A Brief History Of Women In India on Republic Day

Alpesh Patel’s Political Sketchbook:

In 1921 Mahatma Gandhi calls for equal treatment of women. “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity — the female sex,” the Mahatma wrote in the Young India Journal.

He objected to child marriage and the dowry system – both are still practiced.

In 1929 Government of British India passed the Child Marriage Restrain Act. It made it illegal for men to marry girls under 18; older men had even steeper penalties. (Some idiot will write in at this point that paedophilia happens in Britain – their point being one should not just point it out in India. These morons would rather we all lived to the lowest common standard anywhere in the world, not the highest).

Unicef recently noted that 43% of the nation’s women aged 20-24 were married before they were 18. They note this contributes to parental prejudice against investing in girl’s education which is seen as a waste of resource.

In 1950, the New Constitution, three years after independence, grants women the right to vote.

In 1953 Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit become the first woman and first Indian president of the United Nations General Assembly.

In 1961India enacts the Dowry Prohibition Act. According to the police a woman in India is killed every hour over dowry. As India gets wealthier – the number of dowry deaths and demands increases. Wealth does not bring wisdom.

By 1966 India has her first woman PM. By 2013 according to the World Economic Forum India’s women have one of the lowest rates of economic participation and opportunity in the world.

In 1979 Mother Teresa wins the Nobel Peace Prize – the first Indian to do so.

In 1986 Parliament passes the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act. The law prohibits “the depiction in any manner of the figure of a woman; her form or body or any part thereof in such a way as to have the effect of being indecent, or derogatory to, or denigrating women.”

In 1987 Sati is outlawed. It also made it illegal for communities to glorify the act. In 1994, pre-natal gender testing is banned. By 2011 there had been only 55 convictions, yet India has one of the worst male:female ratios.

In 1997 – Kalpana Chawla becomes the first Indian woman in space. 1998 and Sonia Gandhi becomes President of Congress Party.

2005 – the Hindu Succession Act is amended to give women equal inheritance rights to ancestral property. A UN study recently found under 20% believe they will inherit their parental land.

2005 and Parliament also passes the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. A study in 2013 found one third of married Indian women reported experiencing physical abuse – slapping being the most common form.

2013 also saw India pass the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act – following a retired Supreme Court judge allegedly abusing his intern.

Of course I have not mentioned a few other Indian women; Sita, Lakshmi, Kittur Chennamma, queen of the princely state Kittur in Karnataka led an armed rebellion against the British. Abbakka Rani, queen of coastal Karnataka, led the defence against invading European armies, notably the Portuguese in the 16th century. Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi, led the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British.

I have not mentioned that Reg Vedic verses talk of women who married at a mature age and selected their own husbands. But that’s just history now, long dead, who even knows now other than the decline and fall of a civilisation.

We can’t blame the movies (this happened before the movies), we can’t blame the British (their house is in better shape), we can’t blame education (women behave better, and this is a TV addicted society even in villages and that could educate), we can’t blame Pakistan or Muslims (Hindus don’t ape others do they surely?).

There is hope. The hope will have to be the women themselves. If the men were going to do it, they would have already done it. It will be a woman who on achieving power will not turn her back on her own gender.

Alpesh Patel


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