Table of Index

INTRODUCTION...............................................................................................................................2 CHAPTER – 2.....................................................................................................................................3 CHAPTER – 3.....................................................................................................................................5 CHAPTER – 4.....................................................................................................................................8 POSITION OF WOMEN AFTER VEDIC AGE..............................................................................8 CHAPTER – 5 ..................................................................................................................................10 CHAPTER – 6...................................................................................................................................11 CHAPTER – 7...................................................................................................................................14 CHAPTER – 8...................................................................................................................................18 CONCLUSION..................................................................................................................................18


The worth of a civilization can be judged by the place given to women in the society. One of several factors that justify the greatness of India's ancient culture is the honourable place granted to women.1 Manu, the great law-giver, said long ago, 'where women are honoured there reside the gods'.2 It is the common belief that Indian women have constantly had to fight for their identities as separate individuals. They have had to struggle to break the image of a subservient soul. They have been oppressed if they tried to challenge the widely held opine of a male dominated community. But this is not a right view, the position of a woman in ancient India was almost equivalent to that of a man and she was looked upon as one possessing a lot of power.3 Unfortunately, this position started to deteriorate over a period of time due to commonly held superstitions, the upcoming Varna system

and prevalent Brahmin opinion, and a host of

other reasons. The position of women deteriorated over the ages and women came to be looked upon as things and properties, they had to face several hardships and were expected to treat their husbands as Gods. In medieval India serious practices and evils came to be forced on women such as sati, jauhar, etc. After that the position of women could never completely be redeemed and although today Indian women have learnt to stand independently of men, make their own choices, enforce their rights, etc. one cannot say that women are treated with the respect that they were treated with in the early Vedic period.

1 2, last visited on 23/03/2010. Katherine K. Young, “Women and Hinduism,” Arvind Sharma (ed.), WOMEN IN INDIAN RELIGIONS, 1st ed. 2002, p. 6. 3 Ibid. 4 Supra n.2.



During the Vedic Age the society was more or less a patrilineal society. But despite a degree of male dominance, men and women complemented each other and the life during the Rig Vedic period was seen positively. The birth of daughters was not desired and people prayed for abundance of sons, but once girls were born they were not treated with disrespect and were not looked upon with contempt and disregard. They were treated with respect and kindness. Their education was not neglected; some of the women became seers eg. Visvavara, Ghosha and Apala.5 Some even composed Vedic hymns eg. Lopamidra6. This is important because it confirms the fact that women were allowed to take part in various rituals. If women could compose hymns then they must have also recited them. Family was the focal point in the Rig Vedic period. There was complementarity between men and women in that period of time. This is represented by the fact that young women met potential suitors at festivals and gatherings and only later sought the permission of their parents to marry the spouse of their choice. Women were never secluded and were allowed to attend such gatherings and functions.7 They loved to display their skills in dancing and singing to the accompaniment of lutes and cymbals.8 Dancing was never looked down upon as a degrading means of entertainment at that time. Complementarity is also represented by the term “Dampati” which signified the master of the house9 and the couple10. Women were given in marriage when they attained puberty. Some kingdoms in ancient India had a tradition of “Nagarvadhu.”11 Women competed to win the coveted title of Nagarvadhu. Amarpali is the most famous example of Nagarvadhu.12

5 6

R.C. Majumdar ,AN ADVANCED HISTORY OF INDIA , 4th ed. 1978, 20th imp. 2007, p.30. Supra n.2. 7 Ibid. 8 Supra n.6, p. 31. 9 Supra n.6, p.30. 10 Supra n.7, p. 5. 11 Bride of the city. 12, last accessed on 23/3/2010.


4 Kanyadaan was performed by the father and it was considered to be the greatest sacrifice that a father could give.13 It is a probability that due to the concept of Kanyadaan, girl children were not desired. The presence of the couple at home was a prerequisite for the deities to receive offerings there. Even the God’s acknowledged this worldly orientation and the importance of the woman’s role as a wife and a mother. The God’s infact would receive offerings only in those homes where a wife was present as she was considered ‘half the ritual.’ But women were never looked at as independent persons in the eyes of the law and they had to rely on the males for support, i.e., a woman was dependent on her father in her childhood, on her husband as a wife and on her son in old age.14 Widow burning or sati does not seem to have been prevalent.15 The position of women is also reflected in the religious beliefs of the society. The Pantheon in the Rig-Veda was mostly male; there were only a few female Goddesses who represented the female roles of mother, sister, daughter and wife. For example Prithvi, mother Earth, etc.16 Overall the status of women in this period was very respectable even in the presence of male dominance. Women had freedom, education, and a very high status making this period a golden age for them. Never again would women enjoy this kind of respect in a male dominated society.

13 14

Supra n.7, p. 7. Supra n.6, p. 30. 15 Supra n.6, p.31. 16 Supra n.7, p. 5.



TRANSITION FROM EARLY VEDIC AGE TO LATER VEDIC AGE: The position of women in this period gradually started to deteriorate from one of respect to one of insignificance. There were several reasons for this. The most important reasons were that the varna17 system had come about, migrations were occurring towards the east, the eventual state formation in the Ganga Valley, all had their effects on the status of elite women, i.e., the women belonging to the three castes of the Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas as they were ruled by the Stridharma which meant duties of a woman. There was a change in the rituals due to the complexities arising out of the division of rituals into household (grahya) and public rituals, thus the women were restricted to performing the household rituals. Ritual specialisation became the preserve of Brahmin male priests and participation of women in rituals became more and more restricted. Education was expanded and was taught at special forest schools which were less accessible to the girls. Families had a tendency to keep them at home and they generally taught them only what was essential for the performance of domestic mantras and rituals. Women rarely officiated at the public rituals, although it was essential for them to be present besides their husbands as patni. She was always seated by the householder’s fire and this proved the link between her realm of home and the domestic fire. Yet women were viewed as objects of great power when it came to rituals in spite of their minor role. This was because the wife injected her power of sexuality and fertility into the ritual in order to provide energy for progeny, cattle, crops and rain. Some women did defy the general ideas of the society by becoming brahmavadinis


studied the Vedas. It is presumed that most of these brahmavadinis were the daughters of teachers in forest schools. A few women were also known to be intellectually inquisitive.

Varna system was a caste system which followed the following hierarchy, Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra 18 Brahmavadinis implies those who have the rite of initiation into Vedic learning.


6 The Upanishads provide various examples of such women. For example Gargi’s challenge to Yajnavalkya in a philosophical debate is an indication of her learning. The religious beliefs of the society also underwent change to the extent of the addition of more goddesses to their deities. But the basic principle of non-independence of Goddesses remained present. For example the concept of wife-deity emerged in the late Vedic period. Names such as Varunni, Indrani, etc came from the names of prominent male gods. Although, later Sri designated an independent female entity, which held the key to success for the Kings and brought them fertility, riches, health, beauty and auspiciousness to the empire, Sri was subsequently linked to Laksmi, the personification of wealth and prosperity. The connection of women’s power of tapas19, royal power, rain and agriculture is found in many subsequent texts such as the Tamil (Jain) epic Cilappatikaram.20 THE LATER VEDIC AGE: The position of women during this time deteriorated completely. This is evident from the texts written by men in that period eg. Sutras, early Puranas etc. Manusmrati says 'na stri swatantryam arhati' and this means that all Indian women lack freedom to do anything.

Their role changed in the Vedic rituals, their body was described to be a vessel for male seeds, and they were married off even before they attained puberty. Whereas once sons and daughters were seen in equal light, in this period sons were not only preferred, daughters came to be seen as a source of liability due to dowry and was viewed as a poor investment in her bridal house. Daughters were seen as a source of misery. Women could not go to the tribal council or assembly; neither could they take an inheritance. Married women of the upper class had to suffer the presence of rival wives.22 Women lacked education because the education system had become inaccessible for them. They were thus considered as illiterate and avidya23. This led to their linking with the lower castes, i.e., the Sudras. It was an irony that the Brahmins considered themselves superior to others and the highest class but the Brahmin women were linked to Sudras and were inferior in learning. To resolve this inherent contradiction the high status of the Brahman women was defined by their chastity and purity. Whenever a woman’s husband died it was blamed on her bad karma. She then had two options either to go through life as a Vaidhawa, a widow; or
19 20

Tapas implies chastity Kumkum Roy ,Women in early Indian Societies,1st ed. 1999, Manohar, New Delhi, page 73 21 Ibid 22 Ibid. 23 Avidya impies one without knowledge.


7 she could commit sati by burning herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.24 A widow had to wear white, to curb her impulses and emotions, to sleep on a mat of grass. A widow who slept on a cot was actually charged with sending her husband to hell.25 The Smriti commentaries direct that the wife should never be given independence and she should be secluded and her mind should be applied only to the domestic rituals so that she does not have the time to think of other men.26 Although the first half of the classical age was characterised by a decline in the status of women the second half showed improvement. The Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita contain passages with a more inclusive spirit of women and these were redacted during this time. Goddesses and epic heroines provided models for human wives. From the classical period two of the divine models for the good wife have been Sita, Sati Parvati, Laksmi, Savitri, Damayanti, Draupadi etc. Wife-Goddesses represented an ascetic sexuality, i.e., sexuality controlled by their husbands. The structure of a woman’s life cycle was visually marked by the presence or absence of a tilak. The presence or absence of this dot signified auspiciousness or inauspiciousness respectively. The same was applied for her other accessories, eg. Bangles, toe-rings, etc. these ornaments symbolised the dynamics of the union and separation in the life of a woman.27 The above mentioned superstitions and unscientific ideologies of society founded the basis for determining the status of women in the times to come.


Neera desia and Usha Thakkar, Women in Indian society, 1st ed. 2003, and National book trust India, New Delhi, page num. 118 25 Vrinda Nabar ,CASTE AS WOMAN,1st ed. 1995, p. 144. 26 R.C. Majumdar, (ed.), THE HISTORY AND CULTURE OF THE INDIAN PEOPLE, Vol.1, 5th ed. 1988, p. 481. 27 Supra n. 7, p. 10.



INDIA IN EARLY MAGADHAN EPOCH Women were treated differently in the South and the Northern region of India. Women in the south were granted certain privileges not available to their contemporaries in the south. For e.g. the wife in the south was allowed to eat in the company of her husband and restriction on the marriages of cognates were not that strict in the south as they were in the north. The picture of women as given in the Greek accounts, Buddhist discourses or epic tales does not always agree with that portrayed in the formal codes of law. The women of the DharmaSutras were helpless beings who were always dependent on their male relations and were classed with properties of minors or sealed deposits. The women known to Alexander’s contemporaries took the weapons of their relatives who had died in war and fought side by side with the men against the enemy of their country. Education was not denied to women, some of whom were widely known for their knowledge and learning. Buddhist texts refer to the princesses who composed poetry, preserved in the Their-Gatha.28 In several epic stories like the Mahabharata one finds references to the concept of Swayamwara or choice of a husband by the bride herself. Seclusion of women was practiced in certain families whereas there were instances where women laid aside their veils and came out of the seclusion of their house.29 WOMEN IN THE MAURYA-SCYTHIAN ERA Greek writers and epigraphs provide the details on the status of women in this period. Some women pursued philosophy and lived a life of continence. Married women although, were denied the privilege of sharing with their husbands, the knowledge of the sacred traditions. Polygamy was practiced by King’s and noblemen. The care of the King’s person was entrusted to women. Ashoka refers to women as particularly given to the performance of many trivial and worthless ceremonies. The wife continued to take a prominent share in the

28 29

Psalms of the Sisters. R.C. Majumdar, (ed.), THE HISTORY AND CULTURE OF THE INDIAN PEOPLE, Vol.1, 5th ed. 1988, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. page 72.


9 religious activities by the side of her husband is clear from the records of the benefactions of Karuvaki, the second queen of Ashoka. 30 WOMEN IN THE GUPTA PERIOD Women of the upper classes in certain areas took a prominent share in administration. The queen-consort occupied an important position in this era. In certain provinces, e.g. Kanarese, women acted as provincial governors and heads of villages. The seclusion of women was not generally observed in these areas. Some of the royal ladies in Deccan were not only skilled at dancing but also in the display of arts in public. Absolute seclusion of women was unknown in certain families. Girls of the upper class families received a liberal education and took keen interest in the cultural activities of the age. The practise of Swayamvara was still in use. Unfortunately the picture was not all that rosy, polygamy was widely prevalent, and the custom of burning widows at the funeral pyre of their husbands was coming into general use.31

30 31

Supra n.6, pp.125, 126. Supra n.6, pp. 90,189.



1) The introduction of a non- Aryan wife into the Aryan household is the key to the general deterioration of the position of women. The non- Aryan wife with her ignorance of Sanskrit language and Hindu religion could not enjoy the same privileges as her Aryan consort. Very often the non- Aryan wife was the favourite one of her husband, who may have associated her with his religious sacrifices in preference to his better educated but less loved Aryan co-wife. This must have naturally led to grave mistakes and anomalies in the performance of the ritual which must have shocked orthodox priests. Their first remedy may have been to declare the non- Aryan wife to be unfit for association with her husband in religious rituals. But the Kings who were madly in love with these non-Aryan wives would have disobeyed this order. Thus the situation could have been retrieved only when all women were banned from the performance of rituals.32 2) The other factor was the growing complexity of the Vedic rituals. 33Also the division of the rituals into Srauta and Grahya restricting the women in their knowledge of the Vedas.34 3) The Sahityas pointed out that the man came into the world with a three fold debt; the most important one of these was the debt to the manes which could be liquidated only by the birth of a son. Thus if the girl was to marry the boy early, then she would be able to provide him with a son sooner. Hence the concept of child marriage started.35 4) As child marriage became accepted, the need to educate the girls was not felt as they were getting married early any way. Thus when the girl got no education and was married early she was unable to command respect from her husband.36

32 33

Kumkum Roy ,WOMEN IN EARLY INDIAN SOCIETIES,1st ed. 1999, p. 56. Ibid. 34 Supra n.7, p.8. 35 Supra n.32, p. 59. 36 Supra n.32, p.61.



In early Medieval India women were accorded a high place in society. In a Hindu family she was regarded as the mistress of the house and no religious ceremony could be performed without her association. There was provision for their education and the period has said to have produced a number of highly learned women. The wife of Mandan Mishra is said to have defeated Shankaracharya in a philosophical discussion. Awantisundari, the wife of Rajshekhar had prepared a lexicon containing words of Prakrit and she had given her own compositions to illustrate the usage of those words. Mirabai was a devotee of high order and has left behind a collection of songs, vibrant with sentiments of personal devotion of Krishna. Contemporary saints flocked around her to hear her talk. However, inferiority of women to men is signified by a lot of things. In royal and Baronial families, polygamy was the rule so that women came to be regarded as a means of sexual satisfaction. After the coming of the Turks, the size of the harems began to increase and the social status of women became lower still.37. As polygamy was a norm for these invaders they picked up any woman they wanted and kept her in their "harems". In order to protect themselves Indian women started using the 'Purdah', (a veil), which covered the entire body. Especially in Northern India, the practice of keeping women in seclusion and asking them to veil their faces in the presence of outsiders became widespread among the upper class women. The practice of secluding women from the vulgar gaze was practiced among the upper class Hindus, and was also in vogue in Iran, Greece, etc. The Arabs and the Turks adopted this custom and brought it to India with them. Due to their example, it became widespread in India, particularly in north India. The growth of purdah has been attributed to the fear of the Hindu women being captured by invaders. In an age of violence, women were liable to be treated as prizes of war. Perhaps, the most important factor for the growth of purdah was social- it became a symbol of the higher classes in society, and all those who wanted to be considered respectable tried to copy it. Also, religious justification was found for it. Whatever the reason, it affected women adversely, and made them even more dependent on men.38 Because of this their freedom was also affected. They were not allowed
37 38

A.B. Pandey ,EARLY MEDIEVAL INDIA,2nd ed. 1960, 1st rep. 1993, p. 233. Satish Chandra, MEDIEVAL INDIA FROM SUTANAT TO THE MUGHALS,2nd ed. 1999, p.173.


12 to move freely and this lead to the further deterioration of their status. These problems related with women resulted in a changed mindset of people. The deterioration that had started in the later Vedic period became worse. Parents began to consider a girl as a source of misery and a burden, which had to be shielded from the eyes of intruders and needed extra care, whereas, a male child was treated with love and kindness. Nonetheless women were accorded an honourable place in society. In a Hindu family she was regarded as the mistress of the house and no religious ceremony was performed without her association. There was provision for their education and the period has produced a number of highly learned women. In the Mughal period also Female education of some sort existed and the daughters of the imperial household were given tuitions in their houses. Some of the ladies so instructed distinguished themselves in the sphere of literature. For e.g. Babur’s daughter, Gulbadan Begum was the authoress of the Humayunnamah. Nur Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal, Jahanara Begum, etc were extremely educated ladies; they were well read in Persian and Arabic. Zeb-un-Nisa was an expert in Calligraphy and had a rich library.39 Roshanara set up a literary atelier (bait-ul-ulam) at Delhi to which Aurangzeb had banished her. Some women played an active part in politics as rulers themselves. For e.g. Rani Durgawati of Gondwana and Chand Bibi of Ahmednagar, by exercising power from their husbands, Nur Jahan. Razia Sultan became the only woman monarch who had ever ruled Delhi.40 Women played an important role as they provided moral and cultural tone to society from behind the curtains. They influenced royal taste and patronage to artists, singers, etc.41 but, as mentioned earlier, the position of women in this period had deteriorated to an extent. It became the starting point of such practices that subjugated women. This can be seen from various examples. In royal families, polygamy was the rule so that women were merely as a means of sexual satisfaction. Then again the co-wives were often jealous of each other and there were occasions when they had to compromise there self respect.42All this gave rise to some new practices such as Child Marriage, Sati, and Jauhar.43 The ladies that had been collected together merely to satisfy the lower appetites of man had to give evidence of their chastity and devotion by burning themselves alive on the funeral pyre of their common dead
39 40

Supra n.6,p. 572. Supra n.13. 41 Supra n.40, p.371. 42 Supra n.40, p. 324. 43, last accessed on 23/05/2010.


13 husband. Widows had no right to remarry and had to live like sanyasins. They lived in seclusion and the purdah system became very elaborate, both for the Hindus and the Muslims. This was due to the sense of insecurity of the period caused by the invasions of foreigners such as the Mongols.



Jauhar: The voluntary death of the royal womenfolk of Rajputs and Rajput men in order to avoid capture and dishonor at the hands of enemy. The term is extended to describe the occasional practice of mass suicide carried out in medieval times by Rajput women and men. Mass self-immolation by women was called Jauhar, and riding out and fighting till their last breath by men was called saka. The practice is often described in terms of the women and children alone, but should correctly be understood as including the death of the men on the battlefield. Child Marriage: It was a norm in medieval India. Girls were married off at the age of 810. They were not allowed access to education and were treated as the material being. The plight of women can be imagined by one of the Shloka of Tulsidas where he writes "Dhol, gawar, shudra, pashu, nari, ye sab tadan ke adhikari". Meaning that animals, illiterates, lower castes and women should be subjected to beating. Thus, women were compared with animals and were married off at an early age. The child marriage along with it brought some more problems such as increased birth rate, poor health of women due to repeated child bearing and high mortality rate of women and children. Restriction on Widow Remarriage: The condition of widows in medieval India was very bad. They were not treated as human beings and were subjected to a lot of restrictions. They were supposed to live pious life after their husband died and were not allowed entry in any celebration. Their presence in any good work was considered to be a bad omen. Sometimes heads of widows were also shaved down. They were not allowed to remarry. Any woman remarrying was looked down by the society. This cruelty on widows was one of the main reasons for the large number of women committing Sati. In medieval India living as a Hindu widow was a sort of a curse. Purdah System: The veil or the 'Purdah' system was widely prevalent in medieval Indian society. It was used to protect the women folk from the eyes of foreign rulers who invaded India in medieval period. But this system curtailed the freedom of women.


15 Education for girls: The girls of medieval India and especially Hindu society were not given formal education. They were given education related to household chores. But a famous Indian philosopher 'Vatsyayana' wrote that women were supposed to be perfect in sixty four arts which included cooking, spinning, grinding, knowledge of medicine, recitation and many more. As compared to Hindu society other societies such as Buddhism, Jainism and Christians were a bit lenient. Women in those societies enjoyed far more freedom. They had easy access to education and were more liberal in their approach. According to these religions gender was not the issue in attaining salvation. Any person whether a man or a woman is entitled to get the grace of god. During the time of king Ashoka women took part in religious preaching. According to Hiuen Tsang, the famous traveller of that time, Rajyashri, the sister of Harshavardhana was a distinguished scholar of her time. Another such example is the daughter of king Ashoka, Sanghmitra. She along with her brother Mahendra went to Sri Lanka to preach Buddhism. The status of women in Southern India was better than the North India. While in Northern India there were not many women administrators, in Southern India we can find some names that made women of that time proud. Priyaketaladevi, queen of Chalukya Vikramaditya ruled three villages. Another woman named Jakkiabbe used to rule seventy villages. In South India women had representation in each and every field. Domingo Paes, famous Portuguese traveller testifies to it. He has written in his account that in Vijaynagar kingdom women were present in each and every field. He says that women could wrestle, blow trumpet and handle sword with equal perfection. Nuniz, another famous traveller to the South also agrees to it and says that women were employed in writing accounts of expenses, recording the affairs of kingdom, which shows that they were educated. There is no evidence of any public school in northern India but according to famous historian Ibn Batuta there were 13 schools for girls and 24 for boys in Honavar. There was one major evil present in South India of medieval time. It was the custom of Devadasis. Devadasis: It was a custom prevalent in Southern India. In this system girls were dedicated to temples in the name of gods and goddesses. The girls were then onwards known as 'Devadasis' meaning servant of god. These Devadasis were supposed to live the life of celibacy. All the requirements of Devadasis were fulfilled by the grants given to

16 the temples. In temple they used to spend their time in worship of god and by singing and dancing for the god. Some kings used to invite temple dancers to perform at their court for the pleasure of courtiers and thus some Devadasis converted to Rajadasis (palace dancers) prevalent in some tribes of South India like Yellamma cult44. The culture of the women varied according to the classes to which they belonged. The ordinary village women were confined to their domestic duties, whereas a few women belonging to the upper caste cultivated arts and sciences. For eg. Rupamati and Padmavati were very learned and educated women of this period. The concepts of child marriage and sati were widely prevalent among certain classes. According to Ibn Batuta a permit had to be sought from the Sultan of Delhi before the burning of a widow.45 Akbar tried to regulate social usages in such a way as to make the consent of both the bride and the bridegroom, and the permission of the parents, necessary for a marriage contract. He also sought to check marriage before puberty by either of the party, marriages between near relatives, acceptance of high dowries, and polygamy. But his attempts were in vain as they were never really practiced. 46 Likewise, there was little impact on Mughal attempt to regulate sati because all important Rajput rajas continued to practise it. Thus when Maharaja Man Singh died, four ranis committed sati along with him, and another five at another place.47 A sati came to be seen as possessing an immeasurable degree of moral merit. She could absolve her husband of the most heinous of sins, including the killing of a Brahmin. She was also equipped with the moral power to purify three families: those of her mother, her father and her husband. 48 The woman who sacrifices herself suffers in proportion to the sins she has committed in her past lives, sins that are the immediate cause of her widowhood in this life. According to the dharma treatises, a faithful spouse ought to accompany her husband in his earthly existence and precede him in death. She is assumed to have failed in her “wifely duty” or seriously violated her “conjugal vow” because of which her husband had to suffer death. The gravity of her fault is inversely proportional to her age: the younger the widow, the greater the guilt. An additional yardstick is provided by the intensity of her suffering at the time of her ordeal, and to be sure, her death.49
44 45

Supra n.45. Supra n.40, p. 371. 46 Supra n.6, p. 561. 47 Supra n.40, p. 372. 48 Supra n.27,p. 154. 49 Catherine Weinberg-Thomas, WIDOW BURINING IN INDIA-ASHES OF IMMORTALITY,1st ed. 2000, p.


17 Dowry system and Kanyadaan had become a necessity by this time. The bride groom considered the whole process of marriage as a sale. Earlier even the father of the bride received money from the groom but that system stopped all together.50 Now the prestige of the father of the bride was determined by the amount of dowry given by him to the groom. In certain cases when Zamindars had to be paid rent and the poverty stricken farmers had no money to pay the Zamindaar they would give up their daughter to be married off to the Zamindaar or the Zamindaar’s son. The Maratha society however did not encourage the acceptance of dowries. The Peshwas exercised an effective control over the state of affairs in Maharashtra and they were opposed to forcible marriages, but informal marriages were occasionally permitted by them if the motives of the contracting parties were correct. Widow-remarriage was prevalent among the non-Brahmanas of Maharashtra, Jats of the Punjab and the Jumna Valley. In the places mentioned above polyandry was not known. 51For women belonging to the common fold, life was hard. There are many paintings depicting women working in building activities along with infants. Working women received wages that were lower than those given to men.52 The plight of women in medieval India and at the starting of modern India can be summed up in the words of great poet Rabindranath Tagore: "O Lord Why have you not given woman the right to conquer her destiny? Why does she have to wait head bowed, by the roadside, waiting with tired patience, hoping for a miracle in the morrow?"53

50 51

Ranjana Sheel, THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF DOWRY, 1st ed. 1999, p. 41. Supra n.6, p. 561. 52 Supra n.27, p. 154. 53 Supra n.46.



Women were always the weaker sex and men are always thought to be better than women in all regards. This was the belief in all ages including the Rig Vedic period. The analysis of the researcher is that the gradual deterioration of the position of women in India occurred due to the superstitions and other ill-founded beliefs of the societies which developed into norms which the women had to follow. For e.g. in the Ramayana when Rama doubts the dignity of Sita, she undertakes the test of fire, i.e., to prove her purity. She asks the Fire God to burn her if she burn she is impure and if not then pure. Sita comes out of the fire unhurt thereby successfully proving to Ram her purity. Similarly, it is the researcher’s opinion that, as a husband’s death was attributed to the karma and faults of the wife, she had to take the Fire test and if she burned then her husband’s death was her fault and if she came out unhurt then she was free from the sin of killing her husband. This fire test was sati. Obviously the wife died whenever she committed Sati and this strengthened the widely held belief that the wife was responsible for the death of her husband. Such unscientific beliefs led to massive deterioration in the status of women. What is most ironic is the stance of Manu. According to him only where the woman was respected that could be called the abode of God. But on the other hand he said that women should not be allowed to become priests, etc. There only duty was to serve their husbands. This made the woman a Goddess and a slave at once. Soon more and more writers started taking the stance that women should be restricted, they needed to be protected. These extra duties towards women, especially those of the father, further led to the birth of a girl child to be a day of remorse and mourning. Such circumstances finally led to women being confined in their houses beneath the purdah, being subject to marriage when their contemporaries in other parts of the world were studying and widening their knowledge. Being a woman became a sin, much like being a Shudra. And in the medieval period, women belonged to no other place except in the feet of their husbands. In modern India the situation continued to deteriorate but today women are in a much better position. Although one cannot deny stray instances of dowry and child marriage, especially in villages. The position of women has been redeemed to an extent and hopefully women will be considered equal to men in all ways.



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