The status which Indian women enjoyed in ancient times is somewhat complicated. Some have considered them equals while others have held them in disrespect or even positive hatred. Collecting all the data about women in India, here we have sumup to give you a brief about Indian Women Then & Now.
This situation was not the same in Rig Vedic period. Women enjoyed a status where they were considered a par with their male counterparts, they had an honorable place in the society, not secluded from men and freely participated in public life, attended great assemblies and state occasions, studied the Vedas and composed hymns. In Vedic times, women were not treated as inferior or subordinate but equal to men in all matters of life. Women were given education and had a voice in the selection of their husband. Marriage was regarded as a religious bond.
Women enjoyed complete freedom in household matters as well as in religious matters. In the religious field, women enjoyed all rights and regularly participated in religious ceremonies. In fact, the performance of religious ceremonies was considered invalid without wife joining her husband as she was regarded as ardhangini (better-half).
Post Vedic Period:
The position enjoyed by women in Vedic period deteriorated in post-Vedic period. A daughter began to be regarded as curse. They were denied the right of inheritance and ownership of property. Child marriages came to be practiced. She was forbidden to offer sacrifices and prayers and undertake pilgrimages.
This was the period where woman was seen as an object to satisfy the physical desire of men. Sati practice became more popular. Thinkers preached that women should look at their husbands as Gods and should worship them.
The position of Indian women in the period between 11th century to 18th century became worst. Women education was banned. The birth of a female child began to be regarded as a bad luck. Girl child was regarded as a social evil. They were almost confined to the doors of their homes. There was further curtailment of freedom of women in matters of education, mate selection, public appearances, etc. The Pardah system was followed rigorously.
In the British Raaj, which lasted for about 200 years, many substantial changes were made Sati, purdah, female infanticide, child marriage, inheritance, slavery, prohibition of widow remarriage and the lack of women’s rights in different fields were some of the problems which attracted the attention of British Raj.
Though the British rulers initially decided not to interfere with the traditional social fabric of Indian people and as such they took no steps to bring any change in the status of women in India. But after the beginning of 20th century, certain practices were abolished and new law were implemented. These are the laws, which were implemented by British:
- Abolition of Sati Act, 1813.
- The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1856.
- Civil Marriage Act, 1872.
- Married Women’s Property Act, 1874.
- The Child Marriage Restraint Act (Sharda Act), 1929.
- Hindu Law of Inheritance Act, 1929.
- Hindu Women’s Rights to Property Act, 1939.
- Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act, 1946
Besides these Acts, many provincial governments also enacted some legislation. In 1779, infanticide was declared to be a murder by the Bengal Regulation XXI. In 1804, this was extended to other parts of the country.
Kalpana-Chawla comparison between the position of women in the pre-independence period and present age; one can truly come to the conclusion that times have definitely not changed. Sometimes, the birth of a girl is regarded as a bad sign. They are not treated as equals to men, and not given due respect in the family. Male’s roles as father and husband still dominate over both his children and wife.
The power to govern the home and the authority still rests in the hands of the male head of the family. But yes, exceptions are there. Leaving aside a few, in the so-called modern families wives have not become equal partners to their husbands even if they are well-educated or more educated to their husbands.
Most of the decisions of the household—from purchasing daily household items to decide about the education and marriage of their children—are taken by father/husband. There is no significant change in the attitude of the males even in families where females are working outside the home.
Women as daughters or wives have to seek permission from their fathers/husbands for going outside home or for receiving higher education. In some families, it is seen that husbands do not allow their wives of the same caliber and education to take up any job assignment of the same status outside the home.
The best example is provided by rural India, wherein theory women are equated with the goddess, but in actual practice, they are treated as drudges. The problems of inferiority, inequality, dependence and the exploitation experienced by women have not much changed in the villages, where most of India lives, even after 65 years of independence.
But yes; Indian women even after suffering these many things, always emerge stronger than ever and make their importance felt to their male counterparts.
We have examples like Lata Mangeshkar, Kalpana Chawla, Saina Nehwal who can equally perform other important activities as efficiently as men. Slowly but steadily our society is realizing the importance of girl power. Lets just hope that we learn to respect women for the sake of our future daughters.