The Gandhian era and the decades after independence have witnessed tremendous changes in the status of women in Indian society. The Constitution has laid down as a fundamental right the equality of sexes. But the change from a position of utter degradation and subjugation of women in the nineteenth century to a position of equality in the middle of the twentieth century is not a simple case of the progress of women in the modern era.
Revolutionary changes have taken place in the position of women in India after independence. The Constitution of India provided for special steps to be taken by the government to improve the condition of women by separate institutions.
A quick and effective change in the status of women was contemplated through social legislations. The Constitution of India guarantees certain fundamental rights and freedom such as protection of life and personal liberty. Indian women are the beneficiaries of these rights in the same manner as the Indian men.
Article 14 ensures equality before law and Article 15 prohibits any discrimination. Article 16(a) forbids discrimination in any respect of the employment of office under the state on the grounds only of religion caste, sex, descent, and place of birth, residence or any of them.
In the post-independent India, there are series of laws passed for the upliftment of women. These legislations have been brought in order to give equal rights and privileges with men, to eliminate discriminations against women, remove inequality between sexes, and remove external barriers coming in the way of their self-realisation and development.
Some important Acts passed for the upliftment of women are:
1. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955:
This Act provided equal rights to women to obtain a divorce and also maintenance in certain cases.
2. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956:
By virtue of this Act, a woman can adopt a boy or a girl as her son or daughter.
3. The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956:
This Act provides that a woman is entitled to act as the natural guardian of her minor children.
4. The Hindu Succession Act of 1956:
As a result of this Act, a woman has got equal rights in the inheritance of family property. This Act is a landmark in the history of Hindu law.
5. The Hindu Women Right to Property Act of 1973:
This Act has given more facilities to women. According to this Act, the daughter, the widow, and the mother can inherit property of the deceased simultaneously. Now women will hold her property absolutely with full right to sell, mortgage, and dispose of as she desires. But according to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the woman has only to enjoy her husband’s share in coparcenaries property for her life time without any right to alienate property.
6. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961:
According to this Act, taking or demanding dowry is an offence punishable by imprisonment and or fines.
7. The Equal Remuneration Act of 1976:
This Act does not permit wage discrimination between male and female workers.
Besides legislations, education was also regarded as an important factor in raising the status of women in society. Therefore, active steps were taken to promote women’s education. Immediately after independence it was realised that unless half of our population are exposed to educational process, modernisation of our society would be a distant dream. Various Committees and Commissions emphasised the need for equalisation of educational opportunities.
This led to opening of different schools and colleges, especially for women.
However, the absence of any economic compulsion was in fact one of the main reasons for the slow progress of women education till seventies. There is a gradual change among the women that in order to make a decent living and to assert their rights and privileges and to become economically independent, they must acquire proper skill through education.
Hence, there has been a constant rise of women ratio in the field of higher education.
There has been a remarkable increase in the number of women getting out of the four walls of the household and becoming workers in both cities and villages, according to the 1991 census report. Job opportunities outside the family, economic hardship and social situation have encouraged women to take up employment outside the family. The attitudes of women’s relatives towards women’s employment, women’s own preference for employment are now quite different from earlier beliefs. People are now in favour of women employment.
Today, the centre of production is located outside the family, economic conditions demand participation of women with men in the production process. This has enhanced the status of women in the family as well as the society.
According to the report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (1974), the number of female employees in the categories of professional, technical and related workers, primary and middle school teachers has been continuously rising since 1960. The Director General of Employment and Training data for selected professions in public and private sectors identify teaching, medical and health, clerical and related workers and telephone operators as the four occupations.
In the political field, women now enjoy equal rights with men. The two important rights in the political field sanctioned to women by Indian Constitution are: female enfranchisement and eligibility for the legislature. Prior to independence, when the elections were held in 1946 for constitutional assembly, many prominent women of Indian like Sarojini Naidu, Hansa Meheta, Renuka Rai and others were elected. In the first general election held in 1952, several women contested for the Lok Sabha.
After independence more women have joined different political parties. Some of them have captured seats of power as Chief Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Ministers of States.
Now all the political parties have a woman’s cell or wing and some women leaders are in the position of president or secretary of party. Women of different parties are actively participating in campaigning and organising meetings at the time of elections. The families are always helping women to have a smooth entry in politics. Now politics is not the exclusive domain of men.
Many changes have taken place with respect to social life of Indian women. The ‘new life’ in city has altered the family relations. Social life of women has been altered because the husband and wife have begun to share a common social life which was not found in traditional family.
Attitude towards segregation of sexes has also been changing. Coeducation has created an opportunity for intermixing of boys and girls. During leisure the women visit their friends’ house. Boys take girls out to entertain them by taking to movies, restaurants and picnic.
Industrialisation has not only affected the joint family system, but also the relationship between the husband and the wife. The position of a woman as consultant is found in most families where she shares the responsibility of making the major family decisions with her husband or father. Now authority vests not only on eldest male but also on females.
It is well known that the freedom movement in India generated great awareness among women about their social right and their social responsibilities in the larger soc.al order one result of this was the manifestation of a new creative urge among women in post-independent India.
The status of women and their social relationship as necessitated by the new social, political and economic organisation in society has come out through the routine factors of social change.
Undoubtedly in the period before 1947 there was a considerable change in thinking, outlook and value of Indian women. Subsequently Indian women have gradually moved towards self-reliance and independence. The status of Indian women through the ages has been changing and the status, which was lost during the middle ages and earlier parts of 19th century, has been regained somewhat. It appears that the status of women has gone high in India.
However the real position is that a large majority of women in the villages or women of low caste still suffers from injustice and inequalities.