This article was written by Arunima Banerjee a student of University of Calcutta.
For centuries women have been oppressed in the society due to the primary patriarchal nature of the society. In the early Vedic period the position of women in the society was remarkable and women were brought up to be superior to men. Women got married at a matured age and were given the right to choose their husband. They also enjoyed strong participation in religious, political and social activities. However, misinterpretation of religious texts and changing views of the society deteriorated the position of women and many malpractices against women started to take place in the society. With the advent of Muslims in India, the status of women fell further and practices like Polygamy, Child Marriage, Sati, Jauhar, Pardah system, Devdasi etc. left women in a deplorable condition. However, during the reign of British in India the condition of women improved. Reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Jyotirao Phule fought for the betterment of women. The British made progressive laws prohibiting the practice of Sati and Child Marriage and encouraging the practice of widow remarriage. Slowly women started playing important roles in politics and the struggle for freedom. With feminism kicking in, the status of women further improved and it was realised that no country can achieve optimum development if half of their citizens are neglected. Today, Women in India participate fully in areas such as education, sports, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, science and technology and are given equal rights like men. The constitution of India promotes equality of both the sexes and has reserved certain special provisions for women for assertive discrimination in favour of women.
Women Rights are the rights and entitlements claimed for women around the world. The Women Rights Movement which had begun in the 19th century demanded equal rights of women included equal rights to work and earn a living, right to education, right to inherit property and own property, right to equal opportunity and choice, freedom of speech and expression, freedom against sexual violence and rights relating to reproduction among other rights. The Women Rights Movement in India was initiated by male European colonists who were moved by the plight of women in India. This movement was later supported by many progressive Indian man as a result of which Woman rights were incorporated in the Indian Constitution and Legislatures. Rights available to women can be classified into two main categories namely Constitutional Rights and Legal Rights.
Constitutional Rights of Women
The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution not only grants equality to women, but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women. The constitutional rights of women are the provision provided in the Indian Constitution. The rights of women reserved in the Indian Constitution are as follows:
- Article 14 of the Indian Constitution states about Equality before law for women
- Article 15(1) states that the state should not discriminate against any citizen of India on the ground of their sex.
- Article 15(3) states that the state is empowered to make any special provision for women. In other words, this provision enables the state to make affirmative discrimination in favour of women.
- Article 16(2) states that no citizen shall be discriminated against or be ineligible for any employment or office under the state on the ground of sex.
- Article 23(1) prohibits Traffic in human beings and forced labour.
- Article 39(a) states that the state must secure for men and women equally the right to earn adequate means of livelihood.
- Article 39(d) states that the Government should secure equal pay for equal work for both Indian men and women.
- Article 39(e) states that the Government must ensure that the health and strength of women workers are not abused and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter occupations unsuited to their strength.
- Article 42 states that the Government should make provision to secure just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief for women workers of the country.
- Article 51-A(e) makes it the duty of every citizen of India to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women
- Article 243-D(3) reserves for women one-third of the total number of seats filled by direct election in every Panchayat in the country.
- Article 243-D(4) reserves for women one-third of the total number of offices of chairpersons in the Panchayats in the country.
- Article 243-T(3) reserves for women one-third of the total number of seats filled by direct election in every Municipality in the country.
- Article 243-T(4) reserves for women offices of chairpersons in the Municipalities in such manner as the State Legislature may provide.
Legal Rights of Women
The legal rights of women are the rights which are provided in the various laws of the Parliament and State Legislatures.
- Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) protects women in India against all forms of domestic violence and also covers women who have been or are in a relationship with the abuser and are subjected to any kind of physical, sexual, mental, verbal or emotional abuse.
- Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (1956) prevents trafficking in women and girls for commercial sexual exploitation and prevents women from choosing prostitution as their means of livelihood.
- Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act (1986) prohibits indecent representation of women through advertisements or in publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner.
- Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act (1987) prevents the practice of Sati in India.
- Dowry Prohibition Act (1961) prohibits the practice of giving or taking of dowry at or before or any time after the marriage.
- Maternity Benefit Act (1961) regulates the employment of women in certain establishments for certain period before and after child-birth and provides for maternity benefit and certain other benefits.
- Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (1971) allows the termination of pregnancies by registered medical practitioners on humanitarian and medical grounds in some special cases.
- Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (1994) prohibits misuse of medical techniques to determine the gender of foetus and immoral abortion of the foetus.
- Equal Remuneration Act (1976) provides that both men and women should be paid equally for similar kind of work and prevents discrimination on ground of sex in the process of recruitment.
- Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act (1939) gives a Muslim wife the right to seek dissolution of marriage from her husband.
- Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act (1986) protects the rights of divorced Muslim women or women who are seeking divorce from their husbands.
- Family Courts Act (1984) provides that family courts should be established to speed up the court proceedings.
- Indian Penal Code (1860) contains various provisions to protect Indian women from offences like dowry death, rape, kidnapping, cruelty etc.
- Code of Criminal Procedure (1973) has certain safeguards for women like obligation of a husband to maintain his wife, arrest of woman by female police and so on.
- Indian Christian Marriage Act (1872) contains provisions relating to marriage and divorce within the Christian community.
- Legal Services Authorities Act (1987) guarantees free legal services to Indian women.
- Hindu Marriage Act (1955) prohibits polygamy and provides grounds for divorce. It also gives equal rights to Indian men and women in respect of marriage and divorce.
- Hindu Succession Act (1956) gives equal rights to men and women to inherit private property.
- Minimum Wages Act (1948) prohibits discrimination between genders in respect of payment for same work and provides equal pay for equal work.
- Mines Act (1952) and Factories Act (1948) prohibits the employment of women between 7 P.M. to 6 A.M. in mines and factories to ensure the safety and welfare of women.
- National Commission for Women Act (1990) states that National Commission for Women should be established to study and monitor matters relating to the constitutional and legal rights and safeguards of women.
- Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (2013) protects women against sexual harassment in both public and private offices, whether organised or unorganised.
Court Judgement in favour of Women
Lillu @ Rajesh & Anr vs State Of Haryana: The Supreme Court of India realised that it is against the dignity of a rape victim to undergo the process of two finger test in order to prove her character. Further the court mentioned that the test traumatises the victim who has already suffered a lot and that it cannot be held higher than the dignity of women.
Budhadev Karmaskar vs State Of West Bengal: The Supreme Court of India gave a verdict that even prostitutes are human beings and have equal human rights. In this case a prostitute was brutally murdered and the apex court decided that prostitutes have right to live with dignity just like any other citizen of India. The bench also gave directions to the State and Central government to formulate schemes to give vocational and technical training to sexually abused women and sex workers in the country.
Tamil Nadu Vs Suhas Katti: In this case the accused, after being refused by the woman he wanted to marry, posted obscene and defamatory messages of the woman in yahoo messenger group. He also posted her phone number on social messaging groups as a result of which she received lewd calls on her phone. The accused was found guilty under sections 469 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code and section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Sarla Mudgala and ors vs Union of India: In this case the Supreme Court of India gave verdict against bigamy. The Court said that a man cannot convert his religion to Islam and get married when he already has a wife whom he married under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. In order to get married the second time, the person has to first dissolve his marriage to his first wife.
Importance of Women Rights
Women have been stereotyped as the weaker sex in the society and have been given fewer rights compared to men. Various limitations were imposed on girls and they were mostly restricted to their homes. Men were given preference in the field of education while women’s education was not given enough importance. Women Rights emerged as a result of the oppression and domination over women in the society. Women demanded equal rights as men and it was realised that equal rights of women are also important for the overall development of a country. Women in no aspect are inferior to men and with the movement of women rights and feminism becoming popular around the world, increasing number of people started supporting the cause of women. It was realised that not only should women be given equal rights but there should also be certain provisions for positive discrimination in favour of women to compensate the loss of women in the previous years as a result of the long living discrimination on the basis of a person’s gender.
The status of women have gone through various changes since the Vedic age. Women now enjoy a very good position in the society and have almost equal rights like men. However, with Globalisation the problems of women in the society have become more complex. In addition to the already existing primary problems, women face new and more complex problems in the present day. The condition of women in some parts of India are still lamentable. The primarily patriarchal structure of the Indian society and the traditional and orthodox mentality of people is the reason behind the still existing and increasing number of crimes against women. Given the present situation of women, the need for women rights is absolutely necessary.