In the Medieval Ages the position of a woman in the Indian society deteriorated. Ban on widow remarriages, and child marriages were legalized among the communities of India. The Islamic conquest of India brought the practice of purdah to the Indian society. This led to practices, such as jauhar, and in other parts of the country sexual exploitation of women was performed. Polygamy became a practice among the Indians, while Muslim women were restricted to Zenana areas.
The same period saw the excellence of women in the field of education, literature, politics, and religion. Reformations geared towards restoration of women status and oppression confrontation, different movements, such as the Bhakti movement, came up. This movement openly advocated for equality of genders, and social justice. It also saw the rise of Guru Nanak (of the Sikhs), who preached for gender equality.
During the Colonial Era many European scholars observed that Hindu women were more virtuous and naturally chaste than women of the other nations. It is also in the same period when a lot of reformers fought for the upliftment of women in the society, many of them were from India. With the coming of the missionaries, and the introduction of formal education in India, many women joined schools leading to the abolition of women degrading practices, such as the Sati practice. Crusaders such as Ishwar Chandra advocated for the improvement of widow conditions, leading to the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856.
Women played a major role in the gaining the Independence of India. After the Independence, the position of women in the society was uplifted. They participated in different social activities, such as politics, education, media, sports, culture, science and technology, and art (Parida).
THE INDIAN WOMEN AND THE ERA OF FEMINISM
The global feminism movement of the late 1970s greatly influenced the culture of India. This movement in India that was triggered by the Mathura rape case led to a reform on the perception of women in the Indian society. It led to the amendment of the Indian Penal Code and Evidence Act to include the category of custodial rape. It also led to the promotion of women health, literacy, and female infanticide.
Foreign donor agencies have been influential in women rights in India. In the 1990s, foreign donations led to formation of women oriented NGOs, such as Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) (Sanjeeta). These NGOs have out rightly articulated for the rights of women, and empowered many women, who have become the leaders of local movements in their communities.
THE SOCIETY AND THE SELF-EXPRESSION OF INDIAN WOMEN
The dress of Indian women speaks loud on their status in the society. Clothing, such as Sindoor, signifies marital status of women, while no such clothing exists for men. Other clothing worn by women includes sari, bindi, and kolam.
According to statistics from the 1992 census, 9.2% of households in India were led by women, with 35% of the households below the poverty line headed by females.
Female literacy rate in India is gradually rising, though, by far lower than their male counterparts. The Indian government has, however, not provided gender equality in the education system. In 2000, about 0.3 million of Non-Formal Education centers were serving for over 7.42 million children, and only 0.12 million were set aside exclusively for females. This discrimination is more evident in the rural areas than in the urban territories. According to a report by the USA Department of Commerce, in 1998 a major barrier to female education in India was inadequacy of facilities, like sanitary, female teachers, and gender bias in the curriculum.
The increased number of women working class in India has drastically changed the social attitude towards women. However, according to National Data Collection Agency a serious problem on gender parity still exist in the workforce. The agriculture and allied industrial sectors of the Indian economy have employed over 89% of the total female labor. The World Bank report of 1991 states that of the total labor in dairy production in India, women account for 94%. In forest based enterprises 51 % of the workforce is female. This means that the traditional role of a woman and a man in the society is still defined by gender (Singhal).
Religion in India has played a major role in redefining the lands and property rights. Hindu personal laws in the Medieval Ages gave women rights to inheritance property. This was followed by an amendment of Hindu laws in 2005 that provided the same status in land and property ownership. Over the years, Christian activists have struggled for equal rights on divorce and succession. This has led to Christian Marriage and Matrimonial Causes Bill of 1994 that the government has not assented to yet.
The Indian society is patriarchal. According to police records, crimes against women in India are on the rise. In fact, according to the National Crime Records Bureau as at 1998, the projected statistics by 2010 indicated that crime against women will be higher than the population growth rate. Cases of molestation and sexual harassment at the work place are still prevalent. The Western Culture has been blamed in the past for the rising incidence of sexual harassment. The judiciary in India has also played a major role in curbing crimes against women. A landmark ruling in 1997 gave women a strong stand in the work place. National commission for women in India has elaborated on the code of conducts of employers.
The Indian government in a bid to have a neutral playing ground in marriages passed a bill to prohibit dowry demands in any wedding arrangements. This was meant to reduce the incidences associated with dowry abuse. Some of the cultural practices, like child marriages, have been common in India, and are used in some areas of the country today. The young ladies lived with their parents until their teens. Child widows would be subjected to a very difficult life full of agony. They would be required to shave their heads, they were shunned by the society, and they ended up living a very solitary life.
In conclusion, women in India have started to follow the example of the women from the West; demanding for equal treatment. However, it is becoming more and more obvious that as the revolution ages come, women in India may have to use Western feminist methods.
Equality between men and women in India is needed in the education, healthcare, workplace, land and property rights, and all other sectors of the economic and social life (Sreenivas). Women in India are struggling to be independent, and on an equal level with men. Complexities that India women will have to challenge include the caste system, discriminatory religious customs, traditional gender roles, and male dominance in the society. This struggle has seen a gradual success over the time as a result of the Western women’s revolution, foreign donors, media, national and worldwide organization, and some religions, such as Hinduism, and Christianity.
Several constitutional amendments since Independence have effected changes that touched on women rights. However, the situation in the rural India is still far from satisfactory. Literacy rate among women is still wanting. In other cases, girls are still sold like commodities against their will. Child marriage still exists even after being abolished and widow remarriage is still rampant (Weightman).