Men and women are the two components of human society, mutually dependant on each other for their existence and survival and specially are like the wheels of a bicycle, distant yetin separable. However, over the years the status of women in society has become inconsistent. The status accorded to men is used as a yardstick to determine that of the woman.The Ancient Vedic period shows textual documents which reveal that it was a golden era for women that gradually reduced after the Mughal invasion. During the Rig Vedic period, women were highly revered and did not suffer from male dominance. With respect to education, parental inheritance,and choice of spouse for a marriage there was no discrimination between boys and girls. They studied fine arts and also learnt the Vedas. During the Upanishad period, there were more than 20 Vedic woman scholars like Gargi,Maitrey, Indrani, Shradha etc.
Women after marriage were not just confined to household chores and upbringing of children, but also assisted their husbands in farming, business, decision making and religious ceremonies.They were independent in respect of their choice of work i.e. they could start their own business enterprise and also indulge in various activities like debates, elocutions and music and poetry recitals. Widowed women were also given various rights like the right to remarry, although divorce was discouraged. So, it is clearly evident that women’s status during the Vedic period was no less than men.
After 500 B.C or the post-Vedic period when India was invaded by the Mughals, the status of women started to deteriorate. Females between the age group of eight to ten years were forcibly married. They were not allowed to educate themselves like the males and minor wives with minimal or no education became the order of the day. They were considered to be their husband’s ‘property’, and were subjected to discrimination and sheer cruelty. Husbands were allowed to have many wives, but women were taught to treat and respect their husbands like God. Husbands were also allowed to divorce their wife on frivolous grounds. Participation of women in decision making greatly reduced; their freedom was restricted to performing household errands and of course, procreation. It was declared that a sterile wife could be superseded in the eighth year; a wife whose children died could be superseded in the tenth year. A wife who bore only daughters could be superseded in the eleventh year and a wife who spoke harshly could be superseded at any moment. The ‘Sati system’ was also prevalent during that time, where widows were set on fire after the death of the husband. Rights of widowed women were snatched and they were not allowed to remarry. So, the post-Vedic period became a male chauvinistic society, where females were considered inferior.
The Patriarchal system of conduct began in the Manu period, when he laid Hindu social codes and the women were subjected to torturous punishments, treated like animals and publicly beaten.According to his code, the woman was to respect and stay with her husband even if the husband disrespects her. During the period between 1206 to 1761, there was a further deterioration of status of women in India, with social evils like female infanticide, child marriages, Jauhar, Purdah system etc. being prevalent. After the British came to India, western idea influenced the society but the larger picture still remained the same. In 1860, India’s first penal code was introduced by law commissioners like T.B Macaulay, J.M Macloed G.W Anderson and F. Millets. In the code,different sections were introduced to eradicate crimes in India, which included punishments for violence against women also but they were discriminatory in nature. For instance, Sec. 375 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, which mainly statesthat a husband shall not be prosecuted for forcing his own wife to have sexual intercourse, and the intercourse with the girls whose age is less than eighteen years is considered as rape, as child marriage is “valid but punishable” and not illegal, therefore, the husband can have non-consensual sexual intercourse with his minor wife.
Again in the Section 376-A of IPC talks about the protection of women from such kind of torture to have forcefully sexual intercourse by the husband. If it is so, then the husband shall be fined and imprisoned to a maximum of two years, whereas the punishment for rape is imprisonment ranging from seven years to life. In the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, the legal age for a male to marry is twenty-one years and that for a female is eighteen years. This shows the patriarchal mindset of people that women should always be younger than men. In the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, the act only prevents child marriages in India, but if somehow the marriage is solemnised, then the marriage is considered valid! Apart from general laws, other personal laws were also introduced where we can observe patriarchalism, like the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 wherein its stated that if a woman dies without a will, the property would be transferred to the husband’s heirs instead of the wife’s heirs if there is an absence of spouse and children. In the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, under section 6,the father is considered as the natural guardian of the child, and the mother can hold custody of the child until the age of five years only. In the Indian Succession Act, 1925, a Parsi marrying outside the community is penalised, and a non-Parsi wife or widow is not allowed to inherit the property. Even in the 21st Century of modernisation, polygamy is still prevalent in various parts of India, like Goa, in which its civil code enables bigamy among Hindu men if the first wife fails to deliver a female child by the age of 25 and male child by 30. In the Hindu Marriage Act, 1995, after the divorce the woman is entitled only to maintenance from her husband, and she has no right in respect of any property brought by her husband during their marriage.
In addition to these laws, there are various otherlaws, which do not treat women as first-class citizens. Our general, as well aspersonal laws do not even address multiplediscriminations as being unlawful and outright discriminatory. The societalstatus of women has deteriorated since the Mughal invasion, and various heinouscrimes have been committed against them like rape, dowry death, acid attack,sexual harassment, etc. According to the article 14 of the Indian Constitution,the principle of equality has failed since from the last seven decades, and inthe present scenario, every citizen demands the respect of the constitution andremove all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sex and gender.
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