The Indian history speaks that the women are considered as a divine force but the multi- cultured Indian society placed the women at different positions. Thus there is no uniform status of women in Indian society. The Indian philosophy poses the women with dual character. On the one hand she is regarded as fertile, patient and benevolent but on the other hand she is considered aggressor and represents “shakti”.
According to ROMILLA THAPER-
“Within the Indian sub-continent there have been infinite variations on the status of women diverging according to the cultural malice’s, family structure, class, caste property rights and morals.”
There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a great revolution in the history of women. The evidence is everywhere the voice of women is increasingly heard in Parliament, courts and in the streets. While women in the West had to fight for over a century to get some of their basic rights, like the right to vote, the Constitution of India gave women equal rights with men from the beginning. Unfortunately, women in this country are mostly unaware of their rights because of illiteracy and the oppressive tradition.
Position of women in Pre- Independence Period
To study the position of women before the independence period, it is necessary to discuss the position of women during the Vedic Period, post Vedic and medieval period.
Vedic Period- During this period women participated in every walk of life. They studied in Gurukuls and enjoyed liberty in every sphere. The great woman’s like Apala, Visvara, Yamini Gargi and Ghosa stole the lime-light and became the front runners in society. They acquired efficiency in art, music and even warfare. In Upanishad, the wife has been regarded as a true companion of husband. She is blessed to live as a queen in the husband’s house in Rig-Veda. The wife has been called the root of prosperity, enjoyment and Dharma in Mahabharata. There was absence of pardah system, right to select life partners. However the system of polygamy and dowry was only prevalent in the ruling class. There was no prohibition in remarriage of widow and also no discrimination between a boy and girl. As a result girls were permitted to undergo thread ceremony (Upanayana Sanskar).
Post Vedic period- Women’s suffered drastic hardship during the post Vedic period as propounded by Manu. He attempted to set up a male dominated society by increasing the authority of man. The birth of the girl child was treated as disaster for the family. Girls were denied access to education. During this period, pre-puberty marriage was originated thus the marriageable age of girls was lowered to 9 or 10 years. However girls belonging to ruling class were allowed to receive education, training in military science, administration fine arts to some extent. On the other hand Manu believed that where the women are respected, there all deities are pleased and where they are dishonored their all religious activities become fruitless. Surprisingly in post Vedic period, the women’s right to property was recognized and the concept of “stridhan” prevailed. As Manu defined- “Streedhan” means-“that which was given to her before the nuptial fire, in bridal procession, in token of love and which she has received from father, mother, brother and husband.”
Medieval period - The women’s position was further degraded during the medieval period with invasions of India by Alexander and the Huns. Society observed security threats with invading soldiers roaming countryside, consequently women were placed behind the veil. Women were deprived of education and participation in community affairs. During the medieval period the social evils like child marriage, sati, female infanticide, mushroomed extensively. Further, social curse like dowry had become inevitable particularly in Rajasthan. The system of Devdasi and polygamy had also spread widely in countryside. Thus, during the medieval period the women were oppressed in every sphere.
Position of women’s during British period.
Due to western impact on the Indian socio-cultural pattern the position of women had undergone drastic change in British period. The concept of equality, liberty and individual secularism, although arose but limited to ruling class.
Two major movements took place during the British regime. These are:-
Social Reforms Movement; and
Social Reform Movement – This movement emerged during the 19th century and raised the question of equal status of women. The reformers were of that view that by giving women access to education and introducing progressive legislation social reforms in respect of women can be achieved. Swami Vivekananda, Dayanand Saraswati and Annie Besant were of opinion that old Vedic period should be revived which was ideal for women’s status. The father of our nation Mr. M.K.Gandhiji strongly criticized the system of child marriage, sat, prohibition of widow’s re-marriage and Devdasi system.
Nationalist Movement- The nationalist movement drew the attention of a large number of people and generated confidence among women to raise voice against oppressive system. All India Women’s Conference was formed and it proved to be a crucial movement towards the right to equality of women. It can rightly state that during British period public awareness was created while women’s political and social participation attained momentum.
Women’s status in Modern Era (Present)
In the modern era the status of women has been uplifted in every area of working. 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 favour 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). In the case of Madhu Krishnan v State of Bihar (1956) 5 SCC 148 Hon’ble SC observed that women’s form half of India’s population. In the case of Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala (2018) SCC Online Sc 1690. the Hon’ble SC had taken a much more simplified and solid approach towards the Rule of Law, In this case apart from articles 14, 21, 25-28 & art.17 was given a new dimension. Supreme Court with a 4:1 majority declared that Kerala Worship Act as unconstitutional and allow entry of women to the temple who were falling between the age group of 10-51, In this case the rule of law played a major role according to art.17 which talks about abolition of untouchability what Supreme Court interpreted in this article was expression “in any form” .Justice D.Y Chandrachud in his judgment observed that “while referring to the constitution assembly debates it is very much clear that the framers of the constitution has left the term ‘in any form open’ for a much wider interpretation and the concept of rule of law has to be interpreted in the much wider sense”. Also in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997) 6 SCC 241. the Supreme Court gave the guidelines against the sexual harassment in workplace. Art.32 which is the heart and soul of our constitution, Rule of law is the guardian for the spirit of the constitution, and when it comes to the protection of Fundamental Rights it is the spirit of Rule of ‘Law which acts as the guardian of the constitution.
In the case of Mohd Ahmed Khan v Shah Bano Begum 1985 Cr.L.J 875 (SC) it was held that section 125 of Cr.p.c is applicable to all irrespective of their religion. Also in the case of Vineeta Sharma v Rakesh Sharma & Ors 2019 6 SCC 162 2019 3 SCC A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra ruled that a Hindu woman’s right to be a joint heir to the ancestral property is by birth and does not depend on whether her father was alive or not when the law was enacted in 2005. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 gave Hindu women the right to be coparceners or joint legal heirs in the same way a male heir does. “Since the coparcenary is by birth, it is not necessary that the father coparcener should be living as on 9.9.2005,” the ruling said. Section 6 of the Act was amended that year to make a daughter of a coparcener also a coparcener by birth “in her own right in the same manner as the son”. The law also gave the daughter the same rights and liabilities “in the coparcenary property as she would have had if she had been a son”
The status of women in modern India is a sort of a paradox. If on one hand she is at the peak of ladder of success, on the other hand she is mutely suffering the violence afflicted on her by her own family members. As compared with past women in modern times have achieved a lot but in reality they have to still travel a long way. Their path is full of roadblocks. The women have left the secured domain of their home and are now in the battlefield of life, fully armored with their talent. Although laws like Dowry Prohibition act, Domestic Violence Act 2005, Sexual Harassment at workplace, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986 are enforceable which provides for strict punishment but there are many cases reported every year regarding demands for dowry which mostly lead to suicide or murder of women. Though there is no solitary form of domestic violence it differs with situation, individuals and households. The impact of domestic violence is to be measured by its degree of severity. It has been seen that the domestic violence could yield drastic and extreme result in the form of death, though there may be minor scar and injury in some cases of domestic violence against women, there could be a situation where domestic violence could neither result in death nor scar but cause psychological disaster.
Law Relating to Women and Children - S.C Tripathi ( Sixth Edition)
Law Relating to Women and Children - Mamta Rao ( Fourth Edition)
Romilla Thaper, Looking Back in History; in Devika Jain , Indian Women, Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, G.O.I , New Delhi, 1975 p. 6
A.S Altekar; the Position of Women in Hindu Civilsation, Motilal Banarasidas Delhi 1962.
Article by- SYED ZAINUL HASAN RIZVI
UNITY P.G. & LAW COLLEGE LUCKNOW.
4th Year 8th SEMESTER.