Women Who Left Their Tracks in Indian History
The women in India, since time immemorial, has been subjected to the evolution of status and respect as opposed to men who have always enjoyed high status and position in the society. However, many have carved their own niche in the long history of women’s struggle against discrimination, patriarchy and many evil practices of our society. This development can be seen in different phases of the history of our nation.
During the time of the Harappan Civilisation, women were conferred high status and equal role in the society as men. They were idolised and worshipped as women goddesses or mother goddesses and were adorned with ornaments of huge respect like vermilion (sindoor).
As time passed to the early Vedic period, history shows that women now enjoyed equal treatment to men and also equal status in society. The women folk were granted the right to choose their husband through a custom of Swayamvara or perform Gandharva Vivah. Also, cases of polyandry could be seen, widows were allowed to remarry and no sati and devadasi pratha were carried out. Women were allowed to attend social and political assemblies like Sabhas and Vidaths, and they had access to education. Some women like Visvavara, Apala etc composed mantras and rose to the status of Rishis. Cases of child marriage and child labour were also not seen during this period.
But the later phase of Vedic period is different as mentioned in the Rig Veda, it witnessed a decline in women’s position in society and women became subservient to men. Exclusion from Sabhas marked the beginning of their deteriorating socioeconomic status. The practise of child marriage and sati, debar of widows from remarriage and scripts like Manusmriti made their lives further miserable. As per Tattiriya Samhita, menstruating women were considered taboo. However, in Buddhism, women were considered equal to men and just like men became Bhikshus after getting ordained, women also became Bhikshunis.
The ambivalence in the attitude of society towards women increased in the medieval period when women were subjugated by men and their lives largely regulated by the norms set by the menfolk. Women’s role was mostly confined to the house and they were restricted from roaming freely. Razia Sultana of the Delhi Sultanate was one of the very few females who could rule an empire in that era. But that was an exception in this era since evil practices like Sati, Purdah system was highly prevalent and eating away equality form the society. Even in the Hindu community, the women were denied rights to study the Vedas, the Rajputs started Jauhar and polygamy was also practised among the Hindu Kshatriya rulers.
As we were fighting for our independence from a foreign nation, serious attempts were made towards championing women’s rights. Beginning from the elimination of the cruel practices like Sati started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1829 to control of female foeticide and female education by Akshay Kumar Dutta, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, etc, the modern era saw the gradual attempts in bringing forth equality in the status of women in society. Women participated in the freedom struggle and marched towards social independence, hence accumulating the courage to speak up and demand for their rights. Examples of such women include Rani Lakshmi Bai, Jyotiba Phule, Annie Besant, Sarojini Naidu, Aruna Asaf Ali, Amrit Kaur, Pandita Ramabai, Anandibai Joshi, Tarabai, Usha Mehta, etc.
Women faced subjugation for long until women movements and feminist movements in India rose in the 1970s, fighting for equal rights and position in the society. In the most recent times, social movements like the #MeToo Movement and Time’s UP Movement are testimony to the fact that with the advent of digital revolution, those women who were earlier reluctant to voice out about the abuses they faced are now coming forward to speak against harassment and exploitation, hence demonstrating courage and bravery.
The Govt. of India also made massive changes through legislation and orders to support women rights, to prevent harassment of women at workplaces, to safeguard women against heinous crimes and to curb domestic violence. The constitution of India provides equality of employment opportunity, voting rights and equal pay for equal work. According to Article 14 of the Indian Constitution and Prohibition of gender-based discrimination as per Article 15, women are entitled to enjoy equal status to men. Again, through the 73rd and 74th Amendment of the Indian Constitution, women were empowered to reserve the seats for election. Government schemes like ‘Beti bachao-Beti padhao’, ‘janani suraksha’, intend to ensure the better health care and education facilities. Policies like ‘New National Policy for Women’ endeavour to follow the ‘so-cially inclusive rights-based approach’ for the women empowerment.
India became one of the first few countries to have a woman PM, Smt. Indira Gandhi and woman President, Smt. Pratibha Patil. Smt. Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Indian National Congress had been ranked 13th among the world’s most powerful women by Forbes magazine. Other big and influential names of women in Indian politics are that of Smt. Mamta Bannerjee, Smt. Mayavati, Smt. Jayalalitha and Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman, who presented the Union Budget 2019 recently, amongst others.
Not only in politics, the ‘Modern Woman’ excelled in various other areas too and brought laurels to the nation. For e.g., in sports, Sakshi Mallik, Mary Kom, Mithali Raj, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza etc, in astronomy, Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams, etc, in business, Arundhati Bhattacharyya and Indira Nooyi, Chanda Kochhar etc, in defence, Avani Chaturvedi, Navika Sagar Parikrama, etc acquired special positions in the world. Indian women dispelled the myth that men can do far better than women by making their footprints in almost every field of work.
The skewed mindset against women is an attitude pervasive in many minds of our country( rural as well as urban areas). This attitude and value system, which is a lifelong process, needs to be changed and should be started from the early childhood for the progress of the society in the longer run. Against evils like like rape, female foeticide, acid attacks, stricter laws should be layed out and along with that vigilance and enforcement should be taken cared of for the better treatment of the victims. Society as a whole should stand in this empowerment process especially the NGOs and SHGs. They need to be because these are the local bodies working at the grassroot level, with their help victims can find a platform to raise their voice, fight for justice and also encourage other victims to do so in the process.
For the victims of Gender Violence spread across the nation, as a part for their justice, punishing the convicts forms a part of the process. However, the real challenge is to help her rehabilitate and to develop an environment around her that would be amicable and open to reinitate the sense of freedom, self-confidence, respect and dignity. Inhumane practices like honour killing are plaguing the society inside out and community institutions like Khap Pnachayts promote these practices and dictate the social order of that community. Local Bodies should understand the importance of these insittuins and the impact they make in society especially the psychology of a particular community. The fault lines of such structures have to be exposed in a manner that has a significant impact on the people of the community.
In terms of human and social development, the reality is that women in India lag behind by many miles when compared to their counterparts. Inside many houses, women are still subjugated to victimization, humiliation, torture and exploitation. The reason for these acts to exist is the The patriarchal mentality of the people in Indian society. By willing to achieve the targets of Sustainable Developent Goals by 2030, India shows it’s understanding to the issue that it has been facing and their dedication to eradicate them. Among these targets ‘Women Empowerment’ & ‘ Gender Equality’ are some of the ideals that it has to address. The colossal woman force needs to be transformed into empowered human resource so as to transform into a New India breathing under the air of equality and prosperity.
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