In ancient vedic India women enjoyed a position of respect and stature. The well known female figures such as ‘‘Ghosha, Lopamudra, Maitreyi & Gargi’’ commanded great respect and were epitomes of Intellectual and spiritual attainment. Ghosha was a great writer. Lopamudra the wife of Agasthya rishi was a poet, Maitreyi- the wife of Yajnavalka was a great philosopher, and Gargi was a great vedic prophetess.
During the Mughal period the status of women in our society deteriorated and many restrictions were forced on women. The Muslims were always prepared either to molest or to capture Hindu women which resulted in child marriages and the Purdah system. It also adversely affected the education and movement of women in our society. Education to women could be provided only at home which could not be afforded by the masses. Some oppressive social norms like ban on widow marriage & sati engulfed the Indian society during this period. The orthodox in Indian society made women dependant and confined to four walls of their homes.
During British rules slowly the awareness about women education and empowerment started increasing. Many noble Indian reformists like; Mahatma Phule, Savitribai Phule & Dhondo Keshav Karve to name a few; started movement for education to women. Thus women empowerment through education slowly began in India.
In the post independence years the movement of education to women got Government support and the educated women started entering into various fields. The Constitution of India declared gender equality as one of the fundamental rights. It guaranteed equal protection of law, equal opportunities in public employment and prohibited discrimination in public places for women. Many women who participated in Public Activities in Pre-independence era were pleased with these reforms. Most of them belonged to the upper and higher middle classes & were in the main stream education and they grabbed all the new opportunities. Hence in the 1970’s there was a general perception in the then corridors of power that Indian women were given their due and nothing more was required.
This feel good perception was seriously challenged in 1974 when a report title ‘‘Towards Equality’’ by a Government appointed committee was published. This report was necessitated by United Nations request for celebrating International Women’s Year in 1975. The committee was chaired by Dr. Phulrenu Guha, Minister of Social Welfare and 9 members from all walks of life. The committee made intensive deliberations and commissioned number of studies. In their report the committee asserted that Women’s Status has not improved but had, in fact, declined since independence. During that time Mrs. Indira Gandhi was a Prime Minister of India and many women ambassadors, representatives to UN were hogging the lime light. Big functions were held to celebrate the International Women’s Year in 1975. Women’s achievements were highlighted with much fan fare and the said report was buried silently.
During successive Congress regime various committees were formed and institutions like ‘‘Centre for Women’s Development Studies’’ were established and the elite women talked, talked and only talked about empowering Indian women. The lip service may have changed the life of the women from upper and higher middle income strata of the society, but for majority of the women from the middle and lower income strata of the society the life never changed or in many cases become worse than ever.
The women from the upper part of pyramid benefitted in Post Independence India. The women from Leuten’s Delhi got more than their due. But for the big majority of women from rural masses there was no change. No one from earlier government was interested in ground level implementation of any program to empower women from masses. Then Central Government set up Rs.1000 Crore ‘‘Nirbhaya Fund’’ but not a single penny was spent. This was the ground reality before Mr. Modi came to power.