Women in ancient India were held in high esteem. The position of a woman in the Vedas and the Upanishads was that of a mother (maata) or goddess (Devi). In the Manusmriti, woman was considered as a precious being o be projected first by her father, then by her brother and husband and finally by, her son. With the passage of time, the status of woman was lowered. Muscle power and money power dominated the societies. Since men fought the wars and ran the enterprises of industrial production, they considered themselves superior to woman.
In the early Vedic age, girls were looked after with care. They were given the facilities of education. Remarriage of windows was permitted. But in the later Vedic period, daughters were regarded as a source of misery. The practice of polygamy deteriorated the status of woman. Women in the later civilizations were not allowed to go to schools. In the Gupta period, they were allowed to listen to the scriptures. In the medieval period, the practices of purdha system, dowry and sati came into being. Sati and PolyGram were glorified.. It is thought that the right place for woman ins the home. Her main duty is to cook to all other menial jobs. They are considered fit for producing and bringing up children. Thus, women have been deprived of their rightful place in society and exploitation. has been going on for centuries.
The inhuman practice of sati where the wife burns herself alive in the funeral pyre of husband existed through the centuries. Raja Ram Mohan Roy fought against this evil practice and it was finally abolished by Lard William Bentinck in 1829. After the development of science and technology, female foeticide is being practiced on a large scale. This has led to a drop in the female ratio. According to the census 2001, the sex ratio in India is 927 females to 1,000 males. Dowry have become common. The more educated and well employed a groom, the higher is the dowry demand. The birth of a girl child is, therefore, considered inauspicious. In many parts of India, women are viewed as an economic liability despite contribution in several ways to our society and economy. Early marriages lead to teenage pregnancies which often prove risky to both the mother and the child.
Rape, sexual harassment, molestation, eve-teasing, forced prostitution, etc are a common affair today. The crime graph against women is increasing at an alarming rate. The condition of an Indian widow is quite deplorable. At home, the woman’s contribution towards home as a housewife is not recognized. Sexual harassment at work places is also a common affair.
It is a shame that even after over sixty years of independence women are still exploited. The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments have provided 33 percent reservation for women in the Panchayati Raj System. Women have now started demanding their rights. They want to work side by side with men and contribution towards the social, economic and political development of the society. Swami Vivekananda has rightly remarked, “It is impossible to think about the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is impossible for a bird to fly on only one wing.”
Women themselves should come forward and unite in the march towards improving their status. They should g\draw inspiration from empowered women like Indira Gandhi, the first woman Prime Minister of India; Vijayalakshmi Pandit, the firs woman President of the UN General Assembly; Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman IPS officer; Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-American woman astronaut, Pratibha Devsingh patil, the first woman President of India, and many others. Some of the great women of the pre-Independence periods are Rani Laxmi Bia of Jhansi, Chan Bibi, Ahilya Bai, Razia Sultan and others.
Today modern woman is so deft and self-sufficient that she can be easily called superwoman, as she juggles many fronts single handedly. Women are now fiercely ambitious and are providing their metal not only on the home front, but also in their respective careers, education in the society.
Women represent 48.2 percent of the country’s population. Several developmental programmes have been implemented by the Five Year Plan. In 1985, a separate Department of Women and Child Development was set up. The major programmes include Support to Tanning-cum- Employment Programme (STEP) for women, Mahila Kosh, Women’s Development Corporation, etc. The Supreme Court has made a ruling that a other has the right to act as the guardian of her minor child. It has made sexual harassment at workplace as an offence.
The Indian Constitution has bestowed equal rights on women. They enjoyed all social, political and economic rights. For equal work, both men and women are eligible for equal wages. Women in Indian are coming up in all spheres of life. They are joining the universities and colleges in large numbers. They are entering into all kinds of professions like engineering, medicine, politics, teaching, etc. A nation’s progress and prosperity can be judged by the way it treats its women folk. Men must recognize and accept the fact that women are equal partners in life.