GENDER EQUALITY IN ANCIENT INDIA
Author: Munira Muzaffar Bharmal, pursuing B.B.A.,LL.B. from United World School of Law
This article basically deals with the status of women in contrast with what that was of men. Was gender equality a persistent factor in ancient India? Were the people of ancient India broader minded in giving freedom to their female contemporizes? Did the orthodox thinking of people of ancient India haunt the females in that era? Is the discrimination that exist in Modern India was sown long back in Ancient India? Did female feticide exist in that era? Were females given as par rights that of men in inheriting their ancestral properties? Was the evil of dowry existed in ancient India? This article will try to get a detailed view of answer to these questions. In the modern India, many crimes are committed against women which will be presented via statistics. Does women in ancient India was also so vulnerable against crime?
This article gives a bird eye view of status, rights, and obligations of women in ancient India. Furthermore, it discusses the stance of women in ancient India in comparison to the status of males.Was there a period when women had the same status as men?This article will try to answer this question.It also compares the ground reality of gender equality in ancient India to that of modern India.
WOMEN'S STATUS IN ANCIENT INDIA
The ancient India is basically divided into two parts: Harappan civilization and period after coming of Aryans. History of Indus valley civilization indicates that women were given job of house nursing their off spring and were mainly responsible for household activities and they were immensely respected for their contribution but still the head family was a ‘MAN’ and their superiority was unquestionable . The historical and archeological evidences of Indus civilization generally depicts the status of women of higher class not that of classes which were considered to be lower because evidence states that then also existed varna system. The vedic period had many upnishads and scriptures composed like Mahabharat and Ramayan were practices like swamyar, practice of choosing your own bridegroom, education of women was as that of men, the right on ancestral property was same for men and women if she desires she can remain unmarried for her life time, monogamy was generally supported but polygamy and polyandrous were also practiced during that period of era. Generally, polygamy was practiced by the rulers to consolidate their power through alliances of marriage between Princess and Kings of Mahajanpadas.
In Arthashastra, women are mentioned as Avarodhan (Obstruction to man’s progress), Asuryapaschini (not to see the sun), Anishkashini (not to come out of the house. It can be safely stated after Indus Valley civilization somewhat the status of women declined. The female prostitution emerged as well. Widow Remarriage got banned. Women were not allowed to get educated. Although Gupta Period saw the emergence of power of Queens in Royal affairs but the status of women started to decline. Women of higher class started to veil themselves from so called ‘other men’. The roots of devdasi Pratha came from this period only were young girls were given to deity to serve them but that was a bamboo curtain to serve the purpose of prostitution in the temples. The period from later ancient period to early medieval period saw a drastic decline in status of women as the practice of sati, jauhar, Pardha system and many more started to become an essential part of our society due to political and social circumstances like invasion by Muslim rulers etc. Therefore , from the above facts and circumstances depicted here it clearly signifies that status of women saw a kind of gradual decline from Indus Valley Civilization to pre medieval era and social infrastructure and political circumstances were mainly responsible for such decline.
COMPARISON OF WOMEN'S AND MEN'S STATUS IN ANCIENT INDIA
In Indus Valley Civilization, men and women were considered to be equal but still the upper hand in the family was that of men. Women were educated, allowed to choose their better half, had equal property rights as that of men in ancestral property, right to remain unmarried, at that point of time as well dowry system also existed but that was for the betterment of the girl not for her in laws, the women had the task of nursing her off spring which was regarded as a task of higher respect. Men enjoyed a little more superiority that of women because they were the working part of family. The culture of satirical society was lead in Indus Valley Civilization as well but that was not intense. This intensity increased when society progressed from Indus valley civilization to Vedic period. Women's standing has gradually deteriorated. The Maryuan era saw the start of female prostitution and more evils that still persist in our society. Devdasi system saw a new inclination in the then society. On one hand women's status was deteriorating,but the power and their space of authority was getting wider day by day. Polygamy became a part of our society. The culture of dowry became as a source of income by the male members of the society to strengthen their family wealth.
Pardh system, Devdasi, sati, johar, ban on remarriage of widow started by the end of Vedic period and pre medieval period of India. Women from the aristocratic classes had access to education and other benefits, but the ordinary woman was still subjected to humiliation, hardship, and obstacles.Women were further stigmatised by Arthashastra because Kautilya limited women's autonomy and forbade them from leaving the house without their husbands' permission. The situation worsened throughout the Gupta period. They were mistreated by the Smritishastras, dedicating that a woman will be reliant on her father as a child, her husband as an adult, and her sob as an elderly person.In addition to child marriage and sati,prostitution and the decades system, became common. There are some bright spots in this gloomy scene.In Ancient Indian Literature, women play a significant role.There were many well-educated women in ancient India. There were two kinds of educated women: Brahmavadinis, or ladies who never married and learned the Vedas their entire lives, and Sadyodvahas, who studied the Vedas until they married.Female students learning the Vedas was mentioned by Panini.Female instructors were referred to as Upadhyaya or Upadhyayi by Katyana.Sanghamitra, Ashoka's daughter, was engaged to promote Buddhism. In Jain literature, Jayanti, a Kousambi princess who chose to remain a spinster in order to study religion and philosophy, is referenced.Buddhist nuns frequently penned hymns. Women excelled in music, painting, and other fine arts, as well as writing Sanskrit plays and poetry.
GENDER EQUALITY IN MODERN INDIA AS COMPARED TO THAT OF ANCIENT INDIA
In ancient India, women had a significant role in politics.Megasthenesalluded to the Pandya women in charge of the administration.Nayanika, the Satavahana queen, controlled the kingdom on behalf of her minor son. Pravabati, Chandragupta II's daughter, did the same on behalf of the Vakataka prince, who was a minor.Queens ruled in Kashmir, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh following the Gupta dynasty. Under the Chalukya King, Vikramaditya I, Princess Vijaybhattarika served as the province ruler.In the Kannada region, women had roles as provincial and local administrators.InModern India as well our Constitution grants equal rights to women . Although Muslim community still recognizes four marriages which needs to be eradicated from our society.
Women from the aristocratic classes had access to education and other benefits, while the common woman in ancient India faced humiliation, hardship, and obstacles.This is still the ground reality of India . We have examples like Prime Minister of India , Indira Gandhi renowned as Iron Lady of India , Kiran Bedi , First Lady IPS of India , Sushma Swaraj and the list goes on and on but on the other hand we have ladies like Shah Bano and Sharya Bano who almost had to fight for equal rights as that of a Hindu lady and even our SC Stated to have equal rights to Shah Bano our democratic government passed the bill reversing the effect of judgement of SC in first case for vote bank politics . This is the ground reality of status of women in India . Although in present scenario things have changed but they need to change a lot. Steps have been taken against evil practices by Government time to time but making laws is not the only solution to overcame these evils. We need to implement these laws efficiently and effectively . Both the terms are easy to state but difficult to practice in a society and especially in a society where these evil practices have penetrated deep in our DNA and social practices. We have progressed from 1947 TO 2018 but still there is a long way to go.
History has been full of instances were women has proved that they are no less then men. There have been many instances where women were administrator than that of men as Rani Laxmi Bai, the toughest fight given by a lady at First War of Independence, 1857, Kiran Bedi, First Lady IPS, revolutionsed Tihar Jail, Kalpana Chawla, the first women astronaut from India,Chhavi Rajawat ,is the first woman sarpanch in India with an MBA degree, Sita Sahu won 2 bronze medals at the 2011 Special Olympics in Athens at the young age of 15, Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu ,Skiing through the deserted and coldest regions in the world, mountaineer the first woman to reach the southern most tip of the word, the South Pole, all in 38 days. Indri Krishnamurthy Nooyi is the chairperson and CEO of the second largest food and beverage business in the world, Pepsi Co. Nooyi has been a regular in the world's most powerful women's lists and many more yet to come. Therefore, we do have gender equality in India but to certain sections of a society. We have come a long way and yet there is a long way to go