The status of Women in India has surely been subject to many changes in the last millennia.Over the ages, we have been treated as the sole property of our fathers, brothers or husbands; while denying any choice or freedom of our own.
We all say times are changing and undoubtedly there has been a change in our condition overtime. There was an era when we were confined to household work, were illiterate and had no say in the decision making process. All this has definitely improved, particularly in Urban India. But has the so called modern society accepted it completely. We are “Modern Women” living in this so called modern world. But when will this society actually become modern. When would we be allowed to take our own decisions and do what we want to do? When would we be known by our own individual identity rather than being known as someone's daughter, sister or wife? Even after having adorned high offices and power, we continue to face discrimination and other social challenges, and are often victims of abuse and violent crimes.
Scholars believe that in ancient India, Women enjoyed “equal status” with men in all fields of life. They were educated, taught warfare and even married at a mature age with a free will to select their husband. Few scriptures such as the Rig Veda also mention several women sages and seers.
Our position in the society further deteriorated during the medieval period (also known as Dark Ages), when practices such as SATI, JAUHAR, DEVADASI, CHILD MARRIAGE, DOWRY & BAN ON WIDOW REMARRIAGES became part of our social life.The Islamic conquest in the Indian subcontinent brought the PURDAH system in our society. Polygamy was widely practiced among both Muslim and Hindu rulers.
In spite of all these conditions, few women excelled in their field of politics, literature, education and religion.
During the British Raj, many reformers fought for the upliftment of women. Raja Ram Mohan Roy's efforts led to the abolition of the SATI practice in 1829. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's crusade for the improvement in conditions of widows led to the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856.
From equal status with men in ancient times, through the low points of the medieval period to yet again the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful.
Women in Independent India today participate in all activities like education, sports, politics, media, art & culture, service sectors, science & technology etc.The Constitution Of India guarantees to all Indian women – Equality, no discrimination by the state, equality of opportunity, equal pay for work, and in addition it renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women.
The feminist activism in India picked up momentum in the late 70’s. Female activists united over issues such as female infanticide, gender bias, women health and female literacy.
The Government of India declared 2001 as the year of Women’s Empowerment (Swashakti).On 9th March 2010, a day after the International Women’s Day, Rajyasabha passed the Women’s Reservation Bill (a major landmark in the path to success for women in India) – ensuring 33% reservation to women in Parliament and State Legislative bodies.
The women of modern India underwent a major and long needed change in their lives due to various reform activities undertaken for their upliftment. We were finally able to come out from the submissive roles assigned to us by society and emerge as free and independent individuals with our own distinct identities.
But even now the status of women in modern India is a sort of a paradox. If on one hand we are at the peak of the ladder of success, on the other hand we are mutely suffering violence – both mental and physical afflicted by sometimes our own people – family, relatives and friends and at other times by the unknown. We may have achieved a lot but yet have to travel along a long road. We have left the secured domain of our homes and are out in the battlefield of life, fully armoured with our talent, confidence and will.
What baffles me most is the fact that while we women are achieving all this, it is disorienting for the stereotypical Indian man to see us emerge from the “purdah” and donning jeans and skirts and yes sometimes even bikinis.
He seems to be disturbed with the fact that - we have left behind the “aangan” of our homes and are battling it out in the corporate/ political field. We have changed roles from being the “family cook” to the credit card flashing customer at a fancy resto bar. And he finds it difficult to accept that we are not just born to play a role to him, but to also be someone in our own right.The question is, why does it seem so difficult for the conventional Indian male to accept this – because he feels threatened, that his power, importance and role as master and lord would diminish if he gives too much freedom to women.
We go to school, technical and management institutes. We occupy the top positions in the corporate and political world. We are equal to our male counterparts. We are confident and modern. More importantly, we are independent and free. We are nobody but the modern Indian women. But I say we would attain total freedom only when the men of this modern society walk with us, support us, nurture us and motivate us to strive for more, to strive for success.
We would only progress when, the progressive Indian male gets adjusted to and is thrilled that his “housewife” now looks beyond her kitchen and the neighbours’ affairs and is interested in and updated with the world affairs, her creative pursuits, attends classes ranging from pottery to dance, exercises, looks good, is fashionable and has free will to exercise over matters concerning her own self. She is someone he can talk to, discuss with, drink and enjoy with, depend on and most importantly - respect. Today’s woman proudly holds on to traditions but not the subordinate status anymore.
The change has come, and the change will come if we stop advocating to young girls and women of this country that to be dominated and passive are feminine virtues.
The desire of an Indian woman can be summed up in the following lines written by an African woman:
I do not ask for money
Although I have need for it.
I do not ask for meat,
I have only one request.
And all I ask isThat you remove
The road block
From my path…..”