“STATUS OF WOMEN IN CONTEMPORARY INDIAN SOCIETY” – KRITIKA RASTOGI STATEMENT OF PURPOSE To critically analyse the role and status of women in the contemporary Indian society and the crimes committed against them. INTRODUCTION Within the Indian subcontinent, there have been infinite variations of the status of women, differing according to the cultural milieu, family structures, caste, class, property right etc. we have to specify as to whether we are talking about rural women or urban women, about middle class or lower class women, about Brahmin or scheduled caste woman, about women in the Hindu society or in the Muslim community.
All these distinctions are significant determinants of variations in her position in different groups. Status of woman is affected by certain macro-forces as economic development, political participation, and ideological overtones. It is also shaped by the norms and values society lays down with regard to woman’s behaviour. There are numerous prescriptions, sanctions, and constraints which overtly or covertly determine the behaviour of a woman. A girl is expected to be docile, shy, non-aggressive, self-effacing.
After she reaches puberty she is generally not encouraged to mix with the boys; she should walk slowly, she has to be married early; marriage is obligatory for girls. Famous poet Tulsidas says, “An animal, a rustic, a drum and a woman all require beating”. Sage Manu who had enshrined woman as goddess says, woman does not deserve freedom; she will have to be protected by father, husband and son. What does the legend of the seed and the earth/field suggest? The seed symbolizes father’s contribution to reproduction and field represent the child’s identity.
Thus though in reality both man and women are equally important in the reproduction process, the myth is created that man who is the more important determinant. Another myth that she only works at home and man is the bread winner, is also contrary to reality. It has been recorded that nearly ten percent of the households in our county are female headed i. e. women in these households are primarily responsible for maintain the family –this is in spite of the husband‘s presence in the household. Myths glorify women or devalue them. Reality gives an equally different picture, and this project aims to search for the true picture. 1] OBJECTIVES 1. To study the status of women in the Indian society. 2. To critically analyse the caste discrimination amongst women. 3. To compare the status of women with men. 4. To find out about the various crimes committed against women. 5. To know about the various steps taken for the protection of women. STATUS IN THE SOCIETY In Indian society the status of women has changed from time to time; position of women in society is the index to the standard of social organization . We can divide the past [history] in to three phases to analyse the status of women.
In ancient India women enjoyed equal status with men in all fields of life, she received the same education like men, many Hindu religious books like Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata have mentioned the names of several women who were great scholars, poets, philosophers of the time. They were given great importance, the wife was ‘Ardhangini’ which means she is half of her husband. An unmarried man was considered to be incomplete man. All religious ceremonies were performed by the husband along with the wife. This shows the importance given to the women in ancient period.
But in the medieval period, the status of women went down considerably. She was considered to be inferior to men. Many historians have called this age as the ‘dark age’. Her position became very miserable. Decline in the status of women in Indian society begins with the Muslims rule in India: customs of pardha, sati, child marriage & restrictions on widow marriage are prevalence of joint family system have been the factors responsible for the injustice done towards women. Polygamy came into being. The position of women in modern India has changed considerably.
Her position in modern Indian society is equal to that of men, socially, economically, educationally, politically & legally. Her sufferings from Sati, Child marriage, Institution of Temple prostitution no longer exist. Now, she has the right to receive education, inherit & own property, participate in public life & political life of the nation. She has become economically independent. She can seek employment anywhere and remains not a domestic slave. A woman is considered to be the inspiring force of a home. The home is the origin and beginning of every form of social organisation.
She is the backbone or bedrock to sustain religion and national strength, peace and prosperity. She is certainly enjoying the equal status with men in all respect. But, empirical evidence shows that women contribute significantly to the running of family businesses mostly in the form of unpaid effort and skills. The value of this effort is underestimated both by the families that take it for granted and in academic studies. On the other hand, many of the enterprises defined as being run by women are in fact run in their names by men who control operations and decision making.
Programmes meant to reach women entrepreneurs can succeed only if they take note of this paradox as well as of the familial and social conditioning that reduces the confidence, independence and mobility of women. However, there are far fewer women in the paid workforce than there are men. In urban India Women have impressive number in the work force. As an example at software industry 30% of the workforce is female. They are at par with their male counter parts in terms of wages, position at the work place. In rural India, agriculture and allied industrial sectors employ as much as 89. 5% of the total female labour.
Women account for 93% of total employment in dairy production in India and constitute 51% of the total employed in forest-based small-scale enterprises. CASTE DISCRIMINATION India’s booming economy and increasing prosperity does not conceal the fact that an oppressive caste system still exists. The Indian Government has so far failed in its endeavours to eradicate caste, and women in particular are regularly subject to gross human rights violations as a result. Dalit women are positioned at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, subject to multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of their caste, class and gender.
Dalit women are subject to a multitude of atrocities, including rape which is perpetrated with impunity with little or no redress in the courts – sexual abuse and humiliation. As is typical in many situations, a woman’s body is perceived as representing family and community honour, and to teach a family or community a lesson, women are generally the primary targets. Strict prohibitions on marriage and other social interaction between Dalits and the upper caste routinely violate the rights of Dalits to marry and choose their spouse.
Dalits who have married ‘above’ their caste have reportedly been forced to break all ties with their families The practice of devadasi particularly illustrates the gender/caste nexus with regard to the violation of women’s human rights. The chastity of women is strongly related to caste status. Generally, the higher ranking the caste, the more sexual control its women are expected to exhibit. Brahman brides should be virginal, faithful to one husband and celibate in widowhood. By contrast, a Sweeper bride may or may not be a virgin, extramarital affair may be tolerated, and, if widowed or divorced, the woman is encouraged to remarry.
For the higher castes, such control of female sexuality helps ensure purity of lineage–of crucial importance to maintenance of high status. Among Muslims, too, high status is strongly correlated with female chastity. COMPARISON WITH MEN The worth of a civilization can be judged from the position that it gives to women. Of the several factors that justify the greatness of India’s ancient culture, one of the greatest is the honoured place ascribed to women. According to ancient Hindu scriptures no religious rite can be performed with perfection by a man without the participation of his wife.
Wife’s participation is essential to any religious right. Married men along with their wives are allowed to perform sacred rites on the occasion of various important festivals. They are given not only important but equal position with men. But in the later period the position of women went on deteriorating due to Muslim influence. During the Muslim period of history they were deprived of their rights of equality with men. They were compelled to keep themselves within the four walls of their houses with a long veil on their faces. It was natural outcome of the Muslim subjugation of India that oman was relegated to a plaything of man, an ornament to decorate the drawing room. Serving, knitting, painting and music were her pastimes and cooking and cleaning her business. In the wake of Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s movement against women’s subjugation to men and British influence on Indian culture and civilization the position of women had once again undergone a change. The result is that the Indian Constitution today has given to women the equal status with men. There is no discrimination between men and women. All professions are open to both of them with merit as the only criterion of selection.
As a result of their newly gained freedom Indian woman have distinguished themselves in various spheres of life. They have acquired more liberty to participate in the affairs of the country. They have been given equality with men in shaping their future and sharing responsibilities for themselves, their family and their country. They are competiting with men in all fields and the integrity of character is probably better. There is no denying the fact that women in India have made a considerable progress in the last fifty years but yet they have to struggle against many handicaps and social evils in the male dominated society. 2] INJUSTICE TOWARDS WOMEN At some time or other, we have all heard the comment, Gender is a Western concept. We don’t need it in India. A number of arguments are used to justify this stand. We are told that India is the original home of the Mother Goddess. In our ancient history, we have many instances of women scholars and women rulers. Stories from mythology and folklore are recounted to prove that women in India have always been honoured and respected. We are proud of the fact that India was one of the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote.
The Indian Constitution is one of the most progressive in the world, and guarantees equal rights for men and women. All this is cited as evidence to support the contention that Indian women are free and equal members of society. Alongside this, however, is another body of evidence. The official statistics that are presented in government reports, the findings of local surveys and, most significantly, the daily experiences of women and men as documented in the media. These paint a very different picture. The National Crime Records Bureau reported in 1998 that he growth rate of crimes against women would be higher than the population growth rate by 2010. • Men outnumber women in India, unlike in most other countries where the reverse is the case. In 1991, there were only 927 women for every 1000 men. The reason for this imbalance is that many women die before reaching adulthood. • The majority of women go through life in a state of nutritional stress. They are anaemic and malnourished. Girls and women face nutritional discrimination within the family, eating last and least. The average Indian woman bears her first child before she is 22 years old, and has little control over her own fertility and reproductive health. • Only 50% of Indian women are literate as compared to 65. 5% men. Far fewer girls than boys go to school. Even when girls are enrolled, many of them drop out of school. • There are far fewer women in the paid workforce than there are men. Women’s work is undervalued and unrecognised. Women work longer hours than men, and carry the major share of household and community work, which is unpaid and invisible. • Women generally earn a far lower wage than men doing the same work.
In no State do women and men earn equal wages in agriculture. • Women are under-represented in governance and decision making positions. At present, less than 8% of Parliamentary seats, less than 6% of Cabinet positions, less than 4% of seats in High Courts and the Supreme Court, are occupied by women. Less than 3% of administrators and managers are women. • Women are legally discriminated against in land and property rights. Most women do not own any property in their own names, and do not get a share of parental property • Women face violence inside and outside the family throughout their lives.
Police records show that a woman is molested in the country every 26 minutes. A rape occurs every 34 minutes. Every 42 minutes, an incident of sexual harassment takes place. Every 43 minutes, a woman is kidnapped. Every 93 minutes, a woman is killed.  PROTECTION FOR WOMEN The Constitutional Pledge Commitment to freedoms, equality and social justice lie at the core of India’s nationhood. The Constitution of India pledges to secure to all the people’s justice, social, economic and political; equality of status, pportunity and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association and action, subject to law and public morality. The Constitution is firmly grounded in the principles of liberty, fraternity, equality and justice. It emphasises the importance of greater freedoms for all and contains a number of provisions for the empowerment of women. Women’s right to equality and non-discrimination are defined as justifiable fundamental rights. The Constitution explicitly clarifies that affirmative action programmes for women are not incompatible with the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of sex.
The Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian women • Equality before the law. Article 14 • No discrimination by the State on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of these. Article 15(1) • Special provisions to be made by the State in favour of women and children. Article 15(3) • Equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. Article 16 • State policy to be directed to securing for men and women equally, the right to an adequate means of livelihood.
Article 39(a) • Equal pay for equal work for both men and women. Article international covenants like the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action. National plans and policies have consistently reflected a vision of progress that is not narrowly confined to expanding incomes, but gives a central place to the achievement of human 39(d) • Provisions to be made by the State for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.
Article 42 • To promote harmony and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women. Article 51(A) (e) Reaffirming the Pledge India has led the world in ratifying UN Conventions and rights, freedoms and well-being for all. The last few years have seen dramatic increases in the space available for women in Indian society – a consequence of affirmative policies and programmes by the government and initiatives by NGOs and other civil society groups. Most of all, these achievements are the result of years of determined advocacy, campaigning and action for change by women themselves. 4] Role of Legislation Today Indian womanhood is marching towards liberty and equality. For this march towards liberty and equality, various social legislations passed from time to time are mainly responsible. This legislation aimed at eradication of social evils. Following are the significant enactment, which helped in bringing about the change: 1. THE HINDU WIDOW RE-MARRIAGE ACT OF 1856: In the traditions Hindu society there was a ban on widow remarriage. Ban on widow remarriage was one of the most important evils from which women in the traditional Hindu society suffered a lot.
This Act allowed widows to remarry and section 5 of this Act ensured her to enjoy all the rights which a married woman did. 2. THE CHILD MARRIAGE RESTRAINT ACT OF 1929: The practice of child marriage was another social evil from which woman in traditional Hindu society suffered a lot. Age at marriage for girls was 9 or 10 and after passing this Act the minimum marriageable age of women was fixed to 15 years. Later it was increased to 18 years. 3. THE HINDU WOMENS RIGHT TO PROPERTY ACT OF 1937: In traditional society women had no property right. In the eyes of law she was miner or ward.
This Act recognized a widow of a deceased person as his surviving personality with the same right as his in the joint property. Thus through this Act women in the Hindu society received the property right to a limited extent. 4. THE HINDU MARRIAGE ACT OF 1955: This Act has recognized the equal rights of man and woman in the matters of marriage and divorce. Under the provision of this Act either the man or woman can present a petition in a court of law for divorce, wife has got an equal right to divorce her husband as he can do. 5. THE HINDU SUCCESSION ACT OF 1956:
This Act recognized an equal right for women in the matter of inheritance of property. She can inherit the property of father along with her brothers. She can also sell or mortgage the inherited property or use it for herself. For the first time absolute ownership was conferred to a woman by this Act. 6. THE SUPPRESSION OF IMMORAL TRAFFIC IN WOMEN AND GIRLS ACT OF 1956-57: This Act aims to deal with the problem of prostitution6 and to promote the welfare of fallen women. Main objectives of this Act are to reduce the scope of prostitution and to reform the prostitution under this Act.
Every state is expected to set up protective homes and to appoint women police and women social workers. In protective homes these fallen women will be given training in tailoring, toy and basket making and other crafts so that they may earn for their maintenance in a proper way. 7. THE DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT OF 1961: The main objective of this Act is to abolish giving and taking dowry at the time of marriage. The term dowry refers to a valuable property or thing which is determined by the parties to a marriage for a marriage. The practice of dowry had produced very bad effects.
Dowry has become a social evil. Even though this Act prohibits dowry system, the dowry cases have not been reduced. Still this Act makes some effort in bringing social change. 8. THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT OF 2005: An Act to provide for more effective protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.  Apart from these protections, various NGO’s and Mahila Mandals have also taken an initiative for the upliftment and welfare of women.
E. g. Maryada, SEWA, Lajja, numerous SHG’s represent a form of women’s collective action through which gender specific issues are taken up. These issues are alcoholism, male violence and dowry deaths, rape and sexual harassment. Direct policy advocacy and developmental works undertaken by NGOs are different from the wider phenomenon of social movements concerning women’s issues. The NGO approach theoretically combines both the development and empowerment perspectives with the objective of building equitable social relations.  CONCLUSION
India is one of the few countries where women enjoy a comparatively better status than women in other parts of the world. True Indian women face many problems and are subject to the same social pressures which women experience in other parts of the world. But relatively speaking, their situation is much better than what it used to be in the pre-independence era. On the positive side women have made rapid strides in every aspect of modern life. The constitution guarantees equal opportunity and where necessary provides necessary safeguards from possible exploitation or injustice.
Indian women of today are not afraid of voicing their opinions or joining forces with other women in the local community to fight against social maladies and injustice. They have opportunities to take bold decisions or take lead unorthodox lives, which might have made them vulnerable to social ridicule and family pressures a few decades ago. Undoubtedly, women of today in India enjoy a better status and freedom than women in the past. On the negative side, Indian women suffer from many disabilities and social injustice.
This is true for all Indian women, to whatever religion they may belong, except where their status, roles, and responsibilities are directly influenced by religious beliefs such as marriage and inheritance. Indian women rank high in terms of the number of prostitutes in the world, girl children neglected, abused or often sold purely for economic reasons, as victims of AIDS, and women living below the poverty line or forced to do physical labour even when they are pregnant or sick. It is difficult to generalise the situation of women in India, due to the heterogeneous nature of the Indian society.
Women belong to different social and economic strata and what is true in case of one particular category may not be true in case of others. So much has been happening in Indian society as of late that, it is difficult to make objective conclusion about the situation of women in India without inviting an opposite reaction. And this often gives scope for distortion and misinterpretation of facts. The proportion of women and men in the population can tell us a lot about the level of gender equality in the country.
Biologically, women are the stronger sex. In societies where women and men are treated equally, women outlive men, so that there are more women than men in the adult population. It is true that some of the ancient scriptures were very partial to women and treated them with disdain. In ancient India, there was a great deal of diversity and hardly any organised political or religious machinery to implement the religious laws universally. Religion was then, as it is now, mostly a matter of personal choice.
The Smritis or the law books of Hinduism had little impact on the day to day lives of a vast majority of the people. The kings and the nobility had a little interest in the masses beyond collection of taxes. It is therefore incorrect to base one’s conclusions exclusively on scriptural evidence. The problems of the Indian women are not peculiar only to the Indian women. They are problems common to most of the women irrespective of the religions they practice and where they reside. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. http://www. place of women in Indian Society. htm 2. http://www. bu. du/wcp/Papers. htm 3. http://www. un. org. in/wii. htm 4. http://www. ourkarnataka. com/Articles/indianwomen_law. htm 5. http://coombs. anu. edu. au/SpecialProj/ASAA/biennial-conference/2006/Sabhlok-Smita-G-ASAA2006. pdf ———————–  Place of women in Indian Society. htm  http://www. bu. edu/wcp/Papers. htm  http://www. un. org. in/wii. htm  http://www. un. org. in/wii. htm  http://www. ourkarnataka. com/Articles/indianwomen_law. htm  http://coombs. anu. edu. au/SpecialProj/ASAA/biennial-conference/2006/Sabhlok-Smita-G-ASAA2006. pdf