The status of India's ancient women - 02

Ancient Indian woman.

Since ancient time the  Indian women have undergone many changes with respect to their role and status in the Indian society. Though their position  in the present Indian society is far  better off, the gender discrimination is very much here. For centuries, Indian women have traveled a rugged road ridden with all kinds of impediments and countless women through intelligence and talents have  proved that that they are no way a step inferior to men. Given a right chance, they  can prove that they can out-smart men in many fields. 

Given below are some facts about Indian women and their long gradual upward journey in a conservative society like India.   

Some facts of Indian women:

The wrong one!! Indian swayamwara - choosing the partner. .

01. The birth of a girl in the ancient family of India  was a good news  and not a curse as it was in the medieval  period. Through out early Vedic period, women enjoyed equal status in various aspects of family life. Decision making in the family, choosing of life partner, education, etc., were some of the things enjoyed by the women. During this period, there was no child marriage and polygamy was not practiced.

 02. In the post Vedic period, the status of women declined gradually. The reasons are:  Imposition of Brahmanical austerities on the entire society,  tough  restrictions imposed by the caste system and the joint family system. Consequently, they had no access to education, confined to within the four walls of the house. Child marriages were allowed. So was polygamy. There was no such a thing called widow's remarriage. ‘Sati’ became increasingly prevalent, purdah system came into vogue.
Unfortunate girl with her old

coot and the young girl.

03. The status of women improved a little during the Buddhist period woman's position improved to  some extend. Some of the rigidity and restrictions imposed by the caste system  saw some relaxation and  Buddha emphasized on women's equality and he tried to improve the cultural, educational and religious statuses of women. Rulers such as Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Sri Harsha and others,  worked hard to improve the freedom and status of women, applying Buddha's  philosophy.
polygamy, India

04. Women were allowed  to become “Sanyasis”following   Buddhist monastic-life. The Bhikshuni Sangha provided them an opportunity to engage in public life -  cultural activities and social service.

05. Not  withstanding all these obstacles, restrictions and taboo, many  bold women became prominent in the realms  of politics, literature, education and religion. Notable among them were  
Razia Sultana, Slave DynastyRazia Sultana (1205-1240) .

Above image: Razia Sultana (1205-1240) was the daughter of Iltutmish and the most deserving contender to the throne of Delhi after the death of Iltutmish.. 

Razia Sultana, only  woman ruler   ever ruled Delhi and the Gond queen Durgavati who  ruled for fifteen years before losing her life in a battle with Mughal  emperor Akbar's general Asaf Khan in 1564.  
06. Other worthy examples are  Chand Bibi  who defended  Ahmednagar  against the powerful Mughal  forces of Akbar in the 1590s, Akbar's only Hindu wife Herr Kunwari (mother of  Mogul Jahangir) who enjoyed full freedom  and had successfully run a financial empire during her period,  Jehangir's wife Nur Jehan  who was a power behind her husband, the  Mughal princesses  Jahanara and Zebunnissa were well-known poets and also influenced the ruling powers and Emperor 
Shivaji and mother Jijabai.

Shivaji's  mother, Jijabai, who was a queen regent and  a source of inspiration to Shivaji.

Abolition of Sati. Gov. Gen. Bentinck

07. The practice of Sati - self immolation by a widow on husbands funeral pyre and Jauhar - the practice of voluntary immolation by wives and daughters of defeated warriors, in order to avoid capture and consequent molestation by the enemy became defunct long long ago. Abolition of Sati  was effected under Governor-General
William Cavendish-Bentinck in 1829

rajaram Mohanroy.

08. The Bhakti movements  saw the gradual rise of women's position in the society. Mirabai, a female saint-poet, was quite popular in the north and later some bakthi sects gave importance to social justice and equality between men and women. Guru Nanak, the first Guru of Sikhs, preached equality between men and women.

09. The practice of  Purdah among some Muslim communities of India requiring women to cover themselves in front of males for the purpose of modesty is not very much prevalent in India now as more Indian Muslim women go to work in MNCs, especially in IT companies. Purdah system does exist in some small towns and cities among the conservative Muslim  communities.

10. Devadasi -  The temple dancing girl  is  still a  misunderstood religious practice. It was practiced in southern India, in which women were "married" to a deity or temple. Later the society showed them in bad light and the stigma, nowadays does not exist. Devadasis were the forerunners of Bhratanatyam, an important classical dance of India that was popularized by Rukmani Arundale
(1904 – 1986), a great exponent of Bharata Natyayam and a revivalist in the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam from its original 'sadhir' style, prevalent among the temple dancers.

11. During the British Raj, Many reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Jyotirao Phule fought for the betterment of women.

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's efforts  led to the passing of Widow Remarriage Act of 1856.  

12. An interesting aspect is, the wives of Christian evangelists contributed their mite to educate the Indian women during the colonial period. Martha Mault née Mead and her daughter Eliza Caldwell née Mault  were pioneers in the training of girls in south India

13.  Raja Rammohan Roy's efforts led to the abolition of Sati under Governor-General William Cavendish-Bentinck in 1829. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's  political battle led to the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856. Many women reformers such as Pandita Ramabai also helped the cause of women.

14. Kittur Chennamma, queen of the princely state Kittur in Karnataka, revolted against the British in response to the Doctrine of lapse. Abbakka Rani, valiantly fought against the  Portuguese in the 16th century. Rani Velu Nachiyar (1730-1789?), was an 18th century Indian queen from Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu, S. India  and she successfully got back her kingdom from the British after defeating  them. Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi, a victim of Doctrine of Lapse, led the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British.  So was Begum Hazrat Mahal, the co-ruler of Awadh, who led the revolt of 1857. She refused deals with the British and later retreated to Nepal. The Begums of Bhopal were also considered notable female rulers during this period. They did not observe purdah and were trained in martial arts and administration of the kingdom.

The present day Indian women have to go a long way to enjoy  full freedom on par with men.