Position of Indian Women

Dr. Arundhati Devi The recognition of a definite relationship between a man and a woman as husband and wife forms the very basis of domestic life in a civilized society. But it is obvious that a long period, perhaps hundreds and thousands of years, must have intervened between the evolution of homo sapiens and the general approval or acceptance of the idea of a woman’s fidelity to a single man. It is beyond the scope of the present paper to discuss, as a
general question, all the intermediate stages or even the important ones between the state of promiscuity in regard to sexual union and the ideal of a chaste wife. But it is necessary to refer briefly to this primitive aspect of life in India in order that we may fully comprehend some of the peculiar features of domestic life in India in subsequent ages. The Vedic word ‘dampati’, used to denote jointly the husband and the wife, etymologically means the joint owners of the house. The same idea is also contained in the Avesta, but whereas the avesta enjoins upon the wife strict obedience to her husband, the marriage ritual in the Rig-Veda (and also in its fully developed form in the Grihya-sutras) does
not enjoin obedience upon the wife. This position of dignity was upheld by her participation in religious practice and sacrifices, which was regarded as the highest right and privilege in the society of those days. One sure criterion of the status of women in a society is the relative feelings evoked by the birth of a son and a daughter. The Rig-Veda
does not say anything directly on this point, but the prayers for ten sons in the marriage hymn, without reference to any daughter seem to indicate that the latter was less welcome than the former. It is necessary to note that although theoretically the status of women suffered a considerable decline on account of the views and ideals preached in the later smritis, their effect was considerably diminished in domestic life by the natural instincts of men. After all, it is natural for a normal man to cherish affection for his daughter, love for his wife and respect for his mother. These feelings were sure to prevail in the long run, and counteract to a large extent the teachings of the Smritis allotting a subordinate position of inferiority to women. Gradually a readjustment took place, and new ideals animated the women. The position of the wife, as laid down in the ordinances of Manu, became the cherished ideal and played a dominant role in shaping the lives of women in India. It lowered their status as compared with old times, but brought into being a new type of women who are even now looked upon as models. Sita, who is looked upon today as virtue incarnate and the ideal of Indian womanhood, shines principally as the obedient wife, sweetly administering to the
needs of her husband in weal and woe, and bowing down to his will without any question. She willingly followed her husband in his life exile, and accepted her ordeal by fire and banishment of the forest without any protest. Such a sweet, loving and obedient wife has been held up as the ideal, and has produced a new type of woman in Hindu society. So strongly is the duty of obedience sought to be inculcated into the heart of every wife that even the
spirited Draupadi is represented as submitting herself to the worst humiliation that can befall a noble woman, at the mere behest of her husband. The story of Sati emphasizes the fact that devotion to the husband must supersede all other feelings, even filial piety. The ordinances laid down in the Smritis, and such ideal women as those mentioned above, portrayed in literature, have molded Indian womanhood to a new type which has been held as the glory of
Hindu culture for more than a thousand years. It is beyond the scope of the present paper to discuss how far
this view may be justified on rational grounds. But it cannot be denied that there is an element of nobility in the sacrifice and selfabnegation of Indian women, and it is impossible to withhold the due meed of praise, even
admiration, from that patient and suffering class of humanity. Though deprived of many elements of ordinary human rights and privileges, and not unoften subjected to unmerited sorrows and pangs, they live and die for their beloved ones and hover like ministering angels over every Hindu household. How far such self surrender and meek devotion
or blind love can be regarded as equivalent to or can compensate for intellectual enlightenment and other virtues and accomplishments which are the birthright of every human being may be a subject of dispute but it is incumbent on all of us to assess the proper worth and recognize the moral value of a phase of life that is fast passing away after an checkered existence of more than a thousand years.
Director & Secretary,
International Indecency
Prevention Moment, Cuttack,
Mob. : 9937172810

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