of sati or widow immolation. It was a practice where Hindu women climbed the funeral pyre of her husband. Though this was not a religious obligation but it was believed that by doing so a woman atoned the sins of her husband and ascended to the heaven. Moreover, even if a woman did not want to become sati, social pressure forced her to do so. Many people and social groups fought for the abolition of this evil custom. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, a prominent Reformer and the creater of Brahmo Samaj, fought against this evil and with the assistance from Lord Willaim Bentick a ban on Sati was imposed. He also did a great work in the field of girl education. He stood against child marriage and favoured widow remarriage. He himself married a widow and set an example for the society. All the attempts to make legislations that allowed remarriage were opposed by the Hindu conservatives, who believed that widow remarriage was a disgrace to the society and it meant exclusion from the heaven. Reformers like Dayanand Saraswati and Ishwar Chander Vidya sagar fought for the enactment of the widow remarriage act and brought about Hindu Widows Remarriage Act 1856 to existence.
Child Marriage was another blotch on the society as early marriage affected the growth and development of a child’s body. Ishwar Chander Vidya Sagar along with Keshab Chandra Sen with some help from Mahatma Gandhi was successful in getting Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 passed.
A girl child was considered a burden on her family. As the Parents believed that the girl has to go to her husband’s home after marriage, spending on her education would merely be an expense to them. Also, a large amount of Dowry that the girl’s parents had to pay and the huge marriage expenses that they had to bear bothered the parents. All these factors made girl a burden on her family. So in order to get rid of such a burden many parents started the practice of female infanticide and female foeticide, which exist even today.
Though many acts have been passed to get away with all these evils, all these practices are still prevalent in the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, etc. Even today girls are mistreated, rape cases are heard every day, in many states girls are even sold. Even today women face domestic violence. Even today parents hesitate to educate their girl child. They do not hesitate to spend lavishly on the education of their male child and become miser in case of their daughters. Even by educating them, parents do not intend to make their girl child independent, but, make them eligible to get married to a wealthy man, thus making them engage in the household work for the rest of their lives.
Though Women have reached Corporate, they still haven’t been able to receive equal treatment as men. Though Women have attained positions in Forbes List they still haven’t attained respect in the eyes of men. Though many women have made it to the world’s most powerful women’s List, yet there are many more who still struggle to get power to take decisions in their own lives. Where there are women who bear the burden of their whole family and earn living for themselves there are many others who are burnt alive failing to bring handsome dowry. Women might be shouldering the economic responsibility of her family at par with men yet no one stands to share her burden of household work. She should earn for the family but should not demand her rights to expend that money according to her will.
Alone women won’t be able to make a difference; they would need community help to be able to rise above the situation. They would need help and support from their counters to trudge their way to achievement. And this will not be a lopsided benefit to women, but it would revitalize the economy, society, their family strength, etc. If we empower women, we are empowering the whole Nation, her kids, her family and paving a way for the Nation as a whole towards growth.