The Real Status of Women in Rural India. A woman is a complete circle. Life on Earth begins from her, evolves from her and cannot sustain in her absence. The highest of the kings and lowest of the paupers have originated from a woman! Still, why does the status of women in India still stand on slippery grounds? Why in rural India, there is a visible disparity of treatment when it comes to the topic of women? Let’s look forward to have a view!
Indian society has revered the status of women in the form of dieties and goddesses since long. History has it’s own pages of evidence on the paradigm shifts in the status of women in the ancient, medieval and modern India. The ancient vedic ages have held women at a high pedestal, giving them freedom to marry, remain unmarried or even stay with their parents for their whole life.
Women in ancient India were called Ardhanginis meaning equal partners to men in a wedlock. These facts have also found mention in Atharva veda where a relation between woman and a man has been compared to Rig veda and Sama veda where both of them enjoyed an intellectual and a prosperous relation and the female partner was often regarded as an indestructible boat of prosperity which could help her husband and her family cross the ocean of difficulties. The presence of practices termed as social evils now but customs then like Sati, child marriage, female feticide and male domination did not find any mention in the religious books. There have been mentions of women as rulers of the households suggesting a matriarchal society’s presence in those times where women’s intellect and status in the domestic as well as social arena was equal if not higher than men!
The father of our sacrosanct Indian constitution BR Ambedkar rightly quoted “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”. We, the Indian society have come a long way since Independence in 1947 in various aspects like Defense, foreign policies, international relations, finance sector, health infrastructure and lifestyle standards. Even the richest man of Asia, Mukesh Ambani is an Indian. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that India has developed to the best of its capabilities barring a few dark spots like women empowerment in the rural as well as urban regions.
Analysis of Diverse Socio – Economic And Political Arenas With Respect To Women
People in different geographical locations come across different types of problems – be it geographical, economic or social. Women as a sect of society which comprises of nearly 50% of the population, being 940 females per 1000 males (2011 census). According to 2011 census, the populations of rural
women who are literate are 58.8 per cent (Census, 2011), a little more than 1/3rd of the workforce (labour force population ratio), 24.9% parliamentarians in 2020 were women which is a historic high since independence, but still majority of women in rural India feel like being stuck in a boat in the middle of an ocean for whom the dream of a green shore is just a distant dream. Problems like denial of education, proper nutrition during adolescence and pregnancy, lack of pre – natal and post – natal care, lack of hygiene products and sometimes even a human status are part and parcel of their daily lives which may come as a shock to many elites in the modern urban society living the great Indian dream!
Many incidents of gruesome crimes like rapes, molestations, dowry harassments, honour killings, mental troubles and many other problems often go unnoticed to the families. It’s hard to imagine and harder to digest the fact that how can the goddess in the temple we worship be happy when the goddess in the family is being denied an equal status in many rural areas. The childhood dreams and aspirations of females often finds place in the smoke of either the chulhas in the kitchen or the sacred wedding fire where satapadi is taken. Child marriage is one where the age of the bride is less than 18 years of age and the age of groom is less than 21 years of age. Going by this definition, the 21% of Indian population who is between 10-19 years of age and out of it, nearly 47% are females, nearly half of them are married as a child. This not only kills their aspirations of having a healthy and educated life in the future but also makes permanent and perpetual dents on their physical and mental health. Early marriages leading to early conceptions is another curse which befalls upon them.
Nearly 9.2% of the rural females suffer from this problem, causing trauma not only to the mother but the offspring too .Wide age gaps between the couple leads to high chances of domestic violence where young brides find themselves helpless in front of their husbands and their family members too. According to various data available, nearly 2/3rd of women face domestic violence in their families and very often dowry harassment is one of the reason behind it. The right to life guaranteed to each and every citizen in article 21 of the Indian constitution dies by a thousand cuts with the death of each woman dying due to these social factors.
The 21st century Indian women are most visible than ever in social and economic arena. Thus, there have been legislations leading to formation of guidelines like Vishaka Guidelines promulgated by the honorable Supreme Court in the year 1997 after a Public Interest Litigation(PIL) and a writ petition was filed by a NGO Vishaka in light of the horrific and infamous rape of a Dalit woman Bhanwari Devi who worked under a state government program for generating awareness on women education, hygiene and family planning in rural villages and was raped by 5 upper caste men of the same village as a revenge for trying to stop the wedding of a minor girl. Still, women in the rural areas face a high level of unfair and informal social control by the village communities which restrain them from taking an active part in employment opportunities outside their homes. Presently, women safety in the workplace is enshrined in Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The economic sector too stabs many rural women in multiple ways. Caste system which once began as division of labour and later took the face of a multi headed snake when it turned into division of labourer’s often leads to seclusion of women from the jobs which could help women to earn a decent level of livelihood. Only 20.3% women find work outside their homes as compared to 76% men. Many reasons like lack of education and economically viable skills, restrictive gender norms, lack of family support and distant work locations lead to women not stepping out into the economic arena. Equal pay for equal work is one of the cornerstones of the gender equality movement the world over.
But labour bureau data show there has been little progress in terms of parity of salaries for men and women for equivalent work in India. Even more alarming is the fact that even though wage disparities have always existed in rural parts of the country, in some spheres of activity, the divide has widened. So, while men were paid 70 per cent higher wages than women for ploughing work at the end of 2004-05, the difference rose to 80.4 per cent in end March 2012 and stood at 93.6 per cent at the start of 2013-14. While men were paid 75 per cent more than women for well-digging work in March 2005, the difference stood at 80 per cent in the current financial year. The data indicate that daily wage disparities have by and large remained constant since 1999, though they did rise in the early 2000s.
Schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee act (MGNREGA) launched by the government to ensure economic benefits to the rural spheres only guarantee upto 100 days of employment to rural workforce while the rest of the days, women stand exploited, overworked and underpaid. The lack of formal jobs, coupled with shrinking opportunities in the agricultural sector due to increasing reliance on the machines and agricultural equipment’s has led to decrease in the ratio of women participation in the rural workforce of modern India.
The medicine of education has also failed to reduce the fever of declining women participation in rural India. According to the data presented by NSS, the literacy level of rural female population has increased from 22% in 1983 to 55% in 2011 but the lack of employment opportunities in the villages and high level of informal social control exercised by the village communities and panchayats tape the wings of the birds which have a caliber to fly high in the sky. It is the need of the hour to work on schemes generating employment for rural women as they continue to be historically disadvantaged in terms of migration for work.
Is Patriarchy Omnipresent? Do Indian Women Live In Utter Control of Patriarchy In The 21st Century?
It would be a completely faulty analysis to presume the status of women in rural society to be utterly and uniformly pathetic all over, running from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Interstate disparities show that women in many rural towns and villages enjoy nearly equal rights and privileges as compared to those enjoyed by men. Also, villages like Piplantri located in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan state, having a gender ratio of 861 females per 1000 males has set a positive benchmark for the backward areas and brings a ray of hope in lives of females by ensuring the rights and privileges they are entitled to and promoting eco-feminism. The village plants 111 trees on the birth of a girl child as a mark of honour to the lives of females who sacrifice themselves for giving the fruit of love, affection and care to others around them. In order to ensure financial stability for the girl’s family, the village contributes Rs. 21,000/- collectively and adds a contribution of Rs. 10,000/- from the family’s side to make a fixed deposit of the cumulative amount which can benefit the girl in the education and family sphere once she turns 20.
A conscious and sincere effort through mental revolution and mindset change by both the rural societies, individuals acting in social benefit and the Government can, beyond reasonable doubt, bring a constructive and a pragmatic social change in the lives of rural women by just ensuring & upholding their rights which in turn will lead to speedy growth and progress of India. The need and demand of the hour is not to create a society whose only conscience is bent towards women safety but also towards development and growth of females in both urban and rural areas. Though much governmental and societal ink has flowed into this topic, the sunflower still awaits the rise of a sun which will make it bloom again, greater than ever. The best we as a society can do is to make the greatest possible efforts so that the dawn can be crossed and the bright dusk can radiate sunlight for the sunflower to bloom and blossom again.
Law Student, Symbiosis Law School, Noida