minority women
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This article is written by Amandeep Kaur, a student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune. The author in this article has discussed the social changes made by law and society related to women.

Introduction and Background

Meaning

Social change refers to a shift in society arising from different types of group activities, from modified inter-personal and inter-class relationships and changed attitudes and approaches of people and government about governance, family and public life, economic processes and social outlook, as compared to their previous position.  Roger Cotterrell views, ”Social change is held to occur only when social structure- patterns of social relations, established social norms and social roles-changes” It involves, according to some scholars,” non-repetitive alteration in the established modes of behaviour in society.” 

Significance

Change is the basic rule of nature and everything might change except the law of change. Old order changes giving place to the new. Life itself is a constant change. But in the context of society, change does not occur on its own. It should be deliberately conceived, its contours should be designed and its scheme should be executed with accurate strategies.

Women and related Social Changes

It is a known fact that the majority of the families in India are male-dominated and their relationship is based on the male line of their respective family. The father takes all the decisions related to the life of a child. His mother, who gave birth to him, who has an immense significance in his life, does not have a say while making decisions for his life. Even while taking decisions of paramount importance, a woman is never asked about her opinion.

One can find many incidents which reflect that men are more visible and audible to society in comparison to women. If a woman is not earning and is doing near all the tasks within the home, then her that work will have no importance or will not be counted as ‘work’ in the eyes of a man. Even though while performing these tasks, a woman spent most of her time, energy; still, it will not be considered as work because there are no earnings involved.

It is an issue not only in India but is most of the western countries. Though India is one of the most unbalanced countries where the amount of household work a man does is the least in comparison to other countries along with Turkey, Mexico and Japan, it is not right there are no balanced countries as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are among the most balanced countries where both men and women share all the household chores. There is no reason why women are expected to do all these tasks, and no credit is given to them after doing such tiresome work.

There are various factors involved behind under-representation of work done by women such as self-perception of a woman, the attitude of employers towards them, traditional expectations of their role and position of women in the ancient period in rural and urban areas.

Domestic violence

It is unfortunate that home, the sweet home, the abode of rich and complex feelings and a place of retreat for a protective sphere of family life, could be a very dangerous place for women.  Instead of giving protective shade by being a sanctuary of tranquillity and harmony, a family has become in many situations breeding ground of violence against women in the hands of their own relations. Domestic violence being an incongruity in terms and gender neutral in words is frequently and privately inflicted on women. In Meacher v. Meacher, the Court of Appeals declined to uphold the husband’s right to assault his wife when she refused to obey his orders not to visit her relations. But in some cases in 1959 and 1975 support husband’s privilege so long as its effect was moderate.  Anyway, the traditional rule reflected the subordinate position of women in the family and other social institutions

Domestic violence in a wider sense includes all types of physical and mental cruelties and use of force upon any member of the family by its other members. In limited or technical knowledge, it means brutality against a female member of the family by other members. Undoubtedly, it involves human rights issue and is a serious obstruction to development. According to Poornima Advani,” It (domestic violence) is pernicious because it is directed against women who are supposed to carry the generations forward and goes against all canoes of civilized. It is insidious because it takes place within the closed walls of the home, which is supposed to be the safe sanctuary for its occupants.” 

The phenomenon of domestic violence is widely prevalent but has largely remained invisible in the public domain. In view of this and also realizing the serious inadequacies in the present law, in 1994 an Expert Committee on rules drafted the Domestic Violence to Women (Prevention) Bill. There was also widespread demand for comprehensive legislation on the subject by various women’s organizations. In 1997-98 the National Commission for Women forwarded its draft to the Union Government, which was tabled in Parliament as the Protection from Domestic Violence Bill, 2002. The Bill was referred to Standing Committee of the HRD, and the resultant draft was circulated amidst other ministries. In June 2005 the Union Cabinet decided to reintroduce the Bill in Parliament with certain refinements. A decade of development in public opinion and the interactive lawmaking process is quite encouraging and demonstrates the strength in public opinion to mould legal policy. In 2005 a fresh Bill with new features was introduced and was passed in Parliament. As a result, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 has emerged. The Act intends to give effect to the rights of women under constitutional and international law and tries to provide civil law’s protection to women who are victims of violence occurring within the family.

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Dowry

When we speak of gender inequality in the nation, the dowry system can be considered the catalyst for this issue. According to the social infrastructure of the country, it is a common perception that a woman is a liability and is to be married off someday, with a dowry debt at disposal. Well, for the masses, the birth of a girl is inception to long-term plans to pay off the dowry along with the child. The dowry system is evil and which has also been a serious matter of concern for the country because of its increasing and never-decreasing proportions. 

Being widely practised across the nation, every other family faces the brunt of it. If demand is not met by the bride’s family, she suffers at the hands of her groom’s family leading to social imbalance and emotional breakdown. As early as in 1928 Gandhiji wrote emphasizing the need for voluntary collective action against the evil,” A strong public opinion should be created in condemnation of the degrading practice of dowry, and young men, who soil their fingers with such ill-gotten gold, should be excommunicated from society. Parents of girls should cease to be dazzled by English degrees, and should not hesitate to travel outside their little castes and provinces to secure true gallant young men for their daughters.” However, there was a voluntary practice of giving gifts to the bride by her parents or relatives that were recognized as stridhan of the bride. 

In view of the spread of the evil of dowry all over India, Parliament felt it as expedient to enact a central law under the Concurrent list subject to State Amendments with the approval by the President. In the framing of the Bill, States were also consulted. Joint Committee of Parliament discussed the subject in detail. It also referred to the ever increasing and disturbing proportion of the evil of dowry and grossly insensitive attitude of the youth that contributed to its perpetuation. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru while piloting the Bill on 6 May 1961 observed,” Legislation cannot be itself normally solve deep-rooted social problems. One has to approach them in another way too, but legislation is necessary and essential, so that it may give that push and have that education factor as well as the legal sanctions behind it which help public opinion to be given a certain shape.” The law emerged, as a result, was the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. 

Sati

The practice of Sati-of burning or occasionally burying a widow alive with her deceased husband-is ancient evil grew through distortions of shastras and assertion of patriarchal controls. According to P.V. Kane, ”there is no Vedic passage which can be cited as incontrovertibly referring to widow burning as then-current nor is there any mantra which could be said to have been repeated in very ancient times at such burning or do the ancient grihyasutraa contain any direction prescribing the procedure of widow burning.” A.L. Basham refers to the symbolic duty of widow in Rigveda to pay last respect to her departed husband but not the practice of Sati. Permissibility of widow remarriage in this period rules out the practice of Sati.  

During the medieval period, some of the Muslim kings like Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq and Humayun took strong exception to this practice as inhuman and imposed hurdles to the practice by requiring royal assent for the same or strict proof about voluntary consent of the widows.  Akbar discouraged the practice of Sati and rescued some widows from the practice. He commented, ’It is a strange commentary on the magnanimity of men that they should see their deliverance through the self-sacrifice of their wives.’  Prohibition of involuntary Sati and requirement of prior position for voluntary Sati was the practice continued during the subsequent period until its ultimate abolition in 1829 by the British.

The British policy on Sati was initially obsessed by a sense of cultural superiority and white man’s assumed role of purging barbaric practices. While documentation of instances of Sati was helpful in creating public opinion in India and Britain against its practice, the political strategy was hesitant for decisive action for its abolition in 1805 in fear of alarm and dissatisfaction in the minds of Hindus. The Nizamat Adalat asked judicial officials to secure advance notice of occurrence of a Sati, then to appoint police officers to proceed personally to the site in order to ensure that Sati is performed voluntarily and not under the influence of drugs or intoxicants or coercion; and to establish that youth or the state of pregnancy of widow did not violate the norms. 

The British campaign against the practice of Sati culminated in big development. Sir William Bentinck, the then Governor General of India and liberal thinking reformer, on his own initiative and on the persuasive influence of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, initiated the law for the total abolition of the practice of Sati. The Regulation XVII promulgated in 1829 declared “the practice of suttee, or burning, or burying alive the widows of Hindus, illegal and punishable by the criminal courts.”

Analysis

For thousands of years, women were obedient to men. Most of the cultures generally follow the male line as their ancestry. Though there is no legislation or religion which says that but most of the families prefer it this way. If we look past in ancient India there was no discrimination on the basis of sex in the domain of education. Though people in the late 18th century started discriminating between a girl and a boy.  Only male members were allowed to avail the facility of education as according to their beliefs there was no use of educating a woman.

An enormous change can be seen in women of the 21st century. They are no more dependent on men and are not dominant to men. Improvement can be seen in the status of women of the 21st century. Several changes can be observed, some of them are below:

Constitutional and Legal Rights to Women

Many rights and safeguards have been enshrined in the constitution for women in India which includes equality in multiple fields, the prohibition of human trafficking, reservation at various posts. Legal rights like Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005), Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act (1987) and Dowry Prohibition Act (1961) as stated above. 

Role of Women in Politics

The world witnessed whole new footage of women participating in politics as the number of women participating in politics is gradually increasing. India itself is a big example as the position of women in politics has completely changed from pre-independence to post-independence era due to various reforms and movements. 

Participation of Women in Socio-economic activities

The women in modern times are entering into certain new fields that were unknown to the woman’s sphere of role sets. The contemporary woman keenly desires to enter into a work career because of the pressing economic needs of the family. To fulfil the financial needs of the family and to achieve a higher standard of living the women participates in commercial activities.

Many more changes have emerged but as we know there always exists the other side of the coin which can be reflected as below:

Women equality is not universal

Women did achieve equality and status equal to men but it does not apply to all the countries of the world. Equality of a woman in the domains of education, employment and power is still a question in most of the countries. Majority of women are still exposed to inequality and inferior status to men. One of the reason is that there are not enough jobs for women, moreover, working women are not entirely protected from harassment at working place even after the implementation of the Sexual Harassment at WorkPlace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

Minor representation in State Assemblies

If we take the women’s participation in politics as one of the measurements of their emancipation, we find at present their number is very low as compared to men in State Assemblies and Parliament. It is only 11% i.e. 26 women in Rajya Sabha consisting of 245 members and 78 women in Lok Sabha.

Conclusion

Law has brought a lot of social changes in the field of women but as we know every coin has two sides, so there are still situations where reforms are needed to be brought. Law does not always contribute to the changes in society but sometimes society should take the initiative. Every woman desires to rise in their status and position in society as that of men. For such change, a healthy environment is needed which is still not available in our country. Though many structural and statutory changes for improving the environment of our country have been made with time. It can be observed that every woman is achieving independence, equality and status in the society, hence, breaking the traditional beliefs and status.

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