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Paraya Dhan – The Status of Women in India and Legislation

Women

‘Men and women’ are equal. This is a statement that every one of us has heard or said at some point in our lives, but very few of us actually believe and act according to it. The position and status of women has always been a matter of discussion in debates, newspapers, social media, and many magazines. Indian society from the ancient period to the modern times has considered women as an important part of society.

Women in India have to face countless hardships. Even for their basic rights, they have to struggle. The question is why do they have to suffer? The answer is very simple; it is because of the pathetic patriarchic mentality that has been rooted deeply in the minds of countless Indians. Even today in many Indian states, when a girl is born, she is considered to be a liability and called ‘Paraya Dhan’ as one day she has to get married and has to be handed over to her in-laws.

The first and foremost issue here is that a woman is not a material object to be handed over to someone. This highly toxic mentality of the people has resulted in the creation of several legislations for women’s welfare. In ancient times, during the early Vedic period, society was very prosperous. Women had a respectable and dignified status; they had the right to make their own decisions and they even had a right to the property of their father. After marriage women gained the status of not only Ardhangini (the better half) but also Sahadharmini (the equal half). So, what exactly went wrong?

The answer to this question lies in the post-Vedic age when restrictions were put on women, they were denied education along with religious parity, there was a ban on widow remarriage, women lost their say in almost every matter, and thus began the degeneration of the condition of women in India and even today it stays crippled. In Indian society, women are customarily oppressed and barred from political and family-related choices. Regardless of the huge amount of work ladies do consistently to help their families, their position is seldom recognized and their privileges are restricted.

Legislations in India

Laws for the protection and welfare of women have existed in India since the British rule. It was due to the efforts of not only the Indian revolutionaries but also various British officials that these laws came into force. Since then, various laws have been made, enacted, and Implemented. These laws protect the women from social evils, violence, and irrational traditions and customs thus ensuring their safety.

Sati Prevention Act

The passing of laws for the welfare of women dates back to the pre-independence era. In 1829 the then Governor-General of India, Lord William Bentick, passed the Prevention of Sati Act. Sati was an evil social practice, which required the wife to sacrifice her life after the death of her husband by sitting atop his funeral pyre. The ludicrous justification that this practice was given was ‘Sati is a closure to marriage, a woman who practices sati is a dutiful wife as she follows her husband even to the afterlife.

To put an end to this malignant practice the Sati Prevention Act was passed; however, it was opposed by many Indians, who believed that it was in contempt of their religion. Yet the practice did not come to an end and so in the year 1987, the Government of India passed the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act to further ensure the effective prevention of Sati and prevent its glorification.

The Widow Remarriage Act

The condition of women in India was horrible as it is, but when it came to widows things got even crueler. Widows had to live their lives in misery, they were looked down on by the entire community, banished from attending social events and finally, they met their fate through sati either willingly or forcefully. However, it was due to the efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy that a revolution began and in 1856 the Widow Remarriage Act was passed, thus legalizing the remarriage of Indian Hindu widows.

Indian Penal Code

Indian Penal Code has in place many safeguards to protect the interests and dignity of women. Some of them are as follows –

Section 354A

This section deals with the crime of Sexual Harassment of women. The section states that when a man commits any of the following acts-

  • Physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; or
  • A demand or request for sexual favors; or
  • Showing pornography against the will of a woman; or
  • Making sexually colored remarks shall be guilty of the offense of sexual harassment.

Any person committing any of the above-mentioned acts shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment up to three years or a fine or both.

Section 509

This section of the IPC deals with eve-teasing. Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, and also with fine.

Section 498A

This section protects women from domestic violence. The section states that if the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. 

Now even though there is a provision against domestic violence in the IPC, domestic violence is very common in India. One out of every two women is subjected to domestic cruelty and hence completely separate legislation i.e. the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 has been enacted. Dowry is the most common reason why domestic violence takes place and hence the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 came into existence. India has numerous laws that exist for the protection of women and yet women are abused, harassed, and denied their rights daily.

Present Day Status of Women in India

Women in Saree

It is very well said that you can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women. After numerous protests, sacrifices, and endeavors, the status of women in India has improved. Women have gained considerable freedom but this freedom still isn’t absolute. Even today ridiculous stereotypes exist in our society such as women are born nurtures, their only duty is to look after the household, women do not need equal pay as they are supported by their husbands, all these stereotypes do nothing but hinder the confidence of women.

Even though women have fought against all odds and proven themselves yet they have to face discrimination wherever they go. It is often misunderstood that this discrimination exists only in rural areas but that’s not true, women in urban areas who belong to well-educated families have to face discrimination too and not just by the society but by their own family too. Even today the birth of a son is more celebrated than that of a daughter. Even today in many families the son is prioritized over the daughter. If a woman has to face this kind of discrimination from her own family what else can she expect from the rest of the world?

Conclusion

In today’s India we see women making progress, they have their rights, they take their own decisions, but what we fail to see is that not all women are given these rights. In various Indian villages, even today widows are mistreated and even today India has at least one case of sati per year. There exist people with the mindset that a woman is meant to be in the four walls of the house forever and her only duty is to look after her family.

Women are considered inferior to men for absolutely no reason. Today women all around the world are making progress and excelling in every field and yet in some parts of India they are still fighting for their basic rights. It does not matter how many laws we have in place for the protection of women as long as there exists the toxic mentality that materializes women, looks down on them, considers them to be a burden, the complete upliftment of the condition of women in India is next to impossible.


Editor’s Note
The issue of women’s rights in India has been an unsolved one for many decades now. Women in some parts of India are being denied their basic rights even today. This article throws some light upon some of the plights faced by women in India and the legislations enacted in order to ensure the protection of the rights of women.

The author has also enlisted various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which were enacted specifically for the protection of women. The author concludes by saying that India has numerous laws that exist for the protection of women and yet women are abused, harassed, and denied their rights daily. The condition of women has improved considerably but only in some parts of India. Thus, there is a need to change the toxic mentality of people that still consider women as a material object along with the enactment and effective implementation of the various laws.

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