India is a country with second most population after China and some scholars see population as a major threat to prosperity and integrity of India. In a country where over 80 percent of the population worships Goddesses of different kinds, the status of women and what they represent has varied greatly from ancient to modern times. In the Vedic society, women had the same status as men in all aspects of life. Following the influence of changing rulers in the medieval period from the Mughal empire, the Rajput’s, and the formation of the caste system, the standing of women deteriorated. In Indian society, women are traditionally discriminated against and excluded from political and family related decisions. Despite the large amount of work women must do daily to support their families, their opinions are rarely acknowledged, and their rights are limited.
From the time they are born, young Indian girls are the victims of discrimination. According to a 2005 report from the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the infant mortality rate among girls is 61% higher than that for boys. This gender inequality is also present in education; only 2/3 of girls between the ages of 6 and 17 are sent to school, compared to 3/4 of boys of the same age. Also, in the countryside, only 46% of women are literate, which is almost one-half the literary rate for men. Instead of going to school, girls often find themselves forced to work in order to help their families, often from a very young age. Even more worrisome, 25% of women marry before the age of 15 and very often, they marry against their will. This has profound consequences, notably on women’s health and their precarious situation often prevents them from receiving proper health care. For many Indian women, poor treatment, violence, and exploitation take place on daily basis.
However, in the last decades, the situation of women in India has greatly improved. An increasing number of Indian women are entering local and national politics and since 2007, the country has been under the rule of a woman, Pratibha Patil. She is the first woman to hold this position since the creation of the Indian Republic in 1950.
Indian society does indeed recognize many women’s rights, including the rights to political involvement, family allowance and set up a business. Nevertheless, in rural areas, poverty and a lack of information represent real barriers to women’s independence and empowerment. Programs aimed at advancing human rights, literacy and microfinance are therefore necessary to restore Indian women to the place they deserve and open doors to a better future.
CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN
Today’s India offers a lot of opportunities to women, with women having a voice in everyday life, the business world as well as in political life. Nevertheless, India is still a male dominated society, where women are often seen as subordinate and inferior to men.
“You can tell the condition of a Nation by looking at the status of its Women.” Jawaharlal Nehru, Leader of India’s Independence movement, and India’s first Prime Minister.
However, even though India is moving away from the male dominated culture, discrimination is still highly visible in rural as well as in urban areas, throughout all strata of society. While women are guaranteed equality under the constitution, legal protection has a limited effect, where patriarchal traditions prevail.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
It should be noted that in a vast country like India – spanning 3.29 million sq. km, where cultural backgrounds, religions and traditions vary widely – the extend of discrimination against women also varies from one societal stratum to another and from state to state – some areas in India being historically more inclined to gender bias than others. There are even communities in India, such as the Nair’s of Kerala, certain Maratha clans, and Bengali families, which exhibit matriarchal tendencies, with the head of the family being the oldest woman rather than the oldest man. However, many Indian women face discrimination throughout all stages of their life, beginning at (or even before) birth, continuing as an infant, child, adolescent, and adult.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN: BEFORE BIRTH / AS AN INFANT
India is one of the few countries where males outnumber females; the sex ratio at birth (SRB) – which shows the number of boys born to every 100 girls – is usually consistent in human populations, where about 105 males are born to every 100 females.
There are significant imbalances in the male/female population in India where the SRB is 113; there are also huge local differences from Northern / Western regions such as Punjab or Delhi, where the sex ratio is as high as 125, to Southern / Eastern India e.g., Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, where sex ratios are around 105. Though “prenatal sex discrimination” was legally banned in 1996, the law is nearly impossible to enforce and is not even familiar to all Indian families. Hence, the preference for a male child persists, quite often out of mere practical, financial concerns, because the parents might not be able to afford the marriage dowry for (another) daughter. This leads to some of the most gruesome and desperate acts when it comes to gender discrimination:
- Selective abortions
- Murdering of female babies
- Abandonment of female babies
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN: AS A CHILD
NUTRITION & HEALTH
As a child, girls are often treated differently from male children in terms of nutrition and health care; where limited food or financial resources are available, the insufficient means are prone to be allocated unevenly in favor of the male offspring.
This imbalance results in insufficient care afforded to girls and women and is the first major reason for the high levels of child malnutrition. This nutritional deprivation has two harmful consequences for women:
- They never reach their full growth potential
Both consequences are risk factors in pregnancy, complicating childbearing and resulting in maternal and infant deaths, as well as low birth weight infants.
India’s constitution guarantees free primary school education for both girls and boys up to age 14. This has been repeatedly reconfirmed, but primary education in India is not universal, and often not seen as necessary for girls. Their parents might consider it more important, that they learn domestic chores, as they will need to perform them for their future husbands and in-laws. Another disincentive for sending daughters to school is a concern for the protection of their virginity. When schools are located at a distance, when teachers are male, and when girls are expected to study along with boys, parents are often unwilling to expose their daughters to the potential assault on their virginity, that would ultimately result in an insult to the girl’s family’s honor.
This results in one of the lowest female literacy rates in the world.
Literacy Rate for Women: 54%
Literacy Rate for Men: 76%
As a comparison, female literacy per 2009: Pakistan: 60%, Peru: 89%, Indonesia: 93%.
Mothers’ illiteracy and lack of schooling directly disadvantage their young children. Low schooling translates into poor quality of care for children, consequently in higher infant and child mortality and malnutrition, because mothers with little education are less likely to adopt appropriate health-promoting behaviors, such as having young children immunized.
Social sector programmes e.g., “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan” (Education for Everyone) are promoting girls’ education to equalize educational opportunities and eliminate gender disparities, but these initiatives will take time to unfold their whole effect.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 bans marriage below age 18 for girls and age 21 for boys, but some 80 % of Indians live in villages where family, caste and community pressures are more effective than any legislature. According to UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children 2009” report, 47% of India’s women aged 20–24 was married before the legal age of 18, with 56% in rural areas. The report also showed that 40% of the world’s child marriages occur in India.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN: AFTER MARRIAGE
There is mainly a bias towards men and their superiority in marital relationships: while women ought to be respected, protected, and kept happy by their husbands – their happiness being vital for the prosperity, peace, and happiness of the whole family – they should also be kept under constant vigilance, since they cannot be completely trusted or left to themselves. Whereas as a child a girl is supposed to remain in the custody and care of her parents, after marriage she becomes the property and responsibility of her husband, who is supposed to take care of her and keep her in his custody.
Under the existing cultural and social ethos of India a married girl / woman is no longer considered to be part of the family of her birth, instead she has become part of the family of the groom. Hence, after marriage the woman leaves her parental home and lives with her husband’s family, where she is required to assume all household labour and domestic responsibilities. In certain parts of Indian society, women are conditioned from birth to be subservient not only to their future husbands, but also to the females in their husband’s family especially, their mother-in-law. Accordingly, the surrounding society mandates a woman’s obedience to her husband and her in-laws. Any disobedience would bring disgrace to both, the wife herself and her originating family, and might lead to the woman being ostracized and neglected by her very own family and in her own home.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN: AFTER MARRIAGE
There is no cultural or religious tradition behind one of the ghastliest incidents of female oppression, but the prevalence of the dowry tradition has supposedly led to “Bride Burning” (or other form of murdering) of the newly wed wife by the husband and his family, who would claim, that she died in a domestic accident, so that the widowed husband would be free to marry again and collect another dowry.
Indian law demands a formal criminal investigation when a newly married woman dies within the home within 7 years of marriage. According to Indian National Crime Record Bureau, there were 8,239 dowry death cases, 1,285 cases of attempted dowry deaths, and another 4,890 cases with pending investigations in 2009. The punishment for dowry deaths is a term of 7 years, which may extend to life imprisonment. Indian law clearly distinguishes the offence of dowry deaths from the offence of murder, for which a death sentence might be declared.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN: AS A WIDOW
Indian government has enacted numerous laws to protect widow’s rights, including prohibitions against traditional practices for which India has been discredited, such as the burning of widows (Sati). Whereas in India’s contemporary culture, especially in the modern urban middle-class, these societal norms have given way to a more righteous conduct, the enforcement of the law continues to be challenging, where there are regional, religious or caste variants of family law, which tend to escape government jurisdiction. Hence, a widow is still seen as a liability in some part of the Indian society, which might result in her being abandoned by her in-laws. As her originating family is often unable or unwilling to take her back as well, she might be left on her own, without any education, skills, or financial assistance. Instead, she is subjected to many restrictions, and might be required to shave her head permanently, or to wear white clothes for the rest of her life; thus, stigmatized, she is not allowed to enter in any celebration e.g., weddings, because her presence is inauspicious. Moreover, a widow might face trouble securing her property rights after her husband’s death, nor be allowed to remarry, disregarding at what age she became a widow. As the described discrimination against widows is likely to occur in the same societal surroundings as the above-mentioned child marriages, this might lead to child or teenage widows, who are bound to be isolated and ostracized for the rest of their lives.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN: FOR INHERITANCE
While in the educated, urban middle class women’s rights continue to improve, there remains a strong bias against gender equality in those societal parts of India, where patriarchal traditions prevail. Consequently, in these strata any inheritance of a deceased husband or father would be passed down to the oldest son, while his wife or daughters would not receive any financial benefit. There are laws in place to ensure legal protection for women’s right to inheritance, but the enforcement of the law is challenging, when the woman is refused her right by the family, and when she is not confident or educated enough to claim her right.
LAWS CONCERNING WOMEN IN INDIA
- The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
As per the survey conducted by the Research Centre for Women, over 47% of girls are married before they turn 18. At present, India is on 13th rank globally for underage marriages. Furthermore, child marriages in India are hard to eliminate since it has been in traditions over centuries in India. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act became effective in the year 2007. It is a child marriage if the age of the bride and the groom is below 18 and 21. It is the definition of child marriage as per the law and women protection act.
Such marriages are illegal by-laws, and authorities are eligible to take actions against their parents for trying to marry their underage offspring’s.
- Special Marriage Act, 1954
This women protection act aims to provide a unique form of marriage that includes a particular type of marriage, registration, and divorce in some instances. For example, a couple from different religions and castes can choose to get married under the Special Marriage Act. The act also extends to people who are Indian by nationality but living abroad.
- Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
As per the women protection act, any dowry taking or giving at the wedding time to the bride or groom, or their families is an offense. Since women move in with her groom and in-laws, the dowry system is deep-rooted in India. Over the centuries, many women get burned due to their economic dependence and taboo towards divorce. Many women are assaulted mentally and physically and even murdered by her spouse and in-laws if her family does not meet the dowry demands after marriage. Dowry is one of the significant challenges that our society is currently tackling. Recently, women have started to complain about them openly, helping to spread the words while also encouraging other women to take a stand.
- Indian Divorce Act, 1969
This women protection act aims to allow the dismissal of marriage, shared acquiescence, nullity of matrimony, constitutional severance, and reinstitution of marital rights. There are family courts that file, hear, and incline these cases.
- Maternity Benefit Act, 1861
The aim of the Maternity Benefit Act is the regulation of women’s employment while ensuring maternity benefits as per the law. As per the women protection act, any woman who has worked in an organization entitles maternity benefits. Women must have worked for at least 80 days for 12 months scouting the date of her expected date for her entitlement. The benefits include maternity leave, nursing breaks, medical allowances, and the likes as per the Maternity Benefit Act.
- Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy was in effect since 1972, with amendments in the years 1975 and 2002. This women protection act aims to reduce the incidents of illegal abortion, consequent mortality, and maternal morbidity. The law includes the conditions regarding the termination. It also contains specifications about the qualification of the individuals for its conduct.
- Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013
This women protection act aims to ensure women’s safety and protect them from sexual harassment at the workplace as a part of the women protection act. Below are also the inclusions of workplace sexual harassment:
- Use of language with a sexual overtone
- invasion of private space. i.e., make colleague coming too close
- Subtle touches
- Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention) Act,1986
This women protection act prohibits any indecent representation of women via ads or in publications, including writing, painting, figures, or any other manner.
- National Commission for Women Act, 1990
The National Commission for Women or NCW, in short, is a statutory body of Indian Government. It was established in January 1992 by the Government India. This women protection act represents the women’s rights in India and provides then a voice for their issues and concerns. It aims to improve the status of Indian women and to work on their financial empowerment.
- Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
This women protection act aims to prevent discrimination against women regarding the payment. It ensures equal pay among men and women workers. Every woman in India should be aware of the women protection act and law, as mentioned above. The Indian Government places these laws and acts in the interest of women. However, we can only fight against injustice happening with us at the home, workplace, or in society if we are aware of our rights.
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
It lays down the law regarding abortion in India. Right now, it is not easy to get an abortion even in cases of rape as this Act lays down several conditions. However, this Act is soon to be amended.
Having looked at the status of women in India, we come back to the previously quoted statement from Jawaharlal Nehru “You can tell the condition of a Nation by looking at the status of its Women.” The concluding questions are: which nation can claim to be a free and prosperous society, where half of its population is being oppressed? And which striving nation can afford to oppress half of its population? Obviously, the answer to that question is: none! Sustainable and long-term development is not possible without the participation and empowerment of women, only if they participate in the economic and societal development, the full potential of a society of India’s society will be unfolded.
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
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