Then came Manu and his derogatory statements about women. He said that a woman has to be dependent before marriage on her parents and after marriage on her husband.
This did a great damage to the position of women in Indian society. Women began to be regarded as inferior. They were not considered worthy or respect and were excluded from various fields of activity.
During the Moghul rule in India which spanned roughly over four hundred years, the position of women became worse. They confined the womenfolk to the four-walls of the houses.
The purdah system made them further lose their identity. The Moghul’s attitude towards their womenfolk obviously lowered the status of Indian women whose sole reason of existence became the slavery of their men folk.
The ‘sati’ system, prevailing at that time, speaks volumes of how women were treated in society. The wife, even, against her wish, was forced to burn herself or, the funeral pyre of her dead husband.
The ‘sati’ system continued well during the British rule in India. It was Raja Ram Mohun Roy of Bengal who vigorously campaigned against this barbarism He succeeded in getting a law; passed daclaring this practice as illegal.
In the beginning of the twentieth century particularly during India’s national struggle for independence, the position of women took a turn for the better.
Mahatma Gandhi gave an ardent call for women’s participation in the freedom movement. Sarojini Naidu, Mira Ben, Sucheta Kripalani, Vijaya Laxmi Pandit, Mrs. Aruna Asaf Ali were some of the leading women freedom fighters.
In the present times, there are a large number of women who have attained the pinnacle of glory in their respective fields. Mrs. Indira Gandhi, our late Prime Minister, was held in high esteem the world over.
In a public opinion poll conducted in France she came out to be the most popular woman in the world. There is no doubt that in the last two decades, women have really come into their own.
Increasingly more and more women, especially in urban areas, are looking for self-fulfillment outside hearth and home. No wonder, we find women in every field.
The myth that certain fields were only meant for men has been shattered by women. Women have proved to be more responsible, vibrant, dynamic, though and compassionate.
They have the capacity to immerse themselves wholly in any task they undertake. Hence today, women occupy top ranks in almost all the fields be it sports politics performing arts, police, administration, medicine or communication. P.T. Usha, Mohsina Kidwai,
Margaret Alva, M.S. Subbulaxmi, Kiran Bedi, Dr. Padmavati, Mother Teresa, Medha Patkar and Prornilia Kaihan have become names to reckon with in the areas of their work.
The statistics reveal that girls are performing better than boys, in board and competitive examinations. Certainly women are proving to be more single-minded, dedicated and persevering.
Women have clearly proved that given an opportunity they can rise up to any occasion.
It goes to the credit of Indian women that despite family responsibilities, of there the Indian male is still reluctant to share the burden, she has been able to withstand pressures at work and home remarkably well.
The Government of India has been conscious of the need to improve the status of women in India. It has, therefore, included in the Constitution of India equality of women before law.
The Constitution also allows the government to make special provisions for the protection and advancement of women. A series of Acts women were given right to matrimonial relief, right to succession and so on.
The development of women in India, who according to the 1991 census represent 48.1 percent of the country’s population, has been the centre stage in development planning since Independence.
The Government set up a separate Department of Women and Child Development in 1985. In the Sixth Plan a separate chapter viz. Women and Development was included.
The National Commission for Women was set up in 1992 which is engaged in safeguarding the rights of Women besides reviewing the existing legislations for possible amendments.
In addition to this, major programmes implemented by the government in the area of women’s development include Support to Training-cum- Employment for Women (STEP); Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, Mahila Sarnridhi Woman Development Corporation, some legislations/amendments, etc.
The new United Front Government proposes to reserve 33% seats in legislatures also for women. The government is laying special emphasis on the education of girls.
The female literacy on the whole is on the rise. In 1S01, there were 1466 male literates for every 100 female literates. By 1931, the disparity had been brought down to 560 males as against 100 females.
Since 1950, the difference has steadily whittled down bringing the ratio to 164 males for 100 females in 1991.
No doubt, there are particular cases of women who have achieved eminence In different fields. The Acts passed by the government and measures taken by it have made some difference.
But the condition of a large majority of women in India remains deplorable.
The exploitation of women goes on. Women are considered weaker sex. They are harassed, tortured, ill-treated and raped.
Helpless and unhappy, even today, leave aside the country side in urban areas too; women are unable to raise their voice against the crimes committed against them.
Every day in the newspaper headlines one comes across a news item which reminds one of the glaring, barbaric customs still prevalent in our society innocent women are burnt to death because they could not bring sufficient dowry.
The worst is that the murderer gets away with it. These women become victim, of greed of the people and opt for death when the torture and humiliation crosses limits of endurance.
If this is the scenario in urban areas, one can imagine what must be the plight of women in rural areas, where women an illiterate, uneducated and slog from day to day as slaves of men.
They are not even aware of their rights and privileges. They simply take all the suffering, humiliation and torture inflicted on them in a spirit of resignation, as a result of their past Karma. Hence they carry on with their daily chores with stoic silence.
Medical science has made tremendous progress. Today it is possible to determine the sex of the child when he/she is still in the womb of the mother.
Because of a strong prejudice in India against female children, many people persuade doctors to kill the child in the womb if it is a female child.
Such practices only prove that the prejudice against female children and against women in general still exists. Landmark legislation on the Pre-natal Diagnostic Technique (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act was passed in 1994.
It is a pity that despite legislations and Acts such crimes against women are still committed. Eve-teasing, wife beating, bride burning, child marriages are still prevalent in the society.
Many protective homes have been opened for such harassed women in different carts of the country. But these malpractices continue even there. Miserable conditions prevail in the institutions like Nari Niketans.
Ms Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay, in her book Silver Shackles-Women and Development in India published by Oxfam, the International Humanitarian Organization, has maintained that the status of women is deteriorating drastically.
She says that since Independence in 1947, female mortality has risen so sharply that men now outnumber women and tend to live longer.
In most countries the reverse is true. Also in addition to their back-breaking domestic chores, women constitute a vast labour force often working for 19 hours a day.
This, however, is not to say that the future of women in India is altogether hopeless. There are several Women’s Organizations working for the enlightenment of women.
The Government, too, has been taking measures to help them. The women are India is decidedly heading towards advancement. No doubt, it will take some time, and patient and dedicated work is needed.
Above all a change in the attitude towards women is required. Once there is an awakening of social consciousness, the women will get their rightful place in society.