#InternationalWomensDay Women Empowerment in India: Issues and Challenges
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 Dr Smitha Shine
In Indian culture, women are considered as Mother Goddess or embodiment of Universal Mother. However, the problems of Indian women are not matching these concepts. Domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, acid attacks, dowry death, low workforce participation, cyberbullying, are some of them. Though the problems are there, a section of women has proved their legacy in every field from social work to visiting space stations. The Indian women conquered every arena: no matter whether it is politics, sports, entertainment, technology and military. They have earned a respectable position in the world. What women like Sarojini Naidu started long back when she became India’s first woman governor in Independent India, is still being continued by women like Sub-Lieutenant Shivangi, who became the first woman pilot in the Indian navy on 2 December,2019. Likewise, in 2014 India had a record of 7 female ministers appointed in the Modi government, of whom 6 held cabinet rank, the highest number of female cabinet ministers in any Indian government in history. Prestigious Ministries such as Defence and External Affairs are being led by Women Ministers. We have also seen on 17 February 2020 when the Supreme Court of India said that women officers in the Indian Army can get commanding positions at par with male officers. The court said that permanent commission should be available to all women, regardless of years of service, and order must be implemented in 3 months. Earlier the said troops, weren’t accepting women as commanding officers. There is no doubt that today Indian women are so ambitious and are proving their excellence not only in the home front, but also in their professional life.India has seen an increased percentage of literacy among women. Despite all these there is no falling off in the violence against women. Violence against women and the threat of violence are the main barriers of women empowerment. The progress or development of any society has a direct positive relation with the status of women in that society.
A woman faces violence in different stages of her life. For instance, female infanticide is violence during the infancy stage of a woman. In India, dowry system is one given reason for female infanticide. According to the Population Research Institute (PRI), around 15.8 million girls went missing in India due to prenatal sex selection between 1990 and 2018. In 2018 alone, approximately 550,000 girls went missing.However, there is a decline in female infanticide when compared to other years ,when the Government of India introduced Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP) initiative. The program is intended to prevent gender discrimination and to ensure survival, protection and education of girls.Child prostitution is a major violence and threat faced by a women in her girlhood.In India nearly 1.2 million sex workers are below the age if 18 with about 40 underage girls being forced into prostitution on a daily basis. With the 8 % of increase in the flesh trade, India has become one of the prominent name in child prostitution.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau , out of 15,379 trafficked , 9,034 people were below 18 years of age. Of these, 4,911 or 54% were girls and 4,123 or 46% were boys. Sexual harassment and assualt is a prevalent problem in India experienced by a woman in her adolescent period. According to the study by WINGS 2018, World of India’s girls report shows that 1 in 3 adolescent girls not only fears being inappropriately touched or harassed in public ,but expects it. About 40% of girls also believe that they will be shamed or dismissed if they report assault to the police. Apart from this in India women under girlhood faces bride trafficking. For centuries, bride trafficking has been a booming business in the states of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan in North India. There is no official government data on the numbers who have fallen victim to trafficking rings, but it is believed that hundreds of thousands of women and girls, mainly from Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand or Bihar, have been sold into marriage.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau 2016, 33,855 people were kidnapped or abducted for the purpose of marriage. Among this half were under the age of 18. At the reproductive age a woman faces different forms of violence like abuse by intimate male partners, marital rape, dowry abuse and murder, sexual abuse at the workplace , rape, trafficking, forced prostitution etc. Among this dowries are considered as a major contributor towards violence against women in India. Every single day ,21 women die because of dowry in India. In 2018 around 27,281 dowry deaths were reported in India. Cruelty by husbands and in laws reported was more than 2 lakh cases in the same year. At the old age, the last stage of womanhood, a woman experiences violence like sexual, psychological and physical abuse. The women in old age are forced to live with many limitations. Sometimes they find themselves marginalized and isolated all the time. As women live longer than men,a large number of older women have to live a life of a widow in their old age. Most of them live alone in their home subjected to sexual violence,murder and theft. Sometimes they have to depend on children for financial support and undergo mistreatment and neglect from family.
A Nation’s progress or prosperity has a direct positive relation with the status of women in that society.Culture of any society consists of knowledge, belief, morals, laws and customs acquired by a man as a member of society. In India some social evils such ascasteism, untouchability, child marriage and the Sati has been eradicated by social reformers yet sometimes it is needed to look back and grab our cultural values and beliefs in order to resolve the
current social issues. India has a patriarchal family system that gives more rights and authority to the male. Because of this somehow women are suppressed and harassed by their own family members. Unfortunately in most of the cases involving violence and crime against women, her own family members or known people are responsible. It is doubtless that violence against women is due to the lack of moral values in our families and society. It can only be eradicated by raising awareness about the moral values and culture practiced in our traditions.
When we look to the Hindu culture, they considered man and woman represent the two aspects of one person. Scriptures says that Lord Shiva consists of a body of a two halves – one is of male and other is of female called “Ardhanareeswar”. Woman was considered more powerful than man and treated as Goddess of “Shakti”.In Manusmriti, the ancient legal text among the many Dharmasastras of Hinduism quote that “yatr naryasto pojyantay,ramantay tatr devta” means “where women are provided a place of honor,gods are pleased and reside there in that household”. In addition the law book prohibits men from harassing or neglecting women in thief households. The law says that it is man’s obligatory duty to protect his wife and take care of her until the end. Similarly he has an obligation to take care of his aged mother or his dependent daughter. Manu also insisted that a mother’s wealth is to be inherited solely by her daughters, who also inherit some of the father’s wealth. According to Hinduism ,human life has are four proper goals or aims . There are four puruṣārthas. They are Dharma (righteousness, moral values), Artha (prosperity, economic values), Kama (pleasure, love, psychological values) and Moksha (liberation, spiritual values). In this women along with man participates in all activities equally and hence she was considered as “sahadharmacharini”. At the same time, woman is considered to be under the protection of father during childhood; under the protection of husband during youth and under the protection of son during old age. She has been highly revered and cared for those days. In Hinduism it is said that every Hindu must marry. Man is only half, not complete until he marries. The Veda ordains that “Dharma must be practiced by man together with his wife and offspring”. “He is only perfect who consists of his wife and offspring.” “Those who have wives can fulfill their obligations in this world; those who have wives truly have a family life; those who have wives can be happy; those who have wives can have a full life.” According to Mahabharata, by cherishing the woman one virtually cherishes the Goddess of prosperity herself. The “Yaksha Prashna”,exchange of questions and answers between Yaksha and Yudhishthira , in Mahabharata clearly depicted the importance of mother and wife. When yaksha asked the question “What is more important than the earth itself”?. Yudhishthira answered “One’s Mother”. In another question the Yaksha asked Yudhishtira “Who is man’s god-given friend”? Yudhishtira’s answer was: “A man’s God-given friend is his wife”. In Hindu marriages elders blessed the bride by saying “murdhaanam patyuraroha” which means “May your husband keep you on his head” meaning “Let him respect you”. In those days there was no dowry system.It is not mentioned in any Hindu literature and Dharmashastra.In Manusmrithi it is said that “Those deluded relatives who appropriate and live off a woman’s personal property — her carriages, her clothes, and so on, are wicked people and will go to hell”. The Mahabharat says, “He who sells his son or gives his daughter for a price, goes to hell.” Our epics, scriptures and law books clearly depicted how women were treated in ancient days. Though the position of women in India declined due to the long period of foreign rule, which disrupted every aspect of society—most scholars agree that women in ancient India held a most elevated position.
It is a truth that discrimination and mistreatment of women are not only in India, as elsewhere in the world. Violence against women remains widespread across the world where the traditions and customary practices determine her status in families, work places and communities. In all societies, they are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse irrespective of age, social status and culture. However, this is not owing to the concepts of Hinduism, which is more than a religion in India. Hinduism is a culture, a way of life and a code of behaviour. This is reflected in a term Indians use to describe the Hindu religion, “Sanatana Dharma,” which means eternal faith, or the eternal way things are (truth). Indeed violence against women is a violation of the “Sanathana Dharma”.It is widely said that women are treated inferior due to the culture and traditional mindset of people in India. They view women with sexist and judgemental attitude. If it is so ,why can’t the same people and society take the positive aspects of the above culture and beliefs? Why can’t men treat women with respect if they really follow the “Sanatan Dharma”?
A woman plays a vital role in her life, such as daughter, sister, wife, and mother. In each stage of her life, she has the right to lead an honourable and peaceful life. She needs respect and dignity, which must not be touched or dishonoured. Every woman must have the right of expression, the freedom and, of course, independence to live the roles assigned to them by nature. Then only civilization may flourish. Because only women have the capability to shape the future and personality of men anywhere and in every part of the world.
As Swami Vivekananda said “There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of the woman is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing”.