Status of women in India since ancient era



“Foreign culture,” well the word itself might be content for meme creators for at least a 1000 posts on social media. 21st century has paved the way to many new innovations that not only include technology but also everyday trends and lifestyle. But unfortunately, 21st century is not for everyone. Here, people have had anything and everything possible with or without the law. From wearing blouses and long narrow skirts to wearing unisexual clothes. From marriage within families to LGBTQ marriages, from being proud to score a 405/500 in 10th boards to unemployment even after engineering. The present generation has given so much as it’s taken. Speaking as an individual, I very much respect the rights women have in the past few decades. No matter how much the technologies improve, no matter how many times the prime minister of India says “we are a free nation” or “Bharat matha ki Jai”, India can never be a developed country unless the people continue to believe the superstitions. The status of women in India was always higher in ancient times.

However, now we have become a patriarchal society. The subject that never stops becoming an issue nor gets to have justice served. The cause that was once considered as sacred but has been cast away like it doesn’t matter… yes, I’m talking about “women rights”

When one person talks about the status of women in India, society reacts one in two ways. They either support the achievements of men who are relation with the women, or support them by considering the issue as an actual problem. But not just another act put up for the amusement of society. After all, our nation that once worshipped women and considered them sacred, the people who upheld the privileges of womanhood, didn’t think twice to destroy it as years went by, stripping their rights and dignity, enslaving them and casting them to nothingness. But when has the world ever known women to be powerless? If a man wants to conquer this world, he needs an army of soldiers. But if a woman wants to conquer the world, all she needs is the mind. Let’s time travel back in history, centuries ago, what was it like to be born a woman?

When we consider the past 5000 years of Indian history, the periods can be classified into the

  1. Rig Vedic period
  2. Later Vedic Age
  3. Medieval age
  4. British India
  5. Post-independence

And in every age, the status of women in India have had various roles to play in society.

Women in Rig Vedic age

At the beginning of the age, man and woman were considered equal. How do I know that? Let’s take the Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva is described as the ultimate God according to scripture but the same scripture says that Lord Vishnu is also the ultimate God. But every powerful male God has an equally powerful and significant another half who is a woman. For lord Shiva, it’s Devi Parvathi, and for lord Vishnu, it’s Devi Lakshmi. Though several others follow as the incarnations go, let’s stick with the fact that they were equals. Now let’s come to Greek mythology, the vast nothingness was called “chaos” and from there came a light called “Gaia” (mother earth) and her son/husband was “Uranus” (god of the sky). Just like that, let’s move on to Celtic mythology, did you know the romantic yet the terrifying creation of life? Well, there’s again the void that created two gods, the male god was Don and the female god was Danu. They were meant to fall in love and so they did. They were literally inseparable because they both were drunk on love. As their kids were born, Danu’s first son, Brian, took his sword. Now you should know these are myths written by people whose imagination ran really wild. So don’t ask from where he got a sword because that’s unknown. So he took his sword and sliced his father Don into 9 pieces so that he and his brothers could escape and thus from Don’s cut parts the world of men and women was created. Even the biblical references say that God created man and women and they were considered equals.

Do you know the interesting facts about 4 Vedas, here we have an amazing article on this – https://www.vibeindian.in/hidden-science/vedas/

Status of women in ancient India

Now hearing all these stories, as myth became reality in the early Rig Vedic age, women were considered as high born. It was considered to be a good fate if a girl child was born in the house. She was the homemaker and had coordinate authority for every religious ritual that took place at the temples as well as home. She had a dignified role in society, had a husband who loves her and stays with her until the last days of her life. They were free, they lived their life not out of obligation but as a free will. Even marriages weren’t compulsory. For example, in Mahabharata, in order to follow dharma, Draupadi married all of the Pandava brothers because Kunti mistakenly said to share the ‘Kani’ (fruit) that Arjuna brought from a hunt when in fact the ‘Kani’ was Draupadi. Women lived with high principles and dharma. A woman can get married if she desired and if she wants to be married, it would be with her loved one. The status of women was set in dignified standards. Sounds like a fantasy right? How amazing it would be to be able to live under no obligations? Though, I can already hear every Indian parent going, “no marriage? Then get out of the house!” or “love marriage? You have no respect for parents”.

These are some other roles women played in the times of ancient India:-

There was also no child marriages.

Women who lost their husbands were allowed to remarry multiple times.

Women and men were educated and were given the Upanyana ceremony.

there were 2 types of women according to Vedas.

Sadhyothwahas

These are women who study until they get married.

Brahmavadhinis

Women who do not marry and live as an educated saint for the rest of their lives.

But guess what, here lies the big mystery, what in the world happened for all this to be turned to be chaos? Let us move a little further into the history which is the later Vedic period.

Status of women in later Vedic era:-

If we look at the status of women in Hinduism, you’ll be really shocked to know that there was a drastic change in their rights. Women were made to marry even before they hit puberty. Also, every woman was forced to marry despite the fact that she wants it or not. And the sad part is, marriage was forced by the parents themselves. But we can’t really blame the parents for what the society has set standards for. As days went by, education for women started to have no value. It resulted in the conclusion that “women don’t require education.” Since they did not have basic qualifications of the knowledge of the Vedic scriptures, they were unfit to perform any sacred rituals and only men were allowed to enter the temples. And gradually, the society regarded women as “shrudha” which means unfit to access any form of sacred Vedic scriptures or even listen to Vedic hymns.

After a few years of constantly being deprived of their rights, women born in a family was considered a bad omen. Also she was either sacrificed to God or was married off very early. They lost their social status and dignity. They were used as a toy for sexual pleasure by men and were thrown away after being abused. They were kept locked inside their houses only to cook and clean. Women became no more equal to slaves. This is also the time that “Sati” became a belief system. Sati is the practice of a wife jumping into the funeral pyre of her husband when he is burnt after death. It was considered religiously wrong for women to live after the husband is dead. And men were allowed to marry as times as they want. They gained full control of society. They were worshipped and praised for their contribution to society while women were cast away like dogs in the streets. What was there such a drastic change? What made the society turn so much against women rights? It is said that these cruelties were imposed on women during the periods of Brahmans and Puranas.

But it seems to be a misinterpretation of Vedas, that led to Sati Pratha

Status of women in medieval India

Moving on to the medieval age, though women were being treated badly, they did have some privileges that didn’t completely destroy the race of women. During these times, wars were frequent. It was the time when kings fought great battles for the possession of each other’s throne. And hence, most men were off to war and never returned home. For this reason, women were not supposed to be killed. No matter the war or situation, women and children were kept safe either in the palace safe-keep or their houses. Also, women had to perform only half the ‘Prayachitha’ that men had to perform to atone for their sins. Though women weren’t allowed to give advice to political matters, they were still helpful in preparations of war and blessing their sons before the war. Not so bad right? But still not enough! If only the indiscreet kings didn’t get short-tempered and let their wives handle the issue, they would’ve probably had a nice cup of tea. And could have discussed how to unite both parties instead of creating massive destruction for sport. Women are really strategic, men failed to notice that.

Women in history- British invasion of India

Now we have reached the turning point of our journey through history, “THE BRITISH INVASION”. That’s right when the sky fell upon our heads, when the night terrors were never-ending, instead of morning melodies, women’s screams echoed through the walls of the country. Oh our beloved British rule, how thou changed and crushed the dreams of every little girl in our country! Salute to thee!

It considered the most horrible age of all for every Indian who lived under the British invasions 

The state of a housewife was very low.

Only 1 in a 100 women knew how to read or write, the rest were pushed to a state of literally no education.

Sati practise became compulsory, women lost even the slightest bit of dignity they had. They were stripped of all their political responsibilities and were made to follow every meaningless superstitious belief and were punished if they dared to disobey by their laws. Kind of like present-day North Korea, people were starving, the plague became worst and doctors were racist towards their own Indian people and treated only the white men.

Along with this, Devadasi system, purdah, dowry, female infanticide, the practice of polygamy and slavery made the Indian society see the darkest ages of their times. After years of torment, in the 19th century, rose the freedom fighters who had enough with slavery and darkness, who never thought twice in standing up for what they believe in and most of the freedom fighters were men like mahakavi Bharathiyar, Mahatma Gandhi, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and many others who strived to serve the country and protest against slavery of women.

During the times of protest, where Indian women burnt the clothes of the foreign people and displayed it publicly for the Britain officers, they chased those women until they were stripped naked. Also, they make them kill themselves because they could not bear with the shame of being naked. They weren’t allowed to vote, or indulge in any political affairs of the state. They were not proper employment at all and all the men of India kept watching these cruelties like a freak-show.

Status of women in modern India:-

But then, when India got its independence on August 15th 1947, every citizen praised the success of the freedom fighters, how they shed their blood, sweat and tears and got the country the freedom it deserved. But no one saw how much women had to sacrifice for safeguard her purity, her dignity, her status as women in the society. How women freedom fighters stood up on behalf all the women community, Sarojini Naidu, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Uda Devi and many more who showed great bravery and courage against the British imperialism weren’t given the appreciation they deserved. Why is it so hard for men to just accept the fact that women are no less? Yes, comparatively, women are physically weak but strong enough to accept that without hurting their ego. Can you men do it? Can you accept it if people call you less of a man if you show an ounce of weakness? Well, it’s on you if you think being physically weak is a weakness. It’s on you for being weak-minded. If you see a little skin under those clothes, it’s on you for thinking dirty every time you see a girl walking by the streets. And it’s all on you! Now, who’s the weak one? I hit pause, feminism doesn’t mean women are the only human, it simply means that women are also human, they deserve just as much as men obtain from the society.

Therefore, Good day gentlemen, because women have had their fair share in slavery and abusiveness and being constantly degraded for centuries, now we have got our freedom, or so I dare to say, we live in the present where we have rights to vote, rights to love whomever we want, right to study whatever we want, rights to travel wherever we want, and rights to stay true to who we are. You call this a free nation, a developing nation, “the modern era’? Then let it develop, let it become modern, let us rise and find our own place in the society. We are no more just a commodity for trade, we are no more just another item of sexual abuse, WE ARE HUMAN, just as much as any next person and if you believe in “everybody deserves happiness” then trust me when I say this, it is true bliss and happiness when women get to hear, “I believe in you” and that my darling, that is where the real development begins.

VIBEINDIAN

VibeIndian is a cutting edge initiative that aims to ignite a love for India on a global scale. It is built on unending love and appreciation for the diversity of the subcontinent. India is a country with a rich history of people and stories. Here at VibeIndian, we are dedicated to highlight what made us fall in love with the vibrant place and its tricolour flag.