(This ia a paper i had recently presented in the american centre in kolkata, its a little long yeah, so if you have the enthu do read it and tell me if u like it!)
Nehru had rightly said, “You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of women of that nation.”
The position of women in India has undergone tremendous changes through history. From having a largely unknown status in the ancient era, through the medieval period’s low points, to the present scenario, the history of women in India has been eventful.
Human rights, simply put, are certain rights which one has by virtue of being born human, thus, Every woman and girl is entitled to the realization of all human rights -- civil, political, economic, social and cultural -- free from any kind of discrimination, just like any other human being. The situation that prevails in our country today, however, has a different picture to portray.
The woman of modern India is confidant, self reliant, we say, but this fraction of the urban modern woman only projects a part of the true picture. With most of India’s population situated in the rural areas not all women have seen the light of the modern globalised world that India has turned into. For them the most important task of the day is not doing something extraordinary in the world around them, but to line up early in the morning to collect water for their families, while worrying about their children at home, being beaten up in case of delay in household chores all at an age when the average urban woman or man for that matter would be availing educational opportunities or perhaps be talking about liberation and human rights.
Unfortunately the statistics and data sum to defy the rosy picture that international human rights standards beautifully display on paper. The fact is that policy making bodies still lack a significant number of women. Where the question of the 1/3rd quota is concerned it is a cause of worry to see no agreement being arrived at by the Indian law makers on the issue. It is disturbing to see that around crores of women in our country can neither read nor write; making up the world’s largest number of illiterate women in a single nation, and the sex ratio of 933/1000 is one of the worst in the world.
India as a nation today is growing, and so is its population. Amartya Sen has rightly stated that the most immediate adversity caused by a high rate of population growth lies in the loss of freedom that women suffer when they are shackled by persistent rearing and bearing of children. Social and economic handicaps such as female Illiteracy, lack of economic independence and employment opportunities contribute greatly to muffling women’s voices within the family and in society. Secondly according to Sen, the absence of knowledge or facilities of family planning can also be a source of helplessness. Third, there are cultural, even religious factors that place young women in a subservient position and make them accept burdens. These inequities may not even have to be forced on women physically as women’s subservient role as well as frequent child bearing may appear natural when these practices have been sanctioned by a long history that generates uncritical acceptance.
Another very important area that I wish to dwell into is the sexual crimes committed against women. It is commendable to see the great number of laws to punish the offenders of sexual harassment, be it at the workplace, or rape by public officials etc, what saddens me is the fact that marital rape has not been declared a crime in India the way it should have been. Section 375, the provision of rape in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), has echoing very archaic sentiments, mentioned as its exception clause- “Sexual intercourse by man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape.” Women so far have had recourse only to section 498-A of the IPC, dealing with cruelty, to protect themselves against “perverse sexual conduct by the husband”. But, where is the standard of measure or interpretation for the courts, of ‘perversion’ or ‘unnatural’, the definitions within intimate spousal relations?
The much awaited Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (DVA) has also been a disappointment. It condones sexual abuse in a domestic relationship of marriage or a live-in, only if it is life threatening or grievously hurtful. It is not about the freedom of decision of a woman’s wants. It is about the fundamental design of the marital institution that despite being married, she retains and individual status, where she doesn’t need to concede to every physical overture even though it is only be her husband. Honour and dignity remains with an individual, irrespective of marital status.
It is also important to discuss the position of The Indian woman in comparison to her counterparts in the different parts of the world, developed as well as developing, keeping in mind the topic of discussion today, “India in the new Global order”. We tend to believe that it is only women in our country who are denied their rights or against whom violence is committed, but it is astonishing to see her counterparts in the “developed” world facing similar issues. In the US, a woman is raped every 6 minutes; a woman is battered every 15 seconds, in 2001, more than 15,000 women were sold into sexual slavery in China. With regard to political rights, though in practice one sees deterrence, at least constitutionally every woman in India has the right to vote, compared to her counterparts in countries like Bhutan, Lebanon, the Vatican City and Saudi Arabia. Where the age of marriage Is concerned it rings a bell to note that where India, considered developing, has the age limit atleast on paper of 18yrs, the US allows marriage at the age of 16, and even before that with parental consent
In spite of all that I have said so far there is no doubt that we are in the midst of a great revolution in the history of women in India.; the voice of women is increasingly heard in Parliament, courts and in the streets. While women in the West had to fight for over a century to get some of their basic rights, like the right to vote, the Constitution of India gave women equal rights with men from the beginning. Unfortunately, women in this country are mostly unaware of their rights because of illiteracy and the oppressive tradition. To say that Indian women have made no progress in the last sixty years of the country’s independence and to discount the role of the government in the sphere of women’s encouragement would be blatant criticism. The country’s concern in protecting the rights of women finds its best expression in the Indian constitution which not only empowers the state to make affirmative discrimination in favor of women:Art 15(3), but also imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen through Art 15 (A) (e) to “renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.
The Platform for Action adopted at the 4th World Conference on Women states: “Without the active participation and the incorporation of women’s perspective at all levels of decision-making the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved” and India here is no exception. If India is to emerge as a power with equal standing with every other nation it cannot do so without ensuring that the rights of its women are not just guaranteed but also protected.
I would like to end with a little verse which best defines the position of women in India today;
No more the sky is dark for me
No more the horizons bleak
Shout out the light for me
Will snatch the sunny streak.