The Constitution of India has laid down as a fundamental right of the equality of sexes i.e. has given women equal rights, privileges and freedom that are enjoyed by the men for years. But, the change from a position of utter degradation of women to a position of equality is not a simple case of the progress of women in the modern era. To uplift the status of women, many legislations pertaining to women were enacted after independence. Those were mainly related to marriage, divorce, inheritance of property and employment. Even after a number of instances on exploitation against women, they are now feeling much emancipated and free. They enjoy all social, political and economic rights.
In India, women have been occupying high offices of President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Governors, Chief Ministers, Judges, etc. Mrs. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India for about 15 years. She held this position till her death in 1984. Smt. Meera Kumar was the speaker of India from 2009 – 2014 and Smt. Sumitra Mahajan is currently the speaker of India since 2014.
The armed forces’ have also opened its doors in order to recruit women soldiers which is truly revolutionary.However, it is not enough to say that status of women has been completely improved in India. In such a competitive world, Indian women are being well conscious about their rights and privileges in various fields. They are being more conscious about their professional career (socially, politically, economically and educationally) and also by following all their responsibilities towards family. Women are actively participating in the democratic process and elections which is quite more impressive in enhancing their status. Women participation in any area of work is increasing day by day than men such as the number of women voters is increasing than men voters on the days of polling. Some of the great Indian women leaders, social reformers, social workers, administrators, and literary personalities who have changed the status of women a lot are Indira Gandhi, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, Annie Besant, Mahadevi Verma, Sachet Kripalani, P.T. Usha, Amrita Pritam, Padmaja Naidu, Kalpana Chawla, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, Mother Teresa, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, etc. Women have started participating as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, grandmothers, etc in various fields like social, economical, political, educational, scientific and other nation building activities.
Shirin Fozdar, Founder of Singapore Council for women and the nation’s Syrian Court is a leader of the advocacy effort that saw the women’s charter. After the death of her husband she moved to Thailand and established a school for girls at risk of being forced into prostitution. The women in India have also established a number of foundations and councils in different parts of the world in order to eradicate gender inequality.
The National Commission for Women was set up on 31st January, 1992 in pursuance of the National Commission for Women Act, 1990. The functions assigned to the Commission are wide and varied covering almost all facets of issues relating to safeguarding women’s rights and promotion. The Commission has a Chairman, five members and a Member-Secretary, all nominated by the Central Government. The Commission continues to pursue its mandated activities, namely, review of legislation, intervention in specific individual complaints of atrocities and denial of rights. Remedial action to safeguard the interest of women is suggested to the appropriate authorities. The Commission has accorded the highest priority to securing speedy justice to women. Towards this end, the Commission is organising Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalats, offering counseling in family disputes and conducting training programmes for creating legal awareness among women.
Women, who number 498.7 million according to the 2001 census, represent 18.2 per cent of the country’s population of 1,027.01 million. The development of women has always been the central focus in the development planning in India since Independence. Though there have been various shifts in policy approaches in the last 50 years from the concept of “welfare” in the 70s, to “development” in the 80s, and now to “empowerment” in the 90s, the Department of Women and Child Development since its inception has been implementing special programmes for holistic development and empowerment of women with major focus to improve the socio-economic status of women. Government of India has passed another Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 replacing the earlier Indian juvenile delinquency law of 2000. This act is passed especially after the Nirbhaya case when an accused juvenile was released. According to this act, the juvenile age has been 16 years from 18 years in cases of heinous offenses.
The year 2001 had also been declared as “Women’s Empowerment Year” to bring a special focus on programmes for the Indian women. The main thrust during the year was on launching of new programmes and bringing about legislative changes. Some achievements of the year included the presentation of Stree-Shakti Puraskar (Prize) for women, formulation of the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women; launching of an Integrated Women’s Empowerment Programme named Swayamsiddha, a Tele-conference between Parliamentarians and grass-root level women, issue of guidelines for operation allocation of district level committees on violence against women, and Help women in distress.
Under the Indian Constitution, for equal work both men and women are eligible for equal wages. Women have also been given an equal share in the property of their father and husband. This was after Mary Roy an Indian educator was denied her share of the familial property due to the sexist Travancore Succession Act of 1916. After her father’s death she sued her brothers in order to ensure her right. The judgment ensured equal rights for Syrian Christian women. This was the case that made its way through the Indian court system and which she won.
A conference was held in Mexico, where nearly 6,000 women delegates from 131 nations attended this conference. The conference formulated a 10-year programme for the progress of women all over the world. Ours is no doubt a male-dominated world. Exploitation of women is not a recent phenomenon. It has been going on for centuries. Women have been deprived of their just and rightful place in society. In the past women were considered fit only for producing and bringing up children. It was thought that the right place of a woman was the home. Her main duty was to cook food for the family, clean the utensils, wash the clothes and attend to all other menial jobs. Women have now protested against this exploitation. They have stood up in order to bring about equality with men in all walks of life. They are opposed to any discrimination on the basis of sex. They want a change in their status. They do not want to play only a secondary role. They want to work side by side with men and contribute towards the social, economic and political development of the society. Women constitute nearly 50% of the world population. If women do not have any constructive role to play, it will mean sheer wastage of manpower.
If the provisions of the Indian Constitution are observed in letter and in spirit, the future of women in India is quite bright.
Nb. The views herein are the views of the guest author and not those of the partners.