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Evolution Of Rights Of Women: An Indian Perspective

Women's rights are multiracial and transnational. The problems of women in various regions differ from one another and are influenced by a variety of elements, including individual consciousness and, familial, societal, racial, marital, economic, and religious considerations. Both ancient and contemporary Indiisre are firmly steeped in patriarchy and sexism.

Age, ordinal rank, relationships to men through their families of origin, marriage and childbearing, and patriarchal characteristics are just a few of the repressive social structures that Indian women must negotiations survive.

Dowry, having sons, kinship, caste, colour, community, village, market, and the state are a few examples of patriarchal traits. Despite the difficulties, several women's rights had been restricted, and their involvement in public life had been constrained by Indian society, which had experienced a significant transformation since the Vedic eras[1].

Despite the progress, there are still several issues that prevent women from fully utilising their rights and possibilities in India. Religious expectations, personal laws, and other regulations frequently conflict with the Indian Constitution and deprive women of legal rights and authority. The Indian Constitution recognises this desire for a developing India, hence the founders saw the necessity of including it as a basic right under Article 15 after realising its necessity.[2]

First Phase: 1825-1915

Caste and gender-related social reform initiatives were brought about by the colonial foray into modernity, the emergence of nationalism, and the reflection on discriminatory practices. Men started this first stage of women's freedom and rights in India to eradicate the social ills of sati, permit widow remarriage, forbid child marriage, and lower illiteracy.

They also did this to control the legal consent age and guarantee property rights through government intervention. Along with this, some Hindu women from the upper castes rebelled against the restrictions imposed by brahminical traditions.

During the British colonial march, women were in charge of several Indian states, including Jhansi (Rani Laxmibai), Kittur (Rani Chennama), Bhopal (Quidisa Begum), and Punjab (Jind Kaur).

Many reformers worked to improve the status of women during the British Raj, including Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Jyotirao Phule.
  • Through Raja Rammohan Roy's efforts, Sati was abolished in 1829 by Governor-General William Cavendish-Bentinck.
     
  • In 1847, Peary Charan Sarkar, a former student of Hindu College in Calcutta and a member of "Young Bengal," founded the first free school for females in India in the Barasat neighbourhood of Calcutta (the institution later went by the name Kalikrishna Girls' High School).
     
  • The Widow Remarriage Act of 1856 was a result of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's campaign to alleviate the plight of widows. Many female reformers, like Pandita Ramabai, aided in the advancement of women's rights.
     
  • John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune founded the Bethune School in 1849 and Bethune Institution in 1879, making the latter the first women's college in India.
     
  • Chandramukhi Basu and Kadambini Ganguly graduated in 1883, making history for both India and the British Empire as the first female graduates.
     
  • The first Indian women to study Western medicine were Kadambini Ganguly and Anandi Gopal Joshi, who did so in 1886.

Second Phase: 19151947

The fight against colonial control became more serious at this time. The dominant cause evolved into nationalism. By involving them in the nonviolent civil disobedience movement against the British Raj, Mahatma Gandhi broadened and legitimised the public actions of Indian women. He created a place for them in the public sphere by elevating their feminine roles of compassion, self-sacrifice, tolerance, and care.

In the rural satyagrahas of Borsad and Bardoli, peasant women played a significant part. The National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) and the All India Women's Conference (AIWC) are examples of organisations that are exclusively for women. Women were debating topics such as the extent of women's political engagement, women's voting rights, social honours, and party leadership positions.
  • Dhondo Keshav Karve, a social reformer, launched the first women's university, SNDT Women's University, on June 2, 1916, with only five students.
  • Sarojini Naidu was elected president of the Indian National Congress for the first time as a woman in 1925.
  • In 1927, the All India Women's Conference was established.
  • Under Indian law, child marriage was banned in 1929, and the legal age of marriage for women was established at 14 years.

Right after India gained its independence in 1947, feminist agendas and activities waned as nationalist organisations focused on nation-building grabbed the lead. These groups opposed "colonial interference," and in the middle to end of the nineteenth century, there was a national form of opposition to any attempts by the British to "modernise" the Hindu family.

This includes the Age of Consent dispute that arose after the British attempted to raise the age of marriage for women to prevent children from being coerced into marriage and engaging in sexual actions.

Post-1947

Through their involvement in the battle for independence, women in independent India gained a critical awareness of their place and rights. In the 1970s, women tried to overturn existing injustices by challenging them. These injustices included the underpayment of women, the confinement of women to "unskilled" fields of employment, and the use of women as a reserve labour force.

The goal was to end the practice of using women for free as what amounted to cheap labour. Women also started to recognise the disparities within power structures, including caste, tribe, language, religion, region, and class, in addition to those between genders. As a result, they started making efforts to ensure that meeting the needs of one group did not result in further disparities for another.

Early in the twenty-first decade, the focus of the Indian woman expanded beyond seeing women as contributing members of society and as having a right to parity to include having the authority to direct the path of their own life and the right to self-determination.
  • To outlaw, the trafficking of young girls and women, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act was passed in 1956.
  • The Dowry Prohibition Act, established by the Indian government in 1961, outlaws the use of dowries as part of wedding preparations.
  • Indira Gandhi was inaugurated as India's first female prime minister in 1966. She led India's government for four years totalling three terms (19801984) after having held the position for three terms in a row (1966-1977).
  • In India, the Equal Remuneration Act[3] was established in 1976, outlawing sex-based pay discrimination.
  • The Indian Penal Code[4] was amended in 2013 by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, making sexual harassment an express offence under Section 354 A, punishable by up to three years in jail and/or a fine. The Amendment also added new provisions establishing offences out of actions like stripping a woman without her consent, stalking, and engaging in sexual activities with someone in power.
  • To stop sexual harassment of women at work, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act went into effect in December 2013.
  • The Indian government said that female fighter pilots will be allowed to join the Indian Air Force in 2015. (IAF)
  • In 2016, a Delhi High Court decision that said the "Karta" of a Hindu Undivided Family might be the oldest female member became public.
  • The Supreme Court of India said in 2020 that female officers in the Indian Army are eligible for command positions on an equal basis with male officers.

Role Of the Judiciary In Recognizing Women's Rights

Throughout history, gender equality has been a nebulous idea hampered by social barriers that took a devilish glee in repressing women's rights. Even the legal system continued to be ignorant about women's rights. The inherent and normal shyness and delicacy that belong to the female sex make it unsuited for many of the vocations of civic life, according to Justice Bradley of the US Supreme Court in Bradwell v. State of Illinois[5].

The lofty and benevolent offices of wife and mother are the everlasting destiny and vocation of a woman. The Creator's law is included in this. The U.S. Supreme Court recognised the significance of women's roles in society as early as 1908 when it declared in Muller v. Oregon[6] that "It is apparent that a woman's physical structure and the discharge of maternity duties place her at a disadvantage for sustenance." Women have always depended on men, as history shows.

The numerous types of control he developed over her have persisted to the day, but with lessening intensity. But until the second part of the 20th century, little had changed regarding the position of women. The state may enact specific legislation for the protection of women's and children's rights under Article 15(3) of the Constitution.

Because "women's physical structure and the performance of maternal functions place her at a disadvantage in the struggle for subsistence and [her] physical well-being] becomes an object of public interest and care to preserve the strength and vigour of the race," such laws were passed.

The Supreme Court ruled in Air India v. Nargesh Meerza[7] that Air India's policy of terminating an air hostess if she became pregnant within four years of employment was arbitrary and unconstitutional. This was the first case in India involving women's rights. This decision will go down in the annals of women's rights as an advocate for organisations to control the working conditions of women on an equal footing with those of men.

Conclusion
No matter a woman's religion, the declining state of women's rights in India has a strong connection to the mediaeval period and British rule, which, in attempting to create a secular society with secular laws, made a direct attack on diversity, heterogeneity, and religious beliefs of Indian society.

This paradox in the colonial mission, in which women of different religions experienced significant inequalities in legal rights and political action, is directly responsible for the development of modern India.

History has consistently demonstrated the significance of gender-neutral legislation, which has resulted in several modifications to the social structure of society. In this nation, there is a close relationship between the law and religion since the two are interdependent, with the former receiving its legal support from the latter.

This article explored the role of various immigrants, from the historical to contemporary periods, who have significantly influenced the nation's current legal system. It recognised gender as one form of reference and difference that intersects with various forms of experiences, such as religion, caste, status, etc.

End-Notes:
  1. https://epgp.inflibnet.ac.in/epgpdata/uploads/epgp_content/S000829IC/P001497/M015107/ET/14600120574ET
  2. Narender Aggarwal, Gender Justice Ideology and the Indian Constitution: Analysing Equality Rights, 4 Indian J.L. & Just. 111 (2013).
  3. Equal Remuneration Act 1979
  4. Indian Penal Code 1860
  5. 83 US 130 (1973)
  6. 208 U.S. 412
  7. (1981) 4 SCC 335

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