What will happen to the status of Indian women in the near future? Will they become free from the problems with which they suffered for centuries? Can we expect better status and brighter prospects for our women in the years to come?
Will they be able to lead a free and independent life as their counterparts do in the West? Or, whether their status is going to deteriorate further in future? Will they attain equality with their menfolk? These are some of the questions currently being discussed in connection with the status of Indian women. On the basis of the existing state of affairs some observations and broad generalisations could be made regarding this issue.
1. New Problems in Place of Old Ones:
The age-old problems of Indian women such as child marriage, sati system, prohibition on widow remarriage, purdah system, devadasi system etc. have almost disappeared. They have disappeared only to give room for some other problems of modem times such as atrocities against women, rape, dowry harassments and deaths, immoral traffic of women, oppression and exploitation of ‘dalit’ and minority women, torture and harassment of women undertrials, sexual harassment of employed women etc. These problems have made it difficult for women to lead an equal life with men.
2. Continued Dominance of Male Supremacy:
The Indian society continues to be a male dominated society. Though sex equality has been achieved by law, it is difficult to practise it socially. The belief that the biological and cultural roles of men and women are different is very strong in India. As long as this belief persists, and the value of male dominance prevails, male-female equality cannot be achieved in the Indian context.
3. Regional, Caste and Class Differences:
As Andre Beteille has observed that there is a close link between the statuses and problems of women on the one hand and the region, religion, caste and class to which they belong, on the other. These differences may continue in the coming years also. These differences are putting some hurdles on the way of Indian women developing some “common interests”.
4. Relaxed Control Over Women:
As S.C. Dube has pointed out there are three principal areas in which controls are exercised on women: (i) Women’s sexuality is controlled much more strictly than men’s; (ii) There are restrictions on women’s movements and contacts; (iii) Women’s resources [labour and skills] need regulation and control. On these three issues modern Indian women are freer, no doubt; but they are not equal to men. Most of them do not bother about attaining equality with men in these areas.
5. Women Exploiting Women:
In the Indian context, we also find social situations in which women themselves are exploiting women in one way or another. Examples: ‘Gharwalis’ or ‘lady bosses’ in the brothel homes exploiting prostitutes, mothers-in-law harassing and torturing daughters- in-law. Situation is improving in this field for the educated women are becoming quite conscious of their rights.
6. Lack of Powerful Women Organisations and Movements:
Indian women are forging ahead in the fields of education and employment. But they have not developed powerful women organisations nor movements to safeguard their interests. Neither at the national level nor at the state level is such a strong women’s organisation found. This situation has further added to the exploitation of women.
7. Is There Not a Need for Women’s Liberation Movement in India?
On the basis of the existing social situations, it can be said that there is no possibility of a feminist movement or a women’s liberation movement emerging out in India to assert the rights of women.
Since Indian women give due importance to motherhood, rearing of children and household work which they consider as “women’s tasks “; they do not appreciate “women’s liberation movement” of the western type which fights for equality with men in all respects. As Romila Thapar has observed, “women’s liberation does not have any immediate relevance to the Indian social situation.”
8. No Protection to the Interests of Lower Class and Lower Caste Women:
In all discussions and debates relating to the status of Indian women, much is said about middle and upper class women and upper caste educated women. The statuses and problems of lower class and lower caste women who constitute the majority of womenfolk, are not given due importance.
This only shows that our discussions are misleading, one-sided, partial and even prejudiced. Majority of Indian women who are illiterate and ignorant are not capable of changing their life-styles, beliefs and values overnight. They take time to change themselves. Hence, no revolutionary change can be witnessed in the overall social position of Indian women at least in the immediate future.
9. Indifferent Attitude of the Governments and Political Leaders:
The measures taken and the programmes implemented by the Central and State governments so far in the direction of raising the status of Indian women and protecting their interests, are neither promising nor adequate. Laws and legislations alone cannot bring about desired changes in the society.
Consistent and honest efforts on the part of people’s representatives and social leaders are required to persuade people to accept new situations and challenges. Such efforts are conspicuously absent in India.
Women in India are not yet equal to men. There is no legal or constitutional barrier to equality. There is only the social barrier. Women in India are more after a “respectable ” and “meaningful” social status which is free from all sorts of exploitation. There is no urge in them to outsmart men. They want their interests to be protected and problems solved. As long as the problems of women remain as “women’s problems” and not as “societal problems “, so long, attempts at the solution of these problems do not get the required speed.
Indian women are not very much after equality with men. But they expect a change in the attitude of men towards them and their status. On the contrary, they expect greater freedom, better education, self-dependence, decent jobs, a proper treatment of women by men folk, and a socio-economic environment free from all types of exploitation.
Our attempts to provide such a type of socio-economic environment to women will definitely influence their social status and the socio-economic conditions in the days to come.