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The Status of Women in India

By JamOliTal92 May 14, 2008 1087 Words
India is a large country that makes up most of South Asia, and has been inhabited by settlers for many millennia, even before Aryan tribes from the northwest infiltrated the Indian subcontinent around 1500 B.C. . Throughout this enormous time period, many changes have occurred in their way of life, with the roots of discrimination against women lie in the religious and cultural practices of India . Additionally, the status of Indian women has varied back and forth for that time period as well, depending on the time period and the religion that said woman is in.

In ancient times, women were treated fairly in most cases. In fact, men and women were considered as equals in all aspects of life. This fact is best demonstrated by the fact that some of the writings in the Vedas, the Hindu holy book, were written by women . This means, of course, that they were educated and schooled equally. In addition to being religious writers, women could be priests or fortune-tellers, and could perform some of the many rituals dedicated to women . All of these jobs were vital to the community and important to their culture. However, this would not last for too long. As Indians came into contact with other people, like Aryans and Muslims, they were introduced to new ideas about the status of women . These ideas were harmful to women's rights and abilities.

Oddly enough, during the medieval period of India, the women of India took two steps back in their power, ability, and influence, due to several important changes. Thanks to Muslim invaders from the Northeast, Indians were introduced to a new view of women, where women were thought of as weak and inferior, and that they needed to be protected like minors. The Muslims had a heavy hand in India for around 1000 years . Previously honorable positions, like priests and fortune-tellers, lost their prestige, and they were treated badly. Despite their formerly high position, they were abused and neglected. Gradually, the way of life shifted so that instead of women being an important part of life regularly, it was only on specific rare occasions that they were even involved. Through cultural diffusion, new practices were put in to use that altered women's way of life . Marriage, a union between a man and a woman, was altered over time, and the new practices were introduced radically changed women's lives. Among these demeaning practices included child marriages, where the wife was often way younger than the husband . Marrying so young hurt them in the long run because when their husband died, they were deemed unlucky. sati, the ritual burning of a wife (especially by burning) after the death of the husband, and also devadasis, where the woman is married to the temple or monastery, causing exploitation . These drastic changes in the lives of women then faced hostility later in time.

As time moved on, India was exposed to even more ideas, many of which conflicted. A major turning point happened in 1858, when India became a colony of Great Britain . Although their conquerors were not perfect themselves in regards to women's rights, India gained a lot of knowledge during their occupation. However, a schism occurred that divided the country. There was a major conflict between traditional roles and expectations of women's and modern roles and expectations . Hardliners looked at precedent to decide what was the best way to determine the status of women, while supporters of reform looked to the rest of the world. The beginning of changes started with the reform movements in the late nineteenth century , which addressed practices like sati, child marriage, and the life of the widows. Despite laws made by native Indians and additionally ones made by Great Britain, many Indians continued the horrible practices and kept their women under wraps . Despite the fact that women have equality of status under the country's Constitution, many anomalies exist in their treatment; most of which occur because of the influence of religion.

Religion, an aspect of life that holds a lot of importance, created different sets of rules for women and how they should be treated. The two most prevalent religions are Hinduism and Islam. However, Hindus are 6 times greater in quantity . Hinduism is curious because despite the fact that they preach equality between sexes, they have specific practices that prevent said equality. The most common practice is purdah . It is the seclusion and hiding of women by men in order to protect their sanctity. By this practice, women are systematically forced out of opportunities in the economic world, because they can't be near other people . In its extreme form, it calls for the women to have her whole body veiled, similar to Muslim culture. Islam is a religion that doesn't allow much for women either. They have a belief that it is for the women's own good that they are sheltered, because it keeps them away from possible impropriety . Muslim women are treated as second-class citizens, despite the fact that their holy book, the Koran, dictates that all humans are equal. However, Muslim ideas do not have as high a power as Hindu beliefs do. This is because when the Muslim conquerors swept through India, they only attacked the northern part . Their culture was prevalent there, but mixed with other ideas when it diffused south. That is why Muslims are only 13.5% of the population, and Hindus are 80.5% . This discrepancy in people means that the ideas of Hindus are more widely regarded than that of Muslims.

Overall, the status of women in India varies greatly, from the somewhat oppressed north to the often more privileged south. Their status has changed along with the time period that they were in, and also based on their religion. Because of these factors, their status has been in constant motion since it was settled in 4000 B.C. , and will surely change in the future.

Works CitedBhargava, Ashok. India, a Country Study. Washington: Library of Congress, 1996. 249-251.

Drèze, Jean Drèze. India, Economic Development and Social Opportunity. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1995. 1-292.

"India." CIA World Factbook. 15 Apr. 2008. Governent of United States. 20 Apr. 2008 .

Kamat, Dr. Jyotsna J. "Status of Women in Medieval Karnataka." http://www.kamat.com/jyotsna/women.htm. 20 Dec. 2007. 20 Apr. 2008 .

Lee, Rose J. Democracy and the Status of Women in East Asia. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2000. 1-213.

Madhok, Sujata. "Women : Background & Perspective." Infochange 3 (2008): 1.

Srinivasan, Shobha Srinivasan. "Journal Article by Shobha Srinivasan; Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Vol. 28, 1997." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 28 (1997): 1. Questia. 20 Apr. 2008.

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