In ancient India, women enjoyed equal status with men in all aspects of life. They received the same education like men. Many Hindu religious books such as Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, and Mahabharata have mentioned the names of several women who were great scholars, poets, and philosophers at that time. Rig Vedic verses suggest that women married at a mature age and were probably free to choose their own husband. The wife was called ‘Ardhangini’ which means half body of husband. Unmarried man was considered incomplete, without his half body. All religious ceremonies were performed by husband and wife together. However in approximately 500BC, the condition of women in Indian society began to decline and with the time it worsened women’s freedom as well as their rights.
In the medieval period, the status of women in society further deteriorated. During this period woman was considered to be inferior to man. Many historians have called this age as ‘dark age’. Customs such as parda, sati, child marriage and restrictions on widow remarriage became prevalent. In Muslim families, women were restricted to Zenana areas. Among Rajputs of Rajasthan, Jauhar was practised. Hindu Kshatriya rulers used to practice polygamy due to political reasons. These problems of women started changing mindset of people. People began considering a girl as a burden and reason of misery.
Though women of India were not at par with their counterpart in western world, they started struggling hard to make a mark in man’s world. We can count on certain names from the British India where women put the example of extraordinary bravery which even men might not be able to show. Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Rani Chennamma of Kittur, Madam Bhikaiji Cama were among such women who fought for their rights, contributed to Indian freedom struggle.
There have been many social reformers who helped women gain their lost status in the society. Raja Ram Mohan Roy had done women a great favour by getting custom of Sati lawfully abolished. He was against child marriage and favoured widow remarriage. Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and his wife Savitribai struggled a lot for girls’ education in orthodox India. They both faced humiliation and insults just to give women their rights in society. They opened first girls’ school in Pune. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar supported women education. He opened schools for girls. His own son married an adolescent widow.
Despite of struggles and hardships faced by social reformers for upliftment of women, their status in modern India is a sort of an irony. On one hand she is at the peak of ladder of success and on the other hand she is suffering violence afflicted on her by her own family members. Even though women in modern times have achieved a lot but still they have to travel a long way. Women have left the secured domain of their homes and now in the battlefield of life, fully armored with their talent. They have to face many problems in daily life. These problems have become part and parcel of their life and some of them have accepted them as their fate.
In today’s world also girls are not getting enough education. In villages in some poor households parents prefer to educate their sons over girls. Educating girls is still considered as a waste of money. Health of girls and women is considered of negligible importance. In some parts of Rajasthan, girls and women are banned from eating foods such as ghee, jaggery, dry fruits and other food items which are considered to be beneficial to health. Because of such practices, women face malnourishment. Anemia is very common. In some parts of India child marriage is still prevalent. Marriages at very young age leads to pregnancies at young age. In the want of a son, they have to go through many pregnancies and very small gaps are followed between two pregnancies. Due to poor health care, anemia and malnutrition, the mortality rate in India is among highest in the world.
Misery of women doesn’t stop here, there is a lot more to it. As girls are considered as burden, a pregnant woman is forced to abort her child if it is detected as a girl or if that is not possible then even after birth that girl child has to lose her life. If somehow she manages to escape from foeticide or infanticide, mistreatment throughout her life is inevitable. Apart from child marriage, women have to face dowry harassment. Courts are flooded with cases related to dowry harassment. Many women have to lose their lives due to dowry. Another big issue is divorce. Even though divorce gives her relief from torturous marriage, society doesn’t let her live in peace. She is treated as if she has committed some crime and this divorce has happened because of her most probably her character.
Women are considered as a commodity. Men and even other women of house don’t hesitate to victimize them. Violence against women are not decreasing in spite of laws. Many women face sexual harassment at workplace.
Throughout woman’s life, she is given very negligible importance in every aspect of life. She doesn’t have any rights to take decision for herself. They are supposed to be dependent on male members on each step of life.
However, the position and condition of women in Indian society is changing considerably. Their position in Modern Indian society is equal to that of men, socially, economically, educationally, politically and legally. Now she has right to inherit property as well. She has become economically independent. Women are achieving success in almost every field possible. And now the situation is India has world’s largest number of professionally qualified women. India has largest population of working women in the world. India has more number of doctors, surgeons and professors than United States.
Government is also encouraging people for upliftment of women. There are stringent laws to safeguard women. Most importantly, woman herself has awaken. She is aware of her rights. She is standing for herself and it is commendable.
But all these things are happening very slowly. And women have to fight for their rights at each stage. Women empowerment is very slow process. And to empower women we need to change mindsets of men. Men need a change in their thinking so that they can accept women’s existence. For that to happen, we need to change upbringing of our sons. From childhood itself we need to imbibe on their minds that girls and women are of equal importance and status, they also deserve same rights and respect which men enjoy without any hesitation. Then only in real sense we will be able to give bright future to our daughters.