Sunday, 1 January 2012


Women and Law
Changes brought by the constitutional and legal provisions for the empowerment of women in India.

            It is customary everywhere to classify the human community on the basis of sex into groups of “men” and “women”. The biological fact of sex has created much difference between them. The aims and objectives; desires and aspirations, duties and responsibilities, dress styles and behavioral patterns, roles and statuses of men and women are different. Women have not been able to lead a life exactly on par with men in spite of their urge for equality. This does not mean that men and women represent two different cultures as such. They represent one way of life, one culture and one heritage. This is also true of India and Indian women.
            Women in ancient India, particularly during the Vedic period, enjoyed a position which was on the whole much more satisfactory than in the later periods. Women underwent almost a kind of servitude during the medieval period and their position went on improving during the British Period and after Independence. Today, Indian women are almost assigned an equal status with men. All their political, economic and educational and other disabilities have been removed legally. This does not, however, mean Indian women are completely free from problems.

Status of women in India during Pre British Period and British Period
1. Status of women in India in Pre British Period
Women in this period had to face a number of problems of which the following may be noted practice of child marriage, prohibition of widow remarriages, Practice of sati, Purdah system and devadasi system. There is an equally poor position of Muslim women. But there is an impact of Bhakti Movement on the status of women and some other movements also.
2. Status of women in India during in British Period
Improvement in the status of women during British period was on account of the following:
(i)                 Change in the attitude towards life: Along with the British People the western culture and its “lifestyle” and values also came to India. The western way of which the British represented and its impact on the Indians. The western values, their world view,  their liberal principles, rationalistic attitude towards problems, critical approach towards issues, the right to question and criticize, social equality, belief in the individual enterprise, equal importance for the rights and duties of man and such other things of the west, influenced the Indians’ way of life and particularly their attitude towards women.
(ii)               Role of Social Reformers and Reform Movements in the Emancipation of Women:
Raja Ram Mohan Roy: the founder of Brahmo Samaj who played an important role in getting the “sati” system abolished. He fought for other causes like child marriage and purdah system too.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar: He launched a movement for the right of widows to remarry and pleaded for educating women. It was due to his efforts and the pressure that he brought on the British Government, the Widow Remarriage Act was passed in 1856.
Other names can be mentioned Maharishi Dayananda Saraswathi, Maharaja Sayyaji Rao Gaekwar, Swami Vivekananda, Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopalkrishna Gokhale, Mahatma Gandhiji. Women leaders with western background such as Nivedita, Annie Besant and Indian women like Sarojini Naidu , Pandit Rama Bai, Ramabhai Ranade were also active participants who work for the women cause.
(iii)             Influence of women education: Education was neglected for more than 2000 years. Only girl’s belongings to rich and royal classes and those belongings to the families of dancers and devdasi could get some education, while the vast mass of women remained totally illiterate. No one felt the need for educating them for they were fed and protected by their men folk. The idea of educating women emerged during British Period. The Christian Missionaries also took a extreme interest on women’s education.
(iv)             Role of women leaders and women’s organizations: Some woman organizations tried to create awareness among women. Mention can be made of few of these organizations such as Arya Mahila Samaj, Bharat Mahila Parishad, Bharat Stri Mahamandal, All India Womens’s conference.
(v)               Women employment sector:  By the end of 19th century, women were very much attracted towards two professions (a) Medical and (b) Teaching professions. Many a women enter teaching profession in school and large numbers of women enter in the newly opened school and colleges to classify themselves as nurses and doctors.
(vi)             Enactment of social legislation:  many laws were enacted relating to the cause of women regarding marriage, property and employment. Some names can be enlisted here as follows The Widow Remarriage Act, 1856, The Special Marriage Act, 1872, The Women’s Property Act 1874, The Women’s Right to Property Act 1939.

Changes in the status of women after Independence (with the enactment of Constitutional and legislation in support of women’s cause)

(a) Constitutional Provision for equality to women
The status of Indian woman has radically changed since independence. Both the structural and cultural changes provided equality of opportunities. The constitution of India does not discriminate between men and women. All the men and women of India are equally entitled for individual freedom, fundamental rights including the right to participate in social, cultural, religious, educational, economic and political activities. The constitution provides for equality of sex and offers protection to women against exploitation. It has given the voting right to women and in no way treats women as second grade citizens.

(b) Social Legislation safeguarding women’s interests:
 The Government o Independent India undertook a number of legislative measures to safeguard the interests of women. Some of them may be noted here.
(i)                 The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955: It prohibits polygyny, polyandry and child marriage and concedes equal rights to women to divorce and to remarry.
(ii)               The Hindu Succession Act, 1956:  It provides for women the right to parental property.
(iii)             The Hindu Adoption Act and Maintenance Act, 1956:  This gives childless woman the right to adopt and to claim maintenance from the husband if she is divorced by him.
(iv)             The Special Marriage Act, 1954: which provides rights to women on par with men for inter caste marriage, love marriage ad registered marriage. The act has also fixed the minimum age of marriage at 21 for males and 18 or girls.
(v)               The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961: This declares the taking of dowry an unlawful activity and thereby prevents exploitation of women.
(vi)              Other legislations can be mentioned of the suppression of Immoral Traffic of Women and Girls Act, 1956, The Medical Termination Act of Pregnancy Act, 1971, The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983, The Family Court act, 1984.

(b) Women in the field of education and economic structures:
After Independence, women of India took to education in a relatively large number. Various institutions are opened to educate women and there are even universities only meant for women section. Government provides many benefits such as freeship, scholarship, loan facility, hostel facility, etc. are being given to women who go for higher education.  But more than 70% of our rural women are still illiterate and only a negligible number of them develop their educational career.
In both villages and cities there have been remarkable increases in the numbers of women going out of the four walls of the household and becoming workers. In order to give protection to the economic interests and rights of the women folk Government has undertaken various socio economic legislations which cover areas as right to property or inheritance, equal wages, working conditions, maternity benefits and job security. Examples can be made of the following: The Maternity Benefit Act,1961: It gives maternity benefits such as two months leave with salary to the married women workers; The Equal Remuneration Act,1976: It removes wage discrimination; The Factories Amendment Act,1976 etc.

(d) Women in Political structure: The Indian constitution has sanctioned women to important political rights: female enfranchisement and eligibility for the legislature. As early as in 1937 itself some candidates had contested for elections to the local legislative bodies and won. After the independence, the number of women voters and women’s representatives increased sufficiently. Again the women reservation bill securing third of the seats for women in Lok Sabha and state Assemblies was passed by the Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010 which is a landmark measure in empowering women.

Laws are enacted to safeguard human rights and for the welfare of the society but some misuse various laws and create a new problem from the law that was made as a solution. Misuse of dowry prevention act and misuse of legalize abortion act, Misuse of divorce right can be cited as examples.But in spite of all these rights and legislation enacted for the safeguard of women status in India there are many new problems which are coming up with these changes. Example can be made of marital problems like dowry system, divorce; purdah system, Prostitution; Health Problems, adjustment problem in urban lifestyle, etc.  So there is a need for new scheme of laws to be enacted to solve the new problems face by the new generation women in this globalize period.

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