“One could judge the degree of civilisation of a country by social and political position of its
women.” – CHARLES FOURIER
Very true…..The development of any society is judged in terms of the position held by women in
that society. Women can be said as the God’s complete creation. God created women from the
stuff of the first men. That’s why women can be called to be stronger than men in every aspect.
Even if not stronger than men, they can be considered to possess the same strength as the men
do. In early age and more particularly in matriarchal society women used to enjoy a dignified
and respectful status. The concept of Mother Goddess was eternal symbol of life. We call our
planet as Mother Earth which gives life, sustenance and strength. In Vedic period women
enjoyed status equal to men. The great women like Ghosa, Apala, Lopmudra, Visvara, Gargi,
Atreyi, etc. had excelled in art, music, dance and battlefield. She has been considered to be the
symbol of love, independence, caring and intensity both in love and in hate.
But the equality status did not last for long. By and by matriarchal society gave way to
patriarchal society, the male chauvinism and superiority over women came into being. Biological
construction of men gave them economic dominance. Remember how Devi Sita (in Ramyana)
was abducted by Devil King Ravana and how Bheeshma (in Mahabharat) better known for his
promise to remain celibate throughout his life forcefully took away three princess in his chariot
from their palace on their swayamvar day to marry them to his younger brother. The economic
dependence of women degraded their position and subjected them to exploitation and torture. By
and by women became so dependent on men as to be relegated to the position of bondage.
A conflict in ideology and actuality became apparent in Manusmriti. Idealism speaks that YATRA
NARYASTU PUJYANTE RAMANTE TATRA DEVTAmeans where women are
worshipped, God resides. This quote might be excused by some hypocrites who do not believe
thoughts which favour women but when it comes to old traditions implying restrictions on women
they force them to unquestioningly follow such implications. But what happens when one day
little girls are worshipped as ‘Devi’ on Durga Puja and the next day news headline trembles us
from within stating – A seven years girl gang raped and brutally murdered. Reality was shown
from the observation that a woman is never independent and in today’s context not safe even. In her childhood she is dependent on her father, in youth she is dependent on her husband in old age
she is dependent on her son.
In Hindu mythology women are termed as Ardhangini and westerners honour them by calling
them as Better Half. Today women constitute about half of the world’s population and this
hal fof the total population has not been in a better position for so long. They are placed at
various unfair and disadvantageous positions due to gender discrimination. No doubt that woman
endures much more pain than men do. No men do go through even half the pain a woman goes
through during labour. However, women have not been treated so nicely by men all throughout
their life. They have been victims of violence, exploitation and myriad forms of discrimination.
Rampant abuses against women have been excused, ignored or taken for granted.
History has evidences that women have been regarded as the property of men. Earlier it was a
mandatory that the defeated king had to surrender all his wives and concubines, besides his land
and property into the feet of conqueror as if they were not human but a living entity without her
own identity and yes, ‘all his wives’ because often men were permitted and encouraged to have
as many wives as they could afford whereas a wife has always been expected to remain faithful
to her husband till she dies. In Mahabharat it became a debatable issue: whether a woman had an
existence as a human being with dignity or she was a mere chattel. The episode of Draupadi
being married to four other brothers of her husband and shared by them all throughout her life
and the episode of her being put as a pawn in gamble by her husbands,raised serious doubts as to
the status of women.
Foreign invasion further deteriorated their position with mark of general killing of baby girls
condemnation of widows, polygamy and system of Devdasi in Hindu temples in southern states
of India. It is not that gender discrimination prevailed only in India. The entire world can be
called culprit to womanhood. In ancient China, a widow had to sacrifice herself in uncivilized
practice of self-immolation. In many Eastern countries feet of young girls are tied with cotton for
their belief that a girl with small feet looks beautiful. In a nutshell, the position of women was
just like deprived and depressed classes of the people. Earlier women were facing problems such
as child marriage, sati pratha, pardapratha, restriction to widow remarriage, widow exploitation,
devdasi system, etc. However all the old traditional problems faced by women have disappeared
gradually from the society, because of their struggle and ‘enlightenment’ of their minds but given rise to other new issues. Women are continuously facing problems even after attaining self-
confidence, individuality, self- respect, personality, capacity, talent and efficiency more than
men and sufficient education as well. Some of the major troubles faced by women now are
dowry related harassment, marital rape, trafficking, sexual harassment, kidnapping, rape, murder,
gender discrimination at home and at work place even, decline in women population and their
health, female, foeticide, infanticide, girl child education prohibition ( particularly in rural areas).
Relating to the women’s condition, their social status, the United Nations observation recorded
as: WOMEN: HALF OF MANKIND
THEY PERFORM TWO-THIRDS OF WORLD’S WORKING HOURS
BUT ARE REGISTERED AS CONSTITUTING ONE-THIRD OF TOTAL LABOUR FORCE
THEY RECEIVE ONE-TENTH OF TOTAL REMUNERATION.
OWN ONLY ONE PERCENT OF WORLD’S MATERIAL GOODS.
Beside all such odds and social obstacles women have turned out to be lotus flourishing in slums
against all the obstruction. They are raising their voice against violence, agonies, absurd
dominance, and oppression and claiming equal rights, laws, opportunities, and above all they are
demanding humanly treatment, not out of courtesy but as their inherent right. This drastic change
is not an overnight effect. This is the result of assiduous attempts of millions of collaborating
hands working hard as per their moral principles. Their awareness has made them conscious of
their intact rights and their consciousness has led to feminism. Feminism is said to be the radical
idea that women’s safety is far more important than men’s feelings. It has become a global
movement for the welfare of ‘womankind’, their social upliftment and their establishment as an
individual existing personality.In other words, it has launched women as a symbol of
independence, awareness, education, esteem, privilege and pride.
There comes the concept of Women’s Right, though it is not a new one. Whenever women’s
individual right has been encroached, they have craved for justice.The episode of Mahabharata in
which Draupadi was yelling before every dignified personality in the court when she was staked
in game of dice and was lost by her own husbands.
There has been a considerable change in the way today women are looked at their position 50
years ago. It is not that only after independence women’s right came into picture. In pre-
independence era, Britishers passed many laws to protect women from various devilish conservative customs of the society and safeguard their interest. The most prominent of all those laws can be enlisted as
Sati Pratha Prohibition Act, 1829;
Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1829;
Female Infanticide Act, 1870;
Indian Succession Act, 1925;
Legal Practitioners (Women) Act,1928;
and Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1939.
It simply signifies concern of then government for the unfortunate condition of women at that time and their attempts to eradicate it.As far as the laws relating to women’s right are concerned rendered in post-independence era can be classified into 2 categories namely Constitutional Rights i.e. rights provided under provisions of the Constitution and Legal Rights i.e. Rights provided by various laws or acts by the
Parliament and State Legislature.
The basic idea of both the rights is eradication of gender discrimination. The rights enshrined in Indian Constitution for women are as follow : Article 15(1) – No discrimination on the ground of sex; Article 15(3) – State is empowered to make special provisions for women; Article 16(2) – Equality of opportunities in matters of public
employment; Article 23 Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour; Article 39 –
Strives to minimise inequalities of income; Article39(d) – Equal pay for equal work; Article 39 (a)
– Equal /justice and free legal aid; Article 42 – Provision of just and humane conditions for work
and maternity relief; Article 51-A(e) – Duty of every citizen to renounce practice derogatory to
the dignity of women; Article 243-D(3) – One-third of the total number of seats to be filled by
direct election in every Panchayat shall be reserved for women;Article 243-D(4) – One third of
total number of offices of chairpersons in the panchayats at each level shall be reserved for
women; Article 243-T(3) – One-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in
every Municipality shall be reserved for women; Article 243-T(4) – Offices in the Municipalities
shall be reserved for a women in such a manner as the State Legislature mey provide.
Legal Rights enshrined in various laws are as follows :Indian Penal Code (1860) protects Indian
women from dowry death, rape, kidnapping, cruelty, and other heinous offences; Indian
Christian Marriage Act (1872) deals with issues relating to marriage and divorce among the
Christian Community; Dissolution of /Muslim Marriages Act (1939) grants a right to Muslim
women to seek dissolution of her marriage;Minimum Wages Act (1948)forbids gender
discrimination between workers in terms of minimum wages for them; Mines Act (1952) and
Factories Act (1948) restricts the working of women in mines and factories between 7PM to 6
AM keeping their safety and welfare in concern; Hindu Marriage Act (1955) brought in
monogamy and allowed divorce on certain specific grounds and provides equal right to both men
and women in respect of marriage and divorce; Hindu Succession Act (1956) introduced the
right of women to claim paternal property equally with men; Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act
(1956) is for prevention of trafficking for commercial exploitation (say prostitution); Dowry
Prohibition Act (1961) forbids giving or taking of dowry at or before or nay time after the
marriage of women; Maternity Benefit Act (1961) regulates employment of women in certain
establishments for certain period before and after child birth and provides maternity benefit and
certain other benefits; Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (1971) provides for the termination
of certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners on humanitarian and medical ground;
Code of Criminal Procedure (1973) contains certain provisions which safeguards the interest of
women like obligates husband to maintain his wife, arrest a women by a female police, etc.;
Equal Remuneration Act (1976) provides for equal pay scale for both men and women for
similar job without any discrimination on the ground of sex, in working condition and job
opportunity; Family Courts Act (1984) allows for formation of Family Courts for speedy
resolution of family disputes which usually involves women;Indecent /Representation of Women
(Prohibition) Act (1986) interdict representation of women through advertisements or in
publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner; Muslim Women (Protection of
Rights o Divorce) Act (1986) protects the rights of divorced Muslim women;Legal Services
Authorities Act (1987) provides for free legal services to Indian women; National Commission
for Women Act (1990) stresses upon the establishment of National Commission for Women to
study and monitor all matters relating to Constitutional and Legal Rights and safeguards of
women;Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act
(1994) prevents selection of sex before or after conception and prohibits the misappropriate use
of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex determination causing female foeticide; Prevention of
Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) is there to protect women in India from all forms of
domestic violence such as physical, sexual, mental, verbal or emotional abuse.Sexual
Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (2013) insists
protection of women from sexual harassment at all workplaces both in private and public sectors.
Keeping in view injustices and iniquities to women, there is emergence of feminist jurisprudence
of women’s right and dignity.
Indian Judiciary is playing a crucial role in establishing the equality of status which was lacking behind for so many centuries. Mr. J. V.R. Krishna Iyer argued in his extra judicial writing Human Rights and Law that ‘if there can be Rani of Jhansi or Phoolan Devi; Queen Elizabeth-1, Madam Curie, Queen Victoria or Indira Gandhi, there can be
army generals and police chiefs. According to him women possess same strength as men have
and can work as hardly, imaginatively, tactfully and intelligently as men do.
Various case laws in judgement held by courts clearly shows the mind set of judiciary towards
requirement of social upliftment of women for betterment of society.
In Laxmi vs. Union of India Writ Petition (C) No.129 of 2006 judgement leads to restriction on sell of acid through the country due to increase in number of acid attacks on girls and women.
In ABC vs. The State (NCT of Delhi) 2015 SCC OnLine SC 609it was held that an unwed mother is not bound to disclose the name of child’s father and also she would have all the rights as a guardian to child under Guardianships rights. The recent changes made in types of regular passport have been done to facilitate such women.
In Vishakha &Ors. vs. State of Rajasthan (1997) 6 SCC 241 court issued certain guidelines to prevent sexual harassment against women at work places.
In Lata Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh Writ Petition (crl.) 208 of 2004, it was ruled out that there was no bar to inter-caste or inter-religious marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act.
In Centre for enquiry into Health and Allied themes (CEHAT) vs. Union of India 3scr534, the Supreme Court issued guidelines to prevent female foeticide. In Sakshi vs. Union of India, directions were passed by court to be strictly followed while conducting trial of child sexual abuse or rape.
The Supreme Court held in Roxanne Sharma vs. Arun Sharma AIR 2015 SC 2232 that in a battle between estranged parents for custody of a minor child of below five years shall be allowed to remain with the mother.
In D. Velusamy vs. Patchaiammalit(2010) 10 SCC 469was held that live-inrelation will also come under Domestic Violence Act 2005 if the relationship is in the nature of marriage. In Daniel Latifi vs. Union of India, a
Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court held that liability of a Muslim husband to his divorced wife arising under Section 3(1) (a) of the Act to pay maintenance is not confined to iddat period and made him liable to make reasonable and fair provision for the future of the divorced wife.
In Shamim Ara vs. State of U.P. MANU/SC/0850/2002, the Supreme Court ruled out the requirements of a valid talaq: (i) it must be for a reasonable cause, (ii) it must be preceded by attempts of reconciliation between the husband and the wife by two arbiters. In Nirbhaya’s case, a new act Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Bill,2015 has been passed by Indian Government to reduce the juvenile age from 18 to 16 years especially in case of heinous offences.
Despite of all these laws, acts and judicial, reforms women’s condition does not seem to be
satisfactory. Even statistical analysis regarding women welfare index adds more to our
worries.Their status might be equal in the eyes of law, but in real life there exists disparities and
inequality between men and women. Until and unless mind set of society changes towards
women, their existence as a human being is not accepted, all those laws will remain neglected
guidelines scribbled on a piece of paper. Had it been only judiciary which comprises this society
women’s position would not have been like this.
Years ago Swami Vivekananda rightly said
highlighting the contribution and importance of women in creating a successful and civilised
nation, “THAT COUNTRY AND THAT NATION WHICH DO NOT RESPECT WOMEN
HAVE NEVER BECOME GREAT, NOR WILL EVER BE”.
Now we are still left with a question – IS INDIA A CIVILISED NATION?