The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. With a decline in their status from the ancient to medieval times, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful. In modern India, women have held high offices in India including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Leader of the Opposition. Women’s rights are secured under the Constitution of India — mainly, equality, dignity, and freedom from discrimination; further, India has various statutes governing the rights of women.
Social legislations have not been very effective in India because of many reasons. One important reason is that most of the women are not fully aware of the measures adopted by the state for their upliftment and even if aware they do not use them because of the old social values that are still persisting. These traditions and values inhibit them to take any revolutionary steps. Legal or legislative sanctions alone cannot bring any substantial change in the downtrodden position of women unless there is a marked change in their attitude and consciousness of men and women both. In this regard, their illiteracy is one of the great hindrances. The literacy rate is lower for women compared to men: the literacy rate is 60.6% for females, while for males it is 81.3%. (Population aged 15 or older, data from 2015). Even literate women do not exercise their right of equality wherever it is required. The status of women has been raised in the eyes of law, but they are still far from equal to men in every sphere of life. In practice, they continue to suffer discrimination, harassment, humiliation and exploitation in and outside home.
Theoretically, women might have been given more freedom but in practice, they still suffer many hardships, inhuman dignities and unworthy treatment everywhere. Within the home, she is still not treated at par with her male counterpart. Barring a few urban educated families, a baby girl is never welcomed with as much éclat and happiness as a baby boy. In most Indian families, women do not own any property in their own names, and do not get a share of parental property. Due to weak enforcement of laws protecting them, women continue to have little access to land and property. In fact, some of the laws discriminate against women, when it comes to land and property rights.
Women’s representation in elected bodies, Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies is a source of huge disappointment. Women occupy just 66 seats in the 543 member Lok Sabha, which is a mere 12% and 12.8% in the Rajya Sabha. The scenario for women Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) across all state assemblies in India is even worse, with the national average being a pitiable 9%.
Contrary to common perception, a large percentage of women in India work. However, there are far fewer women than men in the paid workforce. In urban India, women participate in the workforce in impressive numbers. By and large, in the workplace women enjoy parity with their male counterparts in terms of wages and roles. In rural India in the agriculture and allied industrial sectors, females account for as much as 89.5% of the labour force.
Reports of crimes against women in India such as rape, dowry deaths, abduction and molestation increased by 26.7 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year as per government statistics. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) said there were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police in 2013 against 244,270 in 2012. Crimes included rape, kidnapping, honour killing, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation and cruelty by husbands and relatives. They also include crimes in which a woman was driven to suicide as a result of demands for a dowry from her husband or in-laws. The NCRB said the number of rapes in the country rose by 35.2 percent to 33,707 in 2013 - with Delhi reporting 1,441 rapes in 2013 – making it the city with the highest number of rapes and confirming its reputation as India's "rape capital". Police attribute the rise in reports to more women coming forward due to greater public awareness following the high profile gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in December 2012. It also forced the Indian parliament to enact stiffer penalties for crimes against women, including death for repeat rape offenders, criminalising stalking and making acid attacks and human trafficking specific offences. Women's rights groups say the figures are still gross under-estimates of the reality on the ground – women are often too scared to come forward to report rapes or domestic violence for fear their families and communities will shun them. Each year at least 5,000 women in India die dowry-related deaths, and at least a dozen die each day in 'kitchen fires' thought to be intentional. The term for this is "bride burning" and is criticized within India itself. Amongst the urban educated, such dowry abuse has reduced considerably.
Domestic violence in India is endemic. Around 70% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence was legally addressed in the 1980s when the 1983 Criminal Law Act introduced Section 498A "Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty". The National Crime Records Bureau reveal that a crime against a woman is committed every three minutes, a woman is raped every 29 minutes, a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes, and one case of cruelty committed by either the husband or relative of the husband occurs every nine minutes. This occurs despite the fact that women in India are legally protected from domestic abuse under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. In India, domestic violence toward women is considered as any type of abuse that can be considered a threat; it can also be physical, psychological, or sexual abuse to any current or former partner. Domestic violence is not handled as a crime or complaint; it is seen more as a private or family matter. In determining the category of a complaint, it is based on caste, class, religious bias and race which also determine whether action is to be taken or not. Many studies have reported about the prevalence of the violence and have taken a criminal-justice approach, but most women refuse to report it. These women are guaranteed constitutional justice, dignity and equality but continue to refuse based on their sociocultural contexts. As the women refuse to speak of the violence and find help, they are also not receiving the proper treatment.
In India, the male-female sex ratio is skewed dramatically in favour of males, the chief reason being the high number of females who die before reaching adulthood. Many experts suggest the higher number of males in India can be attributed to female infanticides and sex-selective abortions. Female infanticide (killing of girl infants) is still prevalent in some rural areas. Sometimes this is infanticide by neglect, for example families may not spend money on critical medicines or withhold care from a sick girl. Continuing abuse of the dowry tradition has been one of the main reasons for sex-selective abortions and female infanticides in India. Female feticide, the selective abortion/elimination of the female child, done deliberately by the mother, after the detection of the child’s gender through medical tests, is a disturbing trend in India. This is usually done under familial pressure from the husband or the in-laws or even the woman’s parents. Sadly, a majority of female feticide cases involve the enthusiastic participation of women, both old and young. To add fuel to the fire, the unethical sex determination and selective abortion of female infants has become a booming industry. The causes of female feticide are usually the obsession for son and the dowry system.
Child marriage has been traditionally prevalent in India and continues to this day. Historically, child brides would live with their parents until they reached puberty. In the past, child widows were condemned to a life of great agony, shaved heads, living in isolation, and being shunned by society. Although child marriage was outlawed in 1860, it is still a common practice.
Women’s representation in elected bodies, Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies is a source of huge disappointment. Women occupy just 66 seats in the 543 member Lok Sabha, which is a mere 12% and 12.8% in the Rajya Sabha.