Woman’s essence lies in her innate ability to care and love. She plays an all-enveloping character of a mother, daughter, wife , sister , friend, nurturer, guide and partner. She can be strong and soft, hard but still delicate. Woman is indeed the most beautiful creation of the Almighty! The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia.
From equal status with men in ancient times through the low points of the medieval period, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful. In modern India, women have adorned high offices in India including that of the President, Prime minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition, etc. The current President of India is a woman. In ancient India, during the Vedic period, the women enjoyed equal status with men in all fields of life.
Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period. Rigvedic verses suggest that the women married at a mature age and were probably free to select their husband. Scriptures such as Rig Veda and Upanishads mention several women sages and seers, notably Gargi and Maitreyi. Some kingdoms in the ancient India had traditions such as nagarvadhu (“bride of the city”). Women competed to win the coveted title of the nagarvadhu.
Amrapali is the most famous example of a nagarvadhu. However, later (approximately 500 B. C. ), the status of women began to decline with the Smritis and with the Islamic invasion of Babur and the Mughal empire and later Christianity curtailing women’s freedom and rights. The Indian woman’s position in the society further deteriorated during the medieval period when Sati, child marriages, purdah, Jauhar and a ban on widow remarriages became part of social life among some communities in India.
In some parts of India, the Devadasis or the temple women were exploited. Polygamy was widely practised especially among Hindu Kshatriya rulers. In many Muslim families, women were restricted to Zenana areas. In spite of these conditions, some women excelled in the fields of politics, literature, education and religion. Razia Sultana, the Gond queen Durgavati, Chand Bibi and Jijabai became known for their her ability as warriors and an administrators. The Bhakti movements tried to restore women’s status.
Mirabai, a female saint-poet, was one of the most important Bhakti movement figures. Guru Nanak, the first Guru of Sikhs also preached the message of equality between men and women. During the British Rule, many reformers fought for the upliftment of women. Women played an important part in India’s independence struggle. Some of the famous freedom fighters include Bhikaji Cama, Dr. Annie Besant,, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani and Kasturba Gandhi.
The Rani of Jhansi Regiment of Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army consisted entirely of women Sarojini Naidu, a poet and a freedom fighter, was the first Indian woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman to become the governor of a state in India. Women in independent India now participate in all activities such as education,sports, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, science and technology, etc Indira Gandhi, who served as Prime Minister of India for an aggregate period of fifteen years is the world’s longest serving woman Prime Minister.
The Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian women equality. Self-help groups and NGOs such as Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) have played a major role in women’s rights in India. Many women have emerged as leaders of local movements. For example, Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The Women’s Reservation Bill, has ensured 33% reservation to women in politics.