Women- half of the human race. The birth givers, nurtures, multitaskers, and sadly the oppressed. All around us, we see cases of women fighting for their rights, women struggling against social restraints, women being burdened with unrealistic expectations, and then as a ray of hope. These women emerge victorious against all odds. The position of Indian women has been through multiple highs and lows in history, but what cannot be denied is their resilience and willpower to emerge victorious.
The strength of a woman is unparalleled. Examples of women’s innate strength as mothers and wives have been etched all over our mythological tales and Indian epics. The position of Indian women today is miserable compared to those times. Today, women are considered timid, weak, and vulnerable humans who cannot do anything for themselves. They are expected to handle all the household chores and nurturing the children but are incapable of handling matters of finance or expressing their opinions to the public.
But has the position of Indian women been the same throughout history? Our historical texts often find women mentioned as equal to men. Our holy texts vouch for equality for both men and women. The position of Indian women was quite respectable and important in society in ancient times before their social status deteriorated, and male-dominated society snatched the status of a citizen from them.
In this article, we will trace the journey of the position of Indian women throughout history in India.
Indus Valley Civilizations
Women in the Indus Valley Civilization were highly revered and respected. Women held higher social status than men due to their ability to bring new lives to the world. The people worshipped fertility on a large scale in the Indus Valley Civilization.
Sources show that the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilization worshipped Mother Goddess. Women enjoyed complete freedom and lived a liberal life. Mothers were revered highly, and household jobs were considered pious. While women held a higher role in society, it is said that men and women equally shared the charge of the functionality of the Indus Valley Civilization. It was one of the best times concerning the position of Indian women in society.
The Vedic period was quite progressive regarding equality in the position of Indian women. Women never observed the “purdah practice” and were free to choose their consort (swayamvar). Widows were allowed to remarry. The right to education was available to all. Divorce was not allowed for men or women. In family matters, females had absolute rights and were termed ” ardhanginis.”
Although people preferred male children, daughters were never ill-treated. Educational rights were not divided based on gender. The Upnayan and Brahmacharya rituals were the same for boys and girls. Women in that period were allowed to read Vedic texts, and some were also established, authors.
Marriages were not forced upon women; they were allowed to remain unmarried all their lives. Child marriages were not known then, and education was an important factor in being eligible for marriage. Love marriages also existed in the form of “Gandharva Vivah.” The dowry practice was present in symbolic form, not as a social evil. Women had the right to inherit properties from their husbands.
The participation of women in the political domain decreased, but women actively participated in other social and economic practices.
After the Vedic Period
The position of Indian women declined drastically in this period. Women were deprived of their right to education, and daughters were scorned and treated as second-class citizens. The freedom of women was curtailed, which led to the rise of various social evils.
Child marriages came into force, society banned widow remarriage, and women were asked to treat their husbands as Gods. “Sati pratha” gained power. The Purdah system became increasingly prevalent. Polygamy became accepted and famous in society.
Economically, women were denied a share in their husbands’ property and were not allowed to own any property. Regarding religion, women were denied from practising yajnas, sacrifices, pilgrimages, penances, etc.
During the rule of the Gupta dynasty and Buddhist rulers, the status of women elevated slightly. They were allowed religious practices and were no longer confined to household work.
With the coming of Mughal rulers, the status of women suffered a huge blow. They were reduced to the status of a burden to society. Along with the right to Vedic knowledge, the right to basic literacy was also snatched away.
While there is no shortage of women who have fought against the evil social clutches and boundaries to shine in the world, a rigorous fight has to be won for women to have a respected status in society. Society still treats women as secondary citizens despite being given rights constitutionally.
The honour, freedom, and dignity of women are challenged every day. It is extremely easy to slander a woman’s character based on non-constitutional allegations and suspicion. Under wraps, the evil practices of dowry, honour killing, rapes, child marriages, female foeticides, etc., make society hollow from its core.
The gender ratio is still struggling for stabilization but is on the right path, and the education rate of females is increasing slowly. Various government schemes and persistent efforts have successfully brought some changes in people’s mindsets.
Although we are on the right path, there are many more miles to be covered before we can declare ourselves as an equal society. Gender-based division of household roles and professional setups, as constant judgments and comments from the community, are some demons that still threaten our goal.
The upcoming generations can only decide the future of any vision, that is, the children that will become the society as they grow. Children should be nurtured with utmost love, care, and affection mixed with the right morals and lessons of appropriate behaviour. From a young age, they should be taught about love for all, empathy, equality, and mutual respect. Girls should be instilled with confidence and should be prepared to have their own opinions and the courage to expect them.
While the history of wrongs is long, it is never too late to make it right again. So, it requires an effort from all to step up and take responsibility to build a better world where everybody is equal in all aspects and women can live with their heads held high.
Concluding this article, we can say that the bumpy road to the goal of women’s empowerment and getting an equal position for women in the otherwise patriarchal society is full of highs and lows. Women are one of the strongest forces in the world. Constituting more than half of the world’s population, they have been denied their rights as equals. The fight against all the torments, unnecessary restrictions, extreme expectations, and lack of resources, rights, and life has been difficult.
The false claims based on history bite the dust as there is clear evidence of a society that valued, respected, and treasured women. In India, history has seen it all. From women being worshipped as goddesses to women fighting for centuries to be treated equally and fairly. In India, the legends and myths of the stories of goddesses are worshipped with great fervour, then why do the women have to fight for basic respect in the same society? We all praise women who fought societal norms to bring change, but the question is, why did they have to fight?
We hope this article helped you trace the journey of the position of Indian women and left you with thoughts and questions to ponder upon.