The Position of Women in Indian Society After Independence

Indian women offer prayers for a gang rape victim at Mahatma Gandhi memorial in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. India's top court says it will decide whether to suspend lawmakers facing sexual assault charges as thousands of women gathered at the memorial to independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi to demand stronger protection for their safety. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

This Article is written by Anshika Gubrele, a second-year BA LLB student at Bharati Vidyapeeth New Law College, Pune. In this article, she discusses the position of women in Indian society post Independence. The author also highlighted the constitutional provisions of India safeguarding women’s rights and interests and also the other measures adopted by the government to ensure women’s right to equality and providing them with equal opportunities in order to enhance their status in the society.

Introduction

If we trace the pages of history nowhere men and women were treated alike and assigned the same status. Women have been always fighting for their rights and position in society.

They have several times urged for equality so that they can lead a life exactly on par with men. If talking about the women’s status in Independent India, then it has been surely improved. The structural and cultural changes in India have brought into many opportunities for women in the fields of education, employment and politics.

Such changes ultimately lead to a reduction in the exploitation of women as they have been granted equal status as men. The improvement in the status of women can be analysed in the light of major changes that have been taken place since Independence in the areas of legislation, economic sectors, social and cultural life and so on.

Constitution and legislation for women’s upliftment

Constitution of India guarantees equal status to all citizens of India including women under article 14  and does not distinguish or discriminate between a man or a woman. Moreover, article 15 empowers the government to make special provisions for women. Women are free to participate in all the religious, cultural, economic and political activities.

Furthermore, they have been entitled to vote and are provided with other special benefits. The constitution protects women against exploitation and ensures that they are been given equal rights and opportunities being it any field.

Legislation safeguarding women’s interests

  • The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 – The act provides women with equal rights to divorce and remarry. Also, the act prohibits polygamy, polyandry and child marriage.
  • The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 – The act provides women with the right and claim over parents property.
  • The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 – It provides a childless woman with the right to adopt a child and a divorced woman with the right to claim maintenance from her husband.
  • Special Marriage Act, 1954 – It provides women with the rights to inter-caste marriage, love marriage and is only permitted for the girls above 18 years.
  • Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 – It protects women from exploitation by declaring taking of dowry an unlawful activity.

Women in the field of Education

After Independence, the educational rights of women were promoted and they were made aware of the value of education. The ratio of women pursuing higher studies and taking education improved gradually since then. The government provided several benefits to women such as scholarship, loan facilities, hostel facilities etc. who wished to go out to pursue higher education. By getting such benefits a large number of women are able to pursue higher education today.

Separate schools and colleges have been established for women alone. Separate universities have been also established which are among the prestigious universities today and admits the girls obtaining merit ranks. There are many engineering and medical universities in India specially for girls which provides them with a great quality of education and help in enhancing their careers.

Women in the Economic and Employment fields

The number of working women has also steadily increased. Women have been recruited in all posts such as teachers, doctors, nurses, advocates, police officers, bank employees in all major cities of India. Since 1991 women have been recruited into 3 wings of armed forces that are military, air force and naval force.

Awareness of Women regarding their rights

Women in Independent India have maximum rights but many of them are not conscious about their rights. Uneducated women have a lack of awareness of their rights. According to a study conducted by Prof. Ram Ahuja, it can be concluded that the level of awareness of rights depends upon these 4 aspects –

  • Individual background of women
  • The social environment of women
  • The economic base of women
  • Subjective perception of women

It can be also concluded that the majority of women are happy in their family life and leave important decisions to their menfolk discretion. They are not completely free from the hold of the traditional customs practised in society. Still many are being exploited, they are completely dependent on their spouses. Hence bringing about more and more legislation in order to ensure better opportunities to women is of no use unless there will be a big change in the Indian society and people’s attitude towards women and women’s role in society.

Strategies for Women development

The national document which was prepared by the Government of India with an objective of enhancing and widening opportunities for women highlights the importance of 3 strategies-

  • Obtaining greater political participation of women – The document mentions that 33% of seats must be reserved for women in order to obtain effective participation in the field of politics.
  • Income generating schemes for women – A per the document, income generating schemes must be introduced. Some of the schemes are – IRDP, Jawahar Rozgar Yojana and TRYSEM.
  • Increasing Female literacy level – The government believed that proper coordination between governmental and non-governmental organisations will help in improving the literacy rate of women which will further help in making them self-reliable.

Empowerment of women and the 73rd Constitution Amendment Act, 1993

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1993 was undertaken especially to give constitutional status to Panchayati Raj system and introduce it on a uniform basis. But apart from this it also plays a specific role in women empowerment. The framers of the 73rd constitutional amendment believed that the social and economic conditions of women could not be improved without granting them political power. The new Panchayati Raj was an effort to empower women at least at the village level.

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One-third reservation of seats for women

The 73rd amendment has made an effort to provide women with some special powers in all the 3 tiers of Panchayati Raj. As per the act, ⅓ of seats are reserved for women in addition to the seats reserved for SCs and STs. It was indeed a bold step. The rural women will also be now able to exercise some political power and play a role in decision making for village affairs.

A brief assessment of the 73rd Constitution Amendment Act

The act has not brought about miraculous changes as expected. Though it has brought awareness on the part of women but to an extent only. Following drawbacks have been found after analyzing the impact of the Act’s implementation-

  • Illiteracy – Due to illiteracy in rural areas women are unable to assert themselves at different tiers of Panchayati Raj. On the contrary, they are forced to work according to the wishes of male members.
  • Corrupt bureaucracy – As our bureaucracy is highly corrupt, it becomes very difficult for women to progress and achieve something in such circumstances.
  • Non-availability of women – It is very difficult to find out an adequate number of women who are qualified and are aware of the rights as most of the women are illiterate and ignorant about their rights in the rural areas.

Factors facilitating the empowerment of women

According to Doshi and Jain, women are empowered by women emancipation, education, communication, media, political parties and general awakening. Some social, economic and political factors facilitate the empowerment of women are listed below –

    • Acknowledging women’s rights – Society should recognise that women are equally entitled to the rights and opportunities as men.
    • Freedom to take decisions and make choices – Women must have the freedom to take important decisions of life such as when to marry, the number of children they should have and so on.
    • Access to education and employment – Women can become stronger only with educational and economic power, mere expectations cannot help. Conditions must be created in such a way that women can easily get access to education and later on get employed. It will ultimately make women independent and self-reliable.
    • Opportunities for political participation – Women must be granted political power and must be free to take part in the administrative process.

Reasons behind the need for empowerment

In a developing country like India where women are treated as a second-grade citizen and inferior to men, women empowerment is justified. Following are the main causes on account of which government decided to take such an initiative for women.

  • Education or literacy – Among the other counties in the world, India is counted as one of the countries having a maximum number of illiterate people. Women are more illiterate as compared to men. Earlier they were denied going to schools and have education but now conditions are much more stable. Still, illiteracy is the biggest weakness of women. Providing them with educational facilities means empowering them so that they can enjoy their rights and contribute to the progress of the nation.
  • Health problem of women – Poor health conditions of women is also a hindrance in their progress. The main reason for such health conditions is the traditional importance given to a male child neglecting the presence of a female child which leads to less care given to her. Another reason is that women are always taught to be shy and submissive. This often makes women tolerating thus, they prefer to avoid complaining about something and rather suffer silently.
  • Economic Exigencies of women – Indian women are economically weak since education was not given to them for years and property laws were also not in favour of them. They were dependent on men financially as all economic power used to be in the hands of men. Thus women require economic power to stand on their own legs on par with men.
  • Atrocities against women – Women on all walks of life have been discriminated against men. They become victims of atrocities in a number of ways as there are cases of sexual harassment, molestation, kidnapping, dowry harassment and so on.

Thus women require empowerment of all kinds in order to protect themselves from all such atrocities and to preserve their purity and dignity.

Rights and protection to women given under the Constitution of India

The Indian Constitution attempts to provide equal opportunities to women, protect their rights and ensure justice to them through the following provisions-

    • Right to Equality– Constitution ensures equality to all its citizens including women (Article 14).
    • The Constitution ensures that no discrimination shall be made against any person on the basis of caste, class, creed, sex, race and place of birth [ Article 15(1)].     
    • No discrimination shall be made on any grounds of discrimination including sex for providing employment opportunities. [Article 16].
    • The State shall take the responsibility of providing maternity benefits to women employees [Article 42].
    • Providing harmony and fraternity to people doing away with all customs in respect of women.
    • One-third reservation of women in the panchayats – There must be separate seats reserved for women in the panchayats with separate seats for women SCs and STs [Article 243 D (3)].
    • One-third reservation for women in the presidential posts of the Panchayats – Reserving women seats for all posts at all the levels of panchayats (Gram Panchayat, Thaluk Panchayat and Zilla Panchayat) [Article 243 D(4)].
    • One-third reservation in Municipalities – Separate seats for women in all the town municipalities.[Article 243(T) 3].
    • One-third reservation for women in the presidential posts of Town Municipalities

Conclusion

It can be concluded from the above discussion that women’s status in Indian society has radically changed since Independence. Government after realising the situations of women and their worse position in the society took huge initiatives to bring about a change and improve the social, economic and political conditions of women. It cannot be said that the measures taken have been completely implemented in the society as still customs and traditions are given much more importance in a country like India, still, a gradual change has been experienced by the women over these years and they have become much more independent and aware in today’s time.

 

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