By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
M an and woman are like two sides of a coin and both are indispensable to maintain the world-process. Without one of them the entire life process will face annihilation. They are not opposites, rather they are complementary to one another. Yet strangely enough women have always faced unfavourable treatment from family and society since the very beginning—possibly from the time of their advent in the world. In the ancient literature also we find that the women’s status was always inferior to that of men. The husband was the lord and master and the wife was supposed to serve him and he was like a god to her. From the early childhood the girls were taught that they were lower in rank than the boys. Man always gets the best of everything in a platter, while a woman has to fight for her rights at every step. The woman has always been treated as a second class citizen, whose primary duty appears to be to obey the man without question, submit to all his unreasoble demands and to give birth to children. Though they are equally important for maintaining the life process, man is treated as superior and the woman is denied justice at every stage of her life. As Mary Astell remarked in her article, “Some Reflections on Marriage” in 1706, “If all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves?”
It is lucky to be a part of the world and to be a human being is even luckier. But to be a girl is unlucky, a great mistake, although the girl is also a part of the world. Women are considered to be the affliction of society, the unwanted burden. They are oppressed, suppressed and violated.
Violence against women begins in the womb of the mother with female foeticide and after birth in the form of female infanticide. The girls, who are allowed to live, have to face various kinds of persecutions, including sexual abuse. From early childhood a girl faces discrimition in food and education at home and she has to confront molestation, rape and domestic violence. Even the parents give preferential treatment to the boys. They get best of everything in food, clothes, education and everything else. The girls have to mage with whatever is doled out to them. From early childhood they have to learn cooking, sewing, washing and other household chores, while the boys can lead a carefree life. After marriage the girl goes to another home and it becomes her duty to serve her new family, as her happiness depends largely on their good opinion. Many of them are annihilated in the me of dowry deaths, witch killing and other such tortures.
A woman is considered to be nothing but a powerless reproductive machine. She is instructed to be an ideal woman, who will never raise her voice against her husband’s unjust demands. She is supposed to submit to all his commands, however unjust and irratiol they might be. She is surrounded by a web of “must” and “must not”, “can” and “cannot” all her life. She becomes easy target for the rapists and the molesters. These human monsters take their chance anywhere they find to be convenient. It may be a crowded bus, a dark road, or a deserted area. Can we find a difference between the rapists and irratiol animals? There does not seem to be any difference. The only difference is that the animals follow their instinct and the human beings follow their evil tendency. Animals do not have any emotiol bondage and they only follow the law of ture. The rapists do not have any feelings for the victim, they merely try to satisfy their lust. Actually it will be an insult to the animals to compare them with these cruel lascivious men. There is not a mite of evil design in an animal, but in men there are plenty. This violence is not against a woman, actually it is violence against humanity.
It is a fact that throughout history women appear to have a lower social status than men. Most women’s lives, beginning from the earliest time till the present, are centred around their homes and their traditiol role is that of a wife and mother. Women never enjoyed the right of equality. In India there are stories galore about the character of an ideal woman. Ancient Indian literature is full of such tales. In Ramaya we find that Sita Devi had to go through the ordeal of fire to prove her chastity to her husband Lord Ramchandra. Even that did not satisfy her husband. He banished his pregnt wife to the forest when he heard that some petty washerman had cast aspersions on her character. In Mahabharata it is written that Draupadi was shared by five husbands because their mother Kunti Devi, without realizing the facts, asked her sons to share whatever they had procured. None bothered to inquire about the wish of Draupadi and they did not even appear to realise the fact that Draupadi was not a commodity to share. She was used as a stake in that infamous game of dice by her husband Yudhisthira. She was saved from ultimate humiliation, not by her husbands, but by Lord Krish. The sage Gautama turned his wife Ahalya into a stone for no fault of hers. There are innumerable such incidents of atrocities on women in our country. These self-sacrificing ladies are put up as role-model for young girls to follow. In earlier times the widows were to embrace death along with their dead husbands on the burning pyre. The ideal women are nothing but obedient slaves of their husbands. Apparently women never get justice not only in India, but in other parts of the world as well.
To fight against the injustice meted out to the women, various organizations have been established to bring justice and fair treatment to them. Women’s movement first developed in Europe, United States and some other parts of the world. The industrial age brought great economic and political changes causing women to question their status, situation and rights. The first phase of women’s movement concentrated primarily on getting voting rights for women. The phase of the movement during the 1960s was another period of great political and social change in many areas of the world. The contemporary women’s movement sought greater equality for the women in the family, in the work place and in political life. The women’s movement is a group effort, chiefly by women, that seek to improve women’s lives and conditions. Such political movements are often referred to as feminist movements. Whether political, religious or social, the women’s movement has sought to achieve greater social, economic and political involvement for women.
The contemporary women’s movement stressed on greater equality for women in the work place and in political life. Women’s movement ebled large groups of women to question and determine their rights and responsibilities. The specific goals and methods varied customs, political values and economic conditions. But almost in every case the women’s movement won greater freedom for women to act as self-sufficient individuals rather than dependent wives and mothers.
Resistance to oppression of women neither began nor ended with British colonial rule, but has its root in the Indian social structure and cultural heritage. The prevention of Suttee act was ected in 1829, which made widow-burning illegal. Widow remarriage was legalized in 1856 through the efforts of the social reformers, such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Dayanda Saraswati and some others. By the beginning of 1900s however women’s movement became more aligned with tiolist political campaigning in India’s freedom struggle. In 1929, the Indian women earned the right to property and inheritance equal to man’s rights. Gaining independence in 1947, the Indian constitution gave equal rights to women in education, employment, wages, property and marriage.
Several women in diverse parts of the world fought for the liberation of women. They were the trail blazers, who led the women’s movement and gave it a direction. Mary Wollstonecraft, a British woman was best known for her work, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, which was published in 1792. This book was the first to claim that women should have equality with men. Emma Hart Willard became known as the first American woman to publicly support higher education for women. Francis Wright worked to promote human rights, the abolition of slavery and public education for children. She shocked people by claiming that women had a right to receive information on birth control and to seek divorce. These ladies belonged to the 18th century. Gloria Steneim was an American writer and a leading supporter of women’s liberation movement. Marie Carmichael Slopes was a British scientist and author, who was best known for her pioneering work in family planning. She founded a Birth Control clinic and was the president of the “Society for Constructive Birth Control and Radical Progress”. In India we may mention the me of Sarojini idu, who was a leader of the Indian women’s movement. She became known as the “Nightingale of India”. After India gained independence she became the first woman governor of a state, which happened to be Uttar Pradesh. Vijoya Lakshmi Pandit, one of India’s most famous women, was distinguished for her work in government and for her interest in the women’s movement. In recent past Indira Gandhi became the first woman prime minister of India and she became known as one of the most powerful women in the world.
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee