Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in youth, and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence. (Manusmriti 9.3) Historically speaking, whether it was in ancient India or medieval India, the status of women in the subcontinent was never good. A present day woman would feel outraged, and rightly so, if she goes through the contents of the Manusmriti, which is particularly harsh against women and treats them with disdain and suspicion. But we have no evidence to believe that the contents of the book were followed by all sections of the society. Probably the Brahmin women were its worst victims and suffered more compared to women of other castes.
According to Hinduism, a woman is a form of energy or an aspect of Shakti. She is mata, the Mother Goddess, or devi the auspicious one. As a young child she is kanya, the goddess Durga. As a wife she is patni and saha dharma charini, a partner in her husband's religious duties. As a mother she is worthy of worship.
As a child she is supposed to remain in the custody and care of her parents. Once married, she becomes a property and responsibility of her husband, who is supposed to take care of her needs and expectations and keep her in his custody. As his wife, she performs four roles: 1.) as his servant (dasi) in duty, 2). as his minister (mantri) in decision making, 3.) as a mother (mata) to his children and 4.) as a lover (rambha) in his bed. And when she becomes old, she lives in the house of her son or sons and has to lead a very solitary and forlorn life.
In ancient times, when a Hindu died, his wife either committed sati on his funeral pyre or retired into a life of social damnation, religious contemplation and perennial solitude. Now the situation has changed. Sati is illegal and an anathema. A widow can now keep herself busy in many ways, and if she gets an opportunity, like Mrs. Gandhi, she can join politics...