Did we move Backwards in Treatment of Women!Mar 08, 2019
Women during the Vedic period
The rich cultural heritage of India actually begins from the Vedas. During the Rig Vedic period, women in India enjoyed high status in the society. The position of a wife was honored and the position of a woman was acknowledged, especially during religious ceremonies. Women were also provided the opportunity to attain high intellectual and spiritual standards. During this period, there were women Rishis as well. Sati system and child marriage were not practiced. The Vedas highlight the respectable position of women in the ancient society. Economic rights of a daughter who resides forever with her parents are also included in the Rig Veda.
Women enjoyed Freedom:
Women had the freedom to take part in public activities during the Vedic period. They were not forced to observe "purdah." Women in the Vedic period also enjoyed the freedom to select their male partner through "Swayamvara." Widows were also free to remarry. Women were given equal rights as much as their husbands in family matters and were treated as "Ardhanginis."
Women's rights in matters related to marriage and family affairs:
During the Vedic periods, marriage was considered as a social and religious duty and the man and the woman were treated on equal levels. Women were also allowed be spinsters for life, even if they wanted to become rishis.
Child marriages were unknown, girls were given in marriage only after puberty that too after education. Women had the right to choose their life-partners and marriages were not forced on them
There were also live-in relationships or love marriages known as the "Gandharva vivaha." Most often, monogamy was followed, however, the wealthy and the rulers opted polygamy. Rig-Veda recognized the right of a spinster to inherit her father’s property. Sati was not in practice and dowry system prevailed as a symbol of good gesture, but it did not emerge as a social evil.
Occupational and Economic freedom:
Women were treated as equals in the matters of economics and occupation. They indulged in jobs like teaching, spinning and weaving clothes and they also helped their husbands in agriculture.
Rights to Property and Inheritance:
Married women had limited rights for inheritance and had no share in her father's property. But unmarried/spinsters was entitled to one-fourth share of patrimony received by her brothers.
Women in religious field:
A wife enjoyed full rights and participated actively in religious ceremonies alongside her husband. There was no restriction for women who wanted to read or study any sacred literature.
Women in Public Life:
Women usually occupied prominent status in social gatherings, however, they were denied entry into "Sabhas" where political decisions were taken and were also used for drinking, gambling and other purposes. Later in the Vedic period, women's participation in public meetings became increasingly less.
Thus, during the Vedic period women occupied an honorable position as they had rights and freedom in social, and religious fields. They were not treated as inferior or subordinate to men. But this eventually changed. Read below the decline in the status of women during prominent eras.
Women during the Epic period
Both Ramayana and Mahabharata have provided a respectable position for women, and they were called to be the root of Dharma. We also find references for prosperity, enjoyment, expression of courage, strong willpower and valor among women. In Ramayana, womanhood is glorified and it also idealizes womanhood as one of the most venerable aspects of our heritage.
Women during the period of Dharmashatras and Purans
During this era, the status of women declined gradually, undergoing a major change eventually. Girls were deprived of formal education and were regarded as second class citizens. Various restrictions including child marriage, Sati and purdah system became prevalent and practice of polygamy became common. Also, widow remarriage and education was prohibited. Women were also denied a share in property and were barred from being part of any religious ceremonies.
Women during Buddhist period
The status of women improved during this period but there were no significant changes. Restrictions imposed by the caste system were relaxed as Buddha preached equality. In this era, women regained their lost freedom and status in cultural, educational and religious fields owing to broadminded Buddhist philosophy.
Indian women today participate fully in all sectors. The Constitution of India also resorts special provisions to women and children. Women are guaranteed equality, no discrimination, equal opportunity, equal pay and dignity of women.
Women are a gift to society. Yes, women were and are still being mistreated in India and elsewhere in the world. They have suffered injustice in every aspect of the society. Today, women are fighting back and are demanding to be treated with respect. Social customs are once again developing to appreciate, honour and accord women to a respectful and rightful place in the society.