Caged birds' desire for flight to freedom - brief history of Indian women
In spite of the claim of equality are Indian women really living a life at par with the men? Women in modern India are standing at cross roads of changes – some radical; yet can they truly say they have attained the state of equality in the society? Well, we all know the answer: A BIG NO.
The Vedic society - from which the Indian society is believed to have evolved didn’t look down upon the women. They enjoyed an equal status with men. Then where did it go wrong? Where did we fall so behind in the society that it is taking centuries to catch up? Let us examine below.
Before the time of Dharmashashtra, i.e. during the Vedic age, woman enjoyed as much freedom as man. They had no restriction to study, to choose the person to marry or to inherit property. Even widow marriage was allowed and if a woman decided to stay unmarried for her life, it was not frowned at. In fact the Rig Veda says, ". . . the wife and the husband being the equal halves of one substance were regarded equal in every respect and both took equal part in all duties, religious and social."
But the degradation started later in the post Vedic episode. During the time when Alexander attacked India, he brought along with him soldiers who didn’t care much about the chastity of women. To protect their women, the Aryans started to put strict laws in place. Laws they believed would keep the women safe, ultimately in the hand of the later generations became weapons against the basic human rights of women.
During this time, Kautilya, Manu and Yajnavalkya lay down rules which have to be observed by persons in the course of their life.The complete codes of Manu and Yajnavalkya deal with rites, penance, true knowledge of Brahma and liberation.
Women lost all their status in the society. Writers like Kautilya, Manu and Yajnavalkya began to favour seclusion of women.They were looked down upon as temptation and hindrance in the society’s march toward development. Kautilya considered women as child bearing machine and nothing else. The pre-pubescent marriage was the order of the society. The child widow was treated very badly – forced to live bound by strict illogical rules, banned from participating in any auspicious ceremony and not granted to remarry, her life was no less than living hell. This was the time when the Indian woman began to identify herself as a subordinate individual – a mere tool of men. She was stereotyped as daughter, wife and mother. It was impossible to express her true self from the tangles of those social roles. Over a long period of time, the women started to believe that they were only capable of producing children and managing the household and nothing more. They were not even allowed to sit with their husband and eat; it was almost like servitude.
Despite Manu’s attempt to establish a stable, secure and morally founded society, he seemed to have cut at the root of fairness of the gender. He insisted that women should never be given any freedom and should always be trained and disciplined. Indian women - married, unmarried or widowed were not allowed to inherit any property from their father or husband. The self respect of the woman was completely crushed during this period and she became a caged bird, forgetting that she could ever fly and resigning to the situation.
The damage that was done at that time continues to savage even today. Even though the modern Indian Woman is not physically confined inside the house and allowed to pursue a career but for the majority of the women the concept has still remained same – that an ideal woman is someone who is absolutely devoted to her husband and family.
The society remained in this stagnant state till the British invasion. Ironically it is the British colonisers who started the women’s right movement in India. The abolishment of Sati and the subsequent discouragement of female foeticide set the stage for women to recognise, identify and fight for their rights.
As time changed, so did the demands of women. Earlier times saw women fighting for voting rights, basic health and sanitation facilities. Modern times are more about socio-economic equality, sexual harassment in workplace, harassment from husband/in-laws, rapes, dowry etc.
The Constitution of India gives equal rights to male and female, often favouring the female. But in reality the situation is not so simple. The laws are twisted and loop holes are found in order to favour the culprit, often in exchange of money or simply because of the chauvinist attitude of the judge.
Identity crisis is another of the issues of the modern Indian Women. The acceptance of women as autonomous entity in the society is still not established. In recent times many cases of protests to change their surname to the husband’shave surfaced.
Though the urban women are well aware of their rights and are fighting for it, the majority of the rural women still live in the medieval time as a “caged bird”. As a society we must understand, the so called march toward the prosperity in which women are not included will only pull back the society into darkness. Because as Swami Vivekananda had said once, “That country and that nation which do not respect women have never become great, nor will ever be in future.”