Role of Women and Women’s Organization is part of GS1 civil service examination syllabus.In this post historical role is analysed in detail for quick revision and last minute preparation.We starts from basics from Ancient india ,Proceeds through medieval india and updated till 2017 Supreme Court verdicts in crisp manner.Our Users can find Value added notes here; Those who needs pdf versions alone can shoot a mail to [email protected]
Role of Women and Women’s Organization
ROLE OF WOMEN IN ANCIENT INDIA
1.Role of Women in Indus valley civilization.
➢ Worship of mother goddess highlights the respect to women as mother.
➢ Given equal honor along with men in society.
➢ Women enjoyed full freedom & treated pretty good.
2.Role of Women in Rig Vedic period.
➢ Continued enjoying full freedom & equality with men
➢ The position of wife was an honoured one in the household
➢ Superior over men in religious ceremonies.
➢ Equal opportunities in education.
Nb: As per, Upanayana Samskar, girls were allowed to spend their life in ‘Gurukul’.
➢ In intellectual and spiritual life they occupied a position as man.
➢ Education of maiden was considered as a important qualification for marriage.
There seems to have been considerable freedom on the part of young persons in the selection of their life partners as they generally married at a mature age.
✔ There was a reference in Vedic literature that in Kshatriya society brides had exclusive right of selecting their own consorts, which was known as ‘Svaymvara’.
- Even though there were no evidences of dowry system, it was connected with the concept of marriage as a dan or gift. In rich and royal families some gifts were given to son in law
at the time of marriage.
- Monogamy was prevalent and practiced in general communities, at the same time Bigamy was also in practice but it was limited to the aristocratic classes.
➢ The wife participated in the sacrificial offerings of her husband.
Abundance of sons was prayed for so, naturally so in a patriarchal society since the son performed the last rites and continued the line.
2.2.1 Divorce & re marriage:
- Remarriage of widows was permitted under certain conditions.
- There was no evidences of divorce but the custom of widow’s remarriage was in practice.
- The RigVeda states that the widow had the right to marry again with her husband’s brother.
Baudhayan and Vasistha mentioned that women can marry any other person also.
✔ There were no specific mention regarding right of inheritance of a married daughter or widow.
3. Role of Women in Later Vedic Period:
The marriage & educational rights remains same
➢ Power in religious ceremonies getting lowered.
➢ Religious ceremonies increasingly were conducted by the priests resulting in loosing her preeminent position in the household.
➢ This was the period during which the importance of rituals increased and so did the importance of the Brahmans.
The importance of rituals increased in this period and so did the importance of the Brahmans.
➢ Desire for sons continued, sati was not prevalent.
➢ The position of women was not as high as it was in the Rig Vedic period.
➢ Female workers were involved in dying, embroidery and basket making.
4.Role of Women in Upanishads period:
➢ marriage between the male of a higher caste and female of a lower caste prevailed during this period.
➢ The rules of Panini regarding Abhivadana ( salutation as a mark of respect to elderly persons in the house ) shows that the presence of wives of the lower caste in a house and their association with
ladies of a higher caste brought down the general level of womanly culture and led to a deterioration in their status.
5.Role of Women During Sutras and Epics :
✔ The bride is at a mature age, over 15 or 16. The elaborate rites indicate that marriage was a holy bond and not a contract.
The Grihyasutras give detailed rules regarding the proper seasons for marriage, qualifications of bride and bridegroom.
➢ The women were allowed to sing, dance and enjoy life.
➢ Sati was not generally prevalent.
➢ Widow Remarriage was allowed under certain circumstances.
➢ The Apastamba imposes several penalties on a husband who unjustly forsakes his wife. On the other hand, a wife who forsakes her husband has to only perform penance.
➢ Grown up girl was allowed to choose her husband if parents are not allowing marriage on proper time.
- There are evidences of presence of women as teachers with high knowledge.The famous dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi and Gargi Vachaknavi show how enlightened the women of that age were.
➢ According to the Sarvanukramanika, there were as many as 20 women among the authors of the Rig Veda. These stories stand in contrast to the later age when the study of Vedic literature was
forbidden to women under the most severe penalty.
5.1 Evidence from epics
- The Ramayan along with the Mahabarat and the puranas constitute the epic literature in India.
- During this period, a woman was considered to be a living commodity which could be kept on bet and could be sold or purchased.
➔ Example is Pandavas bid of Droupathi.
But we also get quite contrary views from Ramayan and Mahabarata.
➢ Bhisma says that during this period women were respected.
➢ Sita is regarded as one of the five ideal and revered women in India, the other four being Ahalya, Draupati, Tara and Mondodari.
➢ There are references in Mahabarata which reflects that women used to guide men on religious and social questions.
➢ A woman was considered unfit for independence at any time as she required protection throughout her life.
6.Role of Women During Maurya Empire:
The important documental evidence is Arthasastra by Kautilya, a brahman prime minister of Chandragupta maurya.
➢ States that women had property rights to the stridhan, which was the gift made to a woman at the time of her marriage by her parents and afterwards augmented by her husband.
➢ Stridhan was usually in the form of jewelry, which among many cultural groups was a convenient way of carrying surplus wealth, but could include certain rights to immovable property.
6.1 Forms of marriages.
There were eight forms of marriage.
➢ They ranged from the most prestigious, involving the gift of a virgin daughter (kanyadan) by her father to another male, to marriage by abduction while the woman is incapacitated through sleep or
➢ Marriage was both a secular and sacred institution.
➢ Widows could remarry.When they did so, they lost rights to any property inherited from their deceased husbands.
➢ There is little information on lower class women other than some comments on laboring women and the need to give works as spinners to such disadvantaged women as widows and “defective
➢ Shilappadikaram or “The Lay of Anklet,”Tamil epic, from about A.D. 450 in which the primary heroine is Kannaki, a devoted wife.
➢ She suffers the loss of her husband to beautiful courtesan but still offers to sell a gemencrusted
ankle bracelet to help him repay his depts.
➢ When he is beheaded because of an unjust accusation, Kannaki, in her wrath, destroys by fire the city where her husband met his fate.
➢ Eventually the goddess Parvati pacifies Kannake, who is reunited with her husband in heaven.
➢ Kannaki demonstrates the power of chastity and righteousness.
7.Role of Women During Gupta dynasty:
The Gupta Empire is seen as the classical age of Indian culture because of its literary and artistic accomplishments. Some information on roles for elite women comes from the Kama Sutra, a manual about the many ways to acquire pleasure, a legitimate goal for Hindu men in the
householder, or second stage, of their lives.
➢ Women were expected to be educated, to give and to receive sexual pleasure, and to be faithful wives.
➢ Courtesans were trained in poetry and music as well as the skills of sexual pleasure and were esteemed members of society.
➢ Courtesans were the one category of women who were likely to be educated and sometimes were known to have spoken Sanskrit.
➢ A prime example of a noble hearted courtesan was Vasantesena, the heroine of the “The Little Clay Cart,” a popular play in Sanskrit ascribed to Sudraka (ca. A.D. 400).
➢ Vasantasena is an exception to the stereotype of greedy courtesans in her willingness to sacrifice her jewelry for her lover.
➢ She, however, achieves respectability only by becoming his wife.
➢ Another major dramatic female heroine of classical Indian literature is Shakuntala, who is now represented as a docile young woman who yearn for her distant lover in Kalidasa’s “Shakuntala
and the Ring of Remembrance.”
- There was a growing tendency to lower the marriageable age of girls with girls being married before or after puberty.
- Marriage within the same caste was preferred but prohibited within certain degrees of relationship.
- Girls of high families had adequate opportunities for acquiring proficiency in higher learning.
- In Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, instances of princess are mentioned whose intellect was sharpened by knowledge of the Sasatras.
The literary evidence of the Gupta age proves that girls of high families as also those living in hermitages read works on ancient history & legend.
- Girls living in royal courts were trained in singing & dancing too.
- Vatsyanana draws a picture of a good wife which may be taken as a reflection of the real life during that period.
- Sati was extolled by some but strongly disapproved by others.In the absence of any reference by the Chinese travelers it would be correct to believe that the custom was not widely prevalent during this period.
- The tendency to regard women as weaker and not of strong moral fibre got stronger during this period although women as mother, sister continued to be highly respected.
- As per the available literature seem to indicate that married women in higher families did not usually appear in public without veils.
- The silence of Hiuen Tsang indicates that women in general did not observe the Purdah or remain in seclusion.
➢ Due to a lowering of the age of marriage, girls were not educated as before.
➢ This reduced the position and status of women.
➢ Brides being too young had no say in choosing their partners.
➢ Since women were not as educated as before they did not know what their rights were.
Some women enjoyed political power e.g. Prabhavatigupta, daughter of Chandragupta II who ruled the Vakataka kingdom on behalf of her son, in the 4th century AD.