INDIAN WOMEN PAST AND PRESENT
Written by: Arun k Tangnu
INDIAN WOMAN PAST AND PRESENT
This paper presents the role Indian woman played during pre-independence and post independence. It also mentions about why some antifemale practices came into existence and what measures were taken in past and present to curb these practices. Finally it takes a look on success of Indian Woman both in Govt. and private sector and compares to the success rate in USA.
Introduction: Women’s participation in India’s, freedom struggle began over a century before country became independent at the time when conservative traditions and social customs had derived them their rightful place in the society. Among earlier women fighters to raise banner of revolt were Lakshmi Bai, Rani Jhansi, Rani of Ramgarh , Rani of Taci and Begum Hazart of Lucknow..After attaining independence in 1947 , India had huge task of social reconstruction, economic development and political awakening to be able to ensure justice and equality to all its citizens. The framers of Indian constitution , which amongst others, had prominent women like Sarojini Naidu, Hansa Mehta, Durgabai, Renuka Ray and Malti chowdhry as its members.The participation of women in Indian freedom struggle are landmarks in the history.
Women in ancient India occupied a dignified place. They participated in outdoor life as circumstances and situations demanded and there were hardly any prescribed positions exclusively earmarked for men. All the high avenues of learning were open to women who excelled in learning and their hymns were included in vedas. Women continued enjoying the same position more or less until Muslim invasions took place from. North West A slow and steady decline in the position of women had begun.With coming of invaders this process accelerated and decline was marked . The political instability, consequent migration of population and economic depression extending over period of about three centuries affected the women adversely..
Infanticide, Child marriage, Sati , Purdah system and prejudice against women’s education were some of the measures adopted by Hindu society to save the honour of their women against invaders and foreign rulers. To explain further , foreign invaders and rulers would abduct, be cruel and abuse Indian girls. In an attempt to save them from such atrocities Hindu’s were forced to perform infanticide marry them when they were only children .Perform Sati or Widow burning was also done to save women’s respect and torture by Muslim rulers. All these customs hampered the progress of women, yet there appeared throughout the ages some women who excelled as administrators and reformers. The names of Padmini, Razia Begum , Durgawati, who defended the Ahmed Nagar fort., represent the warriors and administrators against women. Mughal princess like Nur Jahan, Jahan Ara and Zebunnin and prominent women of medievel India. Among the Maratha rulers Tara Bai , who was instrumental in putting up a powerful resistance against the onslaught of Aurangzeb, and Ahalya Bai Holtar whose administration won admiration of English men were famous women of this time. Punjab had a courageous and good stateswoman Sada Kaur who helped Ranjit Sigh in conquering Lahore and conquering Lahore and consolidating the Sikh empire.
The part played by women in the great outbreak of 1857-58 invited admiration even from English. It was Rani of Jhansi about whom Sir High Rose observed, “She was the bravest and best military leader of rebels. The Rani of Ramgarh met her death in the battle field while Begum Hazart Mahal had to escape to Nepal and died there as an exile. The birth of Indian National congress in 1885 furnished a political platform to women. It was in the year 1900 that Swarn kumari and J Gangoli attended the congress session held in Calcutta as delegates from Bengal. Smt Gangoli was first woman to speak from congress platform. This was perhaps a beginning of new era and then onwards the women took an increasingly active part in political activities of the country.
The first decade of the 20th century witnessed the revolutionary activities in political field. Sarla Devi and Bhikaji Rustom and K.R .Cama openly supported the cause of revolutionaries and rank amongst the outstanding leaders of period.
Then came the home rule movement of Annie Besant between the year 1916 and 1918. She had adopted India as her home and it was their work that threatened the roots of the British Rule in India.. As a result Annie Besant was imprisoned. Later on release , she enjoyed the highest honour by being elected President of Indian National congress.
Thousands of women joined the Satyagraha army of the Gandhiji. They raised their voices against the Rowlatt Bill, Salt Laws, Forest Laws and went to jail as a consequence of their defiance.
During the civil Disobedience movement women like Sarojini Naidu, Kamala Devi Chattopadhyaya, Lado Rani Zutshi, Durga Bai and many others became war dictators, Sarojini Nadu was not only the first Indian Woman to become the President of Indian National Congress in 1925 but was also the first woman to lead the biggest salt raid in Bombay.
While men were in prison it was left to the women of India to guide and lead the people during the critical periods. In a bid to achieve their aim they had to face Lathi (Wooden Stick) blows and bullets, but once they had decided to come out and work for freedom , there was no going back from it. Swaroop Rani Nehru, wife of Motilal Nehru, was one of many who received lathi blows.
The demand for independence brought in other concession’s for Indians for in the form of Govt of India Act, 1935. By virtue of this ministries were formed in provinces after general elections. Women contested the seats and were elected. Vijay Lakshmi Pandit became first woman minister while Ansuyabai Kale and Sipi Milani became the deputy speakers of central province and sindh assemblies respectively.
The women of India stepped forward to carry on the movement for independence. In places like Assam, Bombay it was the woman who were responsible for the fight for the freedom. They took out processions, held demonstrations and organised camps for women to give them required training . Women like Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani and Usha Kriplani and Usha Mehta worked underground during this period. It was during the Quit India movement that Indra Gandhi became actively involved in the freedom struggle . She defied the law by taking out processions. Indian Women outside India also took up the cause of their motherland and joined the ranks of Indian National army. Lakshmi colonel of Rani Jhansi Regiment was another person who was also a member of Azad Hind Government. The post independence period , particularly in case of women has been a continuation of era of social reforms, economic uplift and political recognition. Struggle for equity justice and parity between two human beings continues. It may be mentioned that there has been a woman Prime-Minister, Mrs Indra Gandhi.She led the country for many years as its Prime Minister. There have been other women who have honoured the chair of Chief Ministers, Governors, educationist and legal experts. But to say that they have been completely free from social bondage and that their status on par with men would be far from truth . Efforts are however on to right the wrong through social legislation education, and increase in economic and political opportunities.
Anti female Practices and corrections thereafter
In spite of the liberal provisions made to ensure equality to all citizens and thereby to women as well, the women continue to suffer from oppression. In pre-independence era, woman had no property. rights, she was not legally authorised to adopt a child. Efforts to reduce and remove the disabilities were made by enacting acts of Parliament. The Hindu succession Act of 1956 empowered the Hindu women to inherit property. In addition to these acts , a number of other laws have been passed to eliminate undesirable practices and protect, promote and safeguard the interest of women. Some of these were Dowry act, suppression of prostitution and immoral traffic act of 1958. It may be explained here system of Dowry was actually introduced with lot of good intentions. The primary purpose of providing dowry was to provide Bride as a security in case her husband dies or she gets divorce. But unfortunately society later used as business transactions. More dowry became one of the essential qualifications for girls to get married to prospective boys.
The year 1976 witnessed passing of Bill for equal remuneration to men and women for same type of work. Another progressive step was taken by amending the factories act which made it obligatory on employer to provide creeches for children of working in factories. At about the same time maternity benefit was extended to those women who hitherto were not covered under the act of 1958. The laws relating to dowry, rape and violence against women were amended to make them more stringent to ensure that culprit is punished. For instance, in case of violence against women, the criminal law amendment act of 1983 recognised for the first time domestic violence inflicted by husband or any of his relations and such a violence became an offence under the act. Prevention of Sati or widow burning was passed in 1987 which was preceded by amendments to Dowry act of 1961 in 1984 and 1986. The offence has been made cognisable and non bailable. It also provided for Dowry Probhition officers at state level. The other progressive amendments related to abortion, marriage, divorce, right to children and right to property. It appears that women had to ask for , agitate, demand and advocate legal remarks to reduce and or eliminate the hardships inflicted on them. It has also to be understood that there is still a need for “ stringent laws”, sensitive judiciary and effective enforcement. The Indian women has come long ways in making progress both in education, holding Govt and private job.
The concept of ideal Indian woman is the mother first, but in west (USA) the woman is wife. The idea of woman hood is concentrated there as a wife.
Vivekanada’s disciple, sister Nivedita writes “ The samaj (Society) is the strength of family, the home is behind the civic life and civic life sustains nationality. This is the formula. of human construction.” She called upon every Indian woman to incarnate the whole spirit of mother, culture and protection of homeland. Gandhi located the strength of women in her ability to suffer with such high expectations from Indian culture. Indian women is probably only women in the world who has to play active and responsible role of a mother , wife, sister and a daughter. She is tough and resilient . She can withstand economic upswings, catastrophe’s in the family, would stand by her man fully committed and help him shoulder to shoulder in difficult times, unlike western culture where there is promiscuity and distrust in marriage. Western women would rather find a new husband who is richer and younger if her husband lost health or job. Indian women has the biggest gift of sharing and caring unlike western women who would typically look for her own selfish interest. Indian women derives strength from the happiness of family and would almost do any sacrifice for their children. On the contrary if women in USA has marital problems , she would most likely get divorce and would hardly care if children are left fatherless and also saving marriage for the sake of family respect has almost no significance. This philosophy of being sensitive to children’s welfare and family image motivates Indian women to get higher and even professional education like in fields of Science and Technology, Medicine, Business and Law. Higher education enables her to obtain lucrative jobs.. India has more lady doctors than USA. Currently women are taking increasing part in Govt and running. their own private business. Few examples are Shahnaz Hussain and Rita Singh. Shanaz started with a modest capital investment of 100 dollars in diary farm and rose to become founder of thousand Crore Rupee company approximately 28 billion dollar company. While earlier women preferred to stick to traditional fields of enterprise like handlooms, handicrafts and food products, today they have gained confidence and expertise to venture into lucrative fields like herbal medicine and cosmetics, biotechnology, extraction of vegetable die and natural essence, right up to highly technical fields of computer software. The other wonder women is Rita Singh founder of Mesco group which itself sets target of four billion dollars by the turn of century. This group diversifies into mining, steel and shipping.
Govt support is quite encouraging for women entrepreneurs. Hundred thousand women will be trained in trade related activities. Through constructive interaction with various R&D organisations like national research and development co-operation and department of science and technology and others, women can today develop new project ideas.
The small Industries development Bank of India(SIDBI) plans to reserve 9 billion dollars of marketing development assistance for project promoted by women. There are also schemes to assist them to export by providing packaging facilities. Economic liberalisation has thrown open a new world of market opportunities and time is ripe for women to put their talent to good use. Finally greater role of women in governance is emphasised. An UN-ESCAP regional conference held at Allahabad(INDIA) has endorsed the concept of provisions for representation of women in all tiers of Govt. One of the first workshop of its kind , the Allahabad meet brought together elected woman mayors,councilors, women’s organisations from seven Asian countries. The workshop recognised the impact of recent constitutional amendments in India for participation of large number of women in executive and representational positions. The identified areas of action included creation of joint forums of elected women representative and community based organisations working in local governance, women’s bodies and media for sharing experiences.
References: 1) Women in India’s Freedom struggle by Manmohan Kaur ISBN 81207 13990.
2) Indian Women’s Movement by Maitree Chauduri ISBN-81-7027-163-2
3)HINDUSTAN TIMES DECEMBER 4th , 5th, 1996
Review and comments by Rachna Singh .----------------March 12,2001
Hi Arun ,
As always it was a pleasure to talk with you. I am glad that you can share
your thoughts with me as a friend. I read your article which was brief but
very factual and enlightening at the same time. I will be going through the
other two articles that you have sent. I very much agree with your views
regarding the problems that Indian women are facing now a days. We as women
are faced with dilemma as to what we really want to be. On one hand we seem
to be traditional inside because of our upbringing and at the same time we
want to assert our independence because of being financially secure. And
ofcourse there are the women of the west who have unfortunately become our
role models.This seems to be one strong point as to the deterioration in our
family values and system. There are more and more one parent families even
among the Indian community and the rate of divorce and seperation have only
I also think that because we do not want to be labelled as backward in our
ideas, the women are now placing themselves first before their husbands and
children . This is very unlike the mothers and wives we knew of yesteryears
whose main objective was "family first".
We can surely write more about this as this is a good topic of discussion.
2nd review by Nilanjana -Pune May 20th,2002
your discourse about the glorious past, the gradual degeneration
and then the slow but steady path towards upliftment of Indian
women is indeed interesting; reflecting the amount of research
work that you have put into it.
Indeed women like Indira Gandhi, Shahnaz Hussain, Meera Nair have
made it possible for us Indian women to be recognized and
respected all the world over. I am almost tempted to look at my
fortunate sisters who are making politicians, executives;
educated; confident and independent.
Yet I am unable to do so because as I avert my eyes towards the
other aspect of our society, I shiver: with distaste and anger and
In an age when it is possible to determine the gender of a child
before it is born; many urban couples in India are using this very
technology to get rid of female feotuses.
In Rajasthan, it is the mother who poisons her female baby.
The first lessons of slavery, servitude are taught to a girl by
none other than her mother.
Mother teaches " You are a girl, your brother can do anything and
get away with it; not you. You need not go away to a better
college/university; but your brother must. At your inlaws house be
subservient, obey, never speak up."
A mother who can afford just a few morsels of food makes sure that
her boy child gets the lions share, leaving the left overs for
her. The concept of equality with her menfolf albeit has a meaning
for her; only when she is made to work for hours and hours in
field/factories/and then her home.
INDEED WHAT WONDERFUL MOTHERS WE MAKE FOR OUR DAUGHTERS!!!!
Most men like to marry independent/ smart / educated and working
women; but the moment she begins to earn one rupee more than him
his ego is hurt. That is when he is reminded of Sita, the epitome
of sacrifice, the slave of Rama purushottam !
Purushottam Ram! A weak woman like Sita., obedient, subservient,
self - sacrificial and dutiful could happily face demonic
imprisonment in following her husband to the forest.(Point to be
noted that none of this would have occured if she had chosen to
remain at the palace.)
And what did our "purushottam" do? At the words of society he put
her through 2 purity tests and ultimately banished her. Applause
to the most perfect man; the purushottam!
A man who could not protect his wife;(from society) who could not
perform his duties as a husband; what kind of king would he make I
We have travelled a long way up indeed but the path is yet long!
it is yet severe and full of hurdles. It is yet to be ingrained in
the pshcy of the Indian woman that she is not the second sex but
the other one.She is not below but parallel!
Review by Kalpana Raju- Banglore India [04-25-2004]
Thanks for sending me this article of your’s. I have read it . I find your work on the subject of Indian woman in the past and present is indeed commendable. It is a wonderful compilation of facts which throws light on various phases that our Indian women have passed through over a period of time from ancient days to contemporary ones. The conclusion that one can arrive at , from this, is that, woman has all the potential like her male counterpart to excel in any field within the opportunities that are open to her ( of –course one’s educational, economical background , social class to which she belongs plays vital role here) , provided she has a conducive and encouraging environment around her and where there is no threat whatsoever to her honour, image and self respect.
Infact, I can say that, woman has more inner strength , mental strength, emotional strength. She is more resilient ,gritty . I do admit that on physical side we are weaker. I have seen that in most of the cases, if a family is stricken by a tagedy , whether it could be related to financial,health, human or any other loss, it is the woman who faces it, accepts it and fights it with more courage , grace than the male members of that family. It is the woman who helps rebuild the confidence back in her man by her moral support in such instances .
It is observed that ,women who are holding top level posts are more sincere in discharging their duties , more commanding and are better administrators inspite of all the odds against them than their male counterparts.
You should see , the women from labour class , she hardly gets any kind of support from her husband except beatings if she does not part with the money she has earned for him to spend it on liquor , but it is amazing and at the same time heart wrenching to see how she toils hard and struggles to bring up her children, provide them basic necessities like food clothing ,shelter, education all alone . Hats off to such women. My sympathies and applauses them.
Shame on such men who are responsible for this. They are nothing but mere beasts.
The sad part is that , inspite of all the advancement that we are witnessing today in our society, yet a girl child is led to believe from the day one she can remember that the sole purpose of her life is to get married , beget children by her parents and relatives.So get herself equipped for that. I think, this attitude of parents must change . They also must understand the very importance of good education which comes to her rescue if she is met with any kind of injustice in her personal life, to support her self , to face the world with more confidence and boldness.
One thing is evident and proved over the aeons that, any weakling, whether a man or a woman is taken for a ride, treated shabbily and destroyed by the stronger one. So, let’s become ourselves stronger and let’s not fall prey to the schemings of the stronger one’s .
With warm and Best Wishes,
I have gone through your article entitled “Indian Woman Past and Present”. This article is written very perspicaciously and brings remarkable attention about the role of Indian women. I am not an authentic referee to comment vehemently about this article. But I would like to drop few lines about my views.
This article brings very strong and deep perspective about the destiny of Indian women from ancient to contemporary days. I do agree with your views regarding the problems that Indian women are facing at present. In Hindu mythology woman is considered as the embodiment of power, love, prosperity, virtue and personified as the goddess Mahalakshmy, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. India has got eminent, capable and powerful woman political leader like Indira Gandhi to uphold the women power, women independence and equality around the world. Women in the upper class are educationally, economically and socially well built to stand shoulder to shoulder to their men. However think about the destiny of women in the lower class!!! They are treated as a device for the enjoyment of men, to earn money for the family and to deliver children. They have no voice, choice and mentally dumb, deaf and blind. In Tamil Nadu and certain parts of North India mothers are forced to foeticide for carrying a female baby. Cases are not seldom to poison the female baby after birth or sell for money.
I would like to bring an attention regarding the pathetic state of Muslim women in rural parts of India. I think it is Muslim women who are very badly and adversely affected and tortured in their life. Muslim men follow the custom of polygamy (having more wives than one at the same time) and consider it as a source of commodity for money. Men are greedy to get the “Mehar” (money or gold given to the groom at the time of marriage) from the girl’s father. There is no legal validity in these kinds of marriages and follow their religious customs and rituals. He is an irresponsible father of ten or more children who remain fatherless even though they are having a father. Muslim woman are not secure in life and at any time she can be divorced by her husband without her consent uttering the word “Talak” three times and can go for another woman. This scenario is still prevailing in rural parts of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Really I do feel so distress in writing all these. I can’t imagine how men can be brutal and barbaric like this?? Remedial measures are urgently required to abolish or curb these customs that’s what I feel. Let us hold our hands together and move for a stronger and successful Tomorrow for women emancipation.
Layla thanks for your comments but respectfully I should say Little Knowledge is Dangerous thing. Before you write controversial comments please get more knowledge.Arun
exuse me whatever u have written regarding Mahr is wrong. It is the money given by the groom to the bride at the time of marriage. So plz, don't write things which u don't know about...
Women themselves need to encourage one another to go out and explore their desire, destiny and to let them be independent. And this is not possible without the support from their male counterparts.
Such issues and a lot more have been talked about on http://beingyouthful.com/essay-on-women-empowerment-in-india/
Shewata I agree with you 100%.Arun