The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. With a decline in their status from the ancient to medieval times, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, their history has been eventful. In modern India, women have held high offices including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and Governors.
Women’s rights under the Constitution of India mainly include equality, dignity, and freedom from discrimination; additionally, India has various statutes governing the rights of women. However, women in India continue to face numerous problems such as sexual assault and gender inequality.
Women during the early Vedic period enjoyed equal status with men in all aspects of life. Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period. Rig Vedic verses suggest that women married at a mature age and were probably free to select their own husbands in a practice called swayamvar. The Rig Veda and Upanishads mention several women sages and seers, notably Gargi Vachaknavi and Maitreyi.
The Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent during the medieval period brought changes to Indian society. The position of Indian women in society deteriorated during this period. The purdah system and jauhar are attributable to the Muslim rules that existed from 10th century awards. The practice of Sati and Devadasis was prevalent during this period. However, there were cases of women often becoming prominent in the fields of politics, literature, education and religion also during this period. Notable manes are those of Razia Sultana, Nur Jehan, Jijabai, Tarabai, Rani Laxmi Bai etc.
During the British rule, Raja Rammohan Roy’s efforts led to the abolition of Sati under Governor General William Bentinck in 1829. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s crusade for improvement in the situation of widows led to the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856. Many women reformers such as Pandita Ramabai also helped the cause of women.
Women in India now participate fully in areas such as education, sports, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, science and technology, etc. Indira Gandhi, who served as Prime Minister of India for an aggregate period of fifteen years, is the world’s longest serving woman Prime Minister.
The Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian women equality (Article 14), no discrimination by the State (Article 15(1)), equality of opportunity (Article 16), equal pay for equal work (Article 39(d)) and Article 42. In addition, it allows special provisions to be made by the State in favour of women and children (Article 15(3)), renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women (Article 51(A) (e)), and also allows for provisions to be made by the State for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief. (Article 42).
The Indian Armed Forces began recruiting women to non-medical positions in 1992. The Indian Army began inducting women officers in 1992. The Border Security Force (BSF) began recruiting female officers in 2013. On 25 March 2017, Tanushree Pareek became the first female combat officer commissioned by the BSF.
On 24 October 2015, the Indian government announced that women could serve as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force (IAF), having previously only been permitted to fly transport aircraft and helicopters. The decision means that women are now eligible for induction in any role in the IAF. 24 years old-Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi of IAF scripted History by becoming the First Indian Woman Fighter Pilot to fly Solo. Flg Offr Avani Chaturvedi in February-2018, flew a MiG-21 Bison, which has the highest landing and take-off speed in the World.
In March 2018, Delhi Police announced that it would begin to induct women into its SWAT team.
Contrary to common perception, a large percentage of women in India work. National data collection agencies accept that statistics seriously understate women’s contribution as workers. However, there are far fewer women than men in the paid workforce. In urban India, women participate in the workforce in impressive numbers. For example, in the software industry 30% of the workforce is female.
In rural India in the agriculture and allied industrial sectors, females account for as much as 89.5% of the labour force. In overall farm production, women’s average contribution is estimated at 55% to 66% of the total labour. According to a 1991 World Bank report, women accounted for 94% of total employment in dairy production in India. Women constitute 51% of the total employed in forest-based small-scale enterprises.
LAND AND PROPERTY RIGHTS
In most Indian families, women do not own any property in their own names, and do not get a share of parental property. Due to weak enforcement of laws protecting them, women continue to have little access to land and property. In India, women’s property rights vary depending on religion, and tribe, and are subject to a complex mix of law and custom.
CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN
Crime against women have been reported in large numbers in India. Police records in India show a high incidence of crimes against women. The National Crime Records Bureau reported in 1998 that by 2010 growth in the rate of crimes against women would exceed the population growth rate. Earlier, many crimes against women were not reported to police due to the social stigma attached to rape and molestation. Official statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of reported crimes against women.
Some of the most common crimes are- rape, acid attacks, child marriage, domestic violence, dowry, female infanticide, honour killings, sexual harassment, trafficking, accusations of witchcraft, forced prostitution of young girls etc.
India has a highly skewed sex ratio, which is attributed to sex-selective abortion and female infanticide affecting approximately one million female babies per year. In, 2011, government stated India was missing three million girls and there are now 48 less girls per 1,000 boys. Despite this, the government has taken further steps to improve the ratio, and the ratio is reported to have been improved in recent years.