The place of Indian women in a family and in society is very well defined: her limitations and her allowances are shaped by common rules. Despite those strict rules Indian women have been presenting their independence, power and freedom.
The situation of an average Indian woman depends on many factors: religion, background, financial situation, status of both her family and a family of her husband – to enumerate a few. All these factors lead us to conclusion the Indian culture is very complex. It consists of various cultures derived from different sources while the main source of Indian culture lies in Hinduism and its’ tradition. As a consequence all other Indian religions and believes adopted the same structure of society as Hinduism. The adopted structure of society clearly defines the role of Indian woman and Indian man.
In the Indian culture one may distinguish two models of feminity that have been evolving within centuries. A woman, associated with nature and nature’s powers, may represents either active or passive features. Woman may be energetic, creative and independent or calm, dependent and hesitant. The first active pose is associated with old goddesses coming from pre-vedic culture – Devi or Shakti which are perceived as a great example of feminism strength and independence. The second passive pose derived from indo-aryan culture, later adopted by Hinduism, presents a woman as dependent, living for and thanks to a man. The second model of a woman is still very popular and present in India.
The oldest Indian literature describes children and teenagers of both sexes playing and learning together. Within a time social system based on sexes equality was restructured placing a woman in a very unfair position, presenting her as a men’s property. This change of a women’s role in a family and society was also recorded in law acts such as Manu’s Code of Law. The code strictly described rules and duties of every human being, focusing on a woman who should be obedient and devoted to a man and treat her husband almost as a god. The Indian culture for centuries has been polarising positive and negative aspects of feminity. In a negative aspects one can name woman’s tendency to rebel, independence and her sexuality that had to be, as believed, strictly controlled.
The beginning of 19th century was a social earthquake with a positive change for Indian women. Social and political changes created many opportunities for women not only in terms of education, inheritance or family laws but mostly at moral aspects like second marriage for widows or love-marriages. More and more woman have been becoming independent, well-educated, working in companies or active in political life. They decide on their education, career path and also their role in a family. Indian woman follows very often western woman path demanding equality and respect that is caused by attacks and sexual abuse.
Sex ratio is used to describe the number of females per 1000 males. The ratio in India is very significant as it presented 943 females per 1000 males in 2011. The male-skew is caused by female infanticide, female child neglect and selective abortion that derived from low status of woman in India and dowry that family has to pay during daughter’s wedding. The sex ratio and lack of education in India is believed to be a root cause of harassment and other sexual abuses. Following to the authors of the LinkedIn report: “Anti-harassment is an especially hot-button issue in India, where 87% of talent professionals agree that harassment prevention is a very important trend for the future of hiring, compared to just 71% globally.”
As more and more social fields have been enabled to Indian woman they debuted also in politics. Quotas are a common factor in many of the electoral systems with more women as legislators and parliament members. In 1991 the first country in the world to introduce a gender quota by law was Argentina. Since then the legal requirement for parties to put forward a certain proportion of female candidates has become common. Many other countries have adopted similar approaches with the same aim. They are either reserving seats for women (as in Pakistan and many Arab nations), or by political parties voluntarily adopting their own quotas. Nowadays more than half of the countries in the world have never had a female leader while in India the second PM was Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. However having a woman as a president, prime minister, or as in India president of INC Sonia Gandhi, is no guarantee of greater representation. In India there are just 64 women among 542 MPs.
Powerful Indian women apart from ruling the country or Indian states, being scientists, managers, doctors or lawyers or miss world, break taboo. Women in the southern state of Kerala formed a 620 km chain “in support of gender equality” to support two woman who entered Hindu temple in October 2018 with more than 100 police officers protecting them from the stone-throwing protesters. The Hindu temple, Sabarimala shrine, was historically closed to all women of “menstruating age” however in September 2018 the court agreed the existing “law” is not following the equality rule of law. Following the court decision two women entered the shrine and that was not supported by local chief minister. The “women’s wall”, organised and supported by the left-wing coalition government, was formed by around five million women from various parts of Kerala on the distance of Kasaragod to Thiruvanthapuram.
Despite of officially disregarded but still respected cast system Indian women are becoming more self-confident, self-aware and successful. Indian history was shaped by Hindu goddesses, women politicians and also a woman boxer – the world and Olympic winner. All past actions give hope and encourage next generations of girls to become powerful and feminist Indian leaders.