Themes - 2 July 2014

en - WOMEN’s Rights in INDIA

 During the ancient India, women enjoyed equivalent status & rights like their males counterparts. In addition they were properly educated in the early Vedic period ( 5000 BC).Women also had the freedom to select their husbands. In fact during this time, women had superior position than the males.

The status of women in India deteriorated during the medieval period with the invasion of the Muslims. Several evil practices such as female infanticide, sati and child marriage were practiced during this period. Polygamy was also common during this period. We have some great women in this period that excelled in literature, music and arts. They were also rulers during this period.
In spite of these powerful women, the condition of majority women remained the same. At this time girl were forced to get married at a very tender age. The society also practiced Sati where women were forced to jump over the burning bodies of their husbands during funerals. The southern India also practiced Devdasi tradition where girls remain as temple dancers and lived around the temple to serve the priests.

Women in modern India:

During this time there was a little development in the women status. There were many reformers in India who worked for the uplift and betterment of the women. Their education was elevated and English was introduced during this period. Various female writers emerged in the society. Again these facilities were limited only to the urban women of higher casts and richer classes. The majority of women especially from the rural area far and wide remained out of these facilities. So the gap between the rural women and their urban counterparts widened.

In the modern time, women in India were given freedom and rights such as freedom of expression & equality as well as the right to be educated. Various prestigious positions at this period were held by women. However, some problems such as dowry, rape, domestic violence, sex selective abortion, female infanticide are still prevalent. The male- female ratio is declining further which leads to victimization of women.

After Independence women in India participated fully in areas such as education, sports, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, science and technology, etc Mrs.Indira Gandhi, who served as Prime Minister of India is the world’s longest serving woman Prime Minister
The Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian women equality (Article 14), no discrimination by the State (Article 15(1)), equality of opportunity (Article 16), and equal pay for equal work (Article 39(d)). In addition, it allows special provisions to be made by the State in favor of women and children (Article 15(3)), renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women (Article 51(A) (e)), and also allows for provisions to be made by the State for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief. (Article 42)

Feminist activism in India gained momentum in the late 1970s. One of the first national-level issues that brought women’s groups together was the Mathura rape case. The acquittal of policemen accused of raping a young girl Mathura in a police station, led to country-wide protests in 1979-1980. The protests, widely covered by the national media, forced the Government to amend the Evidence Act, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Indian Penal Code; and created a new offence, custodial rape. Female activists also united over issues such as female infanticide, gender bias, women’s health, women’s safety, and women’s literacy.

The Government of India during 1989 set up a High Level Committee on the Status of Women to undertake comprehensive study to understand the status of women as well as to evolve appropriate policy interventions based on the contemporary assessment of women’s needs. The High Level Committee identified Violence against Women, Declining Sex Ratio and Economic disempowerment of Women as three key burning issues which require immediate attention of the nation, and action by the government.

Many women centered NGOs came into existence during 1980s and 90s. They have played a major role in the advancement of women’s right in India. Many women have emerged as leaders of local and national movements in support of women’s right to live in dignity, to get educated, for gender equity, to gain right over the economy and political representation, right against violence etc.

The Government of India declared 2001 as the Year of Women’s Empowerment. The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women was passed in 2001.
In 2010 March 9, one day after International Women’s day, Rajya Sabha
(The Upper House of Parliament) passed the Women’s Reservation Bill requiring that 33% of seats in India’s Parliament and state legislative bodies be reserved for women.
Though Indian women have many rights ensured by the Constitution of India and the government, all these needs to be implemented for the betterment of the status of women. Indian women still at large are victims of sex discrimination and violence, denial of opportunities for education and upward social and economic mobility, intimidation from the political fields.

Indian women need to be empowered.

  • Social empowerment: Women need to be educated to understand their identity in the social fabrics of the society. They need to be made aware that they have to play vital role for the betterment of the society in which they live. They need to be equipped to contribute effectively for the society.
  • Economic empowerment: Women have to become income generators in the family. Government and NGOs will have to create opportunity for women to develop their entrepreneurship capacities and provide space for production and marketing and finance management.
  • Political empowerment: Women have to be trained to participate in decision making at every level. They need to develop their critical consciousness about political developments and policies in the country. They have to learn to think freely and express their opinion fearlessly about the various problems in the country. Since the government has decided to offer 33% reservation for women they need to be more assertive and risk taking to assume responsibilities.
  • Human empowerment: Often the women are victims of wrong belief systems and values that are imposed on them by the society, religion and traditions. They subject themselves to self imposed restrictions and constraints on themselves and their daughters. This is preventing them from full development of their personhood. For example a Hindu woman will believe her alcoholic and violent husband is her god. Now a day’s few young women are walking out of their violent marriage provided they have the education to be self reliant. Whereas the uneducated ones will have no possibility except life long suffering. If a marriage fails it is always the woman who is blamed and her family often refuses to accept her back.

 So woman in India is considered a liability even though she has inherent rights vested on her by the Constitution. Majority of women are not able to enjoy these rights because of ignorance, discrimination and violence. If women are educated in the rights sense they will be able to counter these forces that are against them. This is our mission and challenge in India.

Sister Philomina Thomas r.a.