The modern Indian woman is strong, independent, yet chained by social norms. Today, Indian women are given liberties and rights such as freedom of expression and equality, as well as the right to get an education. She can wear shorts, but only in areas where it is common to see women doing the same. She can now smoke openly but has to be careful in choosing a safe location to do so, where she won’t be spotted by someone who knows her. Young women across India face a different kind of such dilemmas every single day. Their status in modern India is a sort of paradox. If on one hand, she is at the peak of the ladder of success, on the other hand, she is mutely suffering the violence afflicted on her by her own family members. As compared with the past, women in modern times have achieved a lot. But in reality, they have to still travel a long way. They are still fighting for a crisis such as a dowry, female infanticide, sex-selective abortions, health, domestic violence, malnutrition, sexual exploitation, molestation, rape, and even murder.
Before the advent of the British in India, the life of women was rather oppressive, and they were subject to a constant process of subjugation and social oppression. During British rule, a number of changes were made in the economic and social structures of Indian society, and some substantial progress was achieved in the elimination of inequalities between men and women, in education, employment, social rights, etc.
India being a country of demographic diversity, there exist differences in the lifestyles of people of different regions, communities, cultural backgrounds, urban-rural habitats, etc. The male-female ratio as per census 2011 is 933:1000, which is alarming. Given the biological norm of 100 newborn girls to every 103 newborn boys, millions of more women should be living among us. If they are not it means they are missing. Either they have been killed or have died through neglect and mistreatment. In India, the birth of a boy is a time for celebration, while the birth of a girl – especially a second or subsequent daughter – is often perceived as a crisis. Three-quarters of the population of India still resides in rural areas where the problems related to girl children are predominant. Contrary to this, female foeticide seems to be more in urban areas owing to the technical advances. Despite the hue and cry about women liberation, the 2011 census gives a shocking sex ratio of 900:1000 among urban populations showing the ground reality.
Moreover, child marriage was prevalent in India and continues even today (40% of the world’s child marriages occur in India). The Sex Ratio in India was almost normal during the phase of the years of independence, but thereafter it started showing gradual signs of decrease. Though the Sex Ratio in India has gone through commendable signs of improvement in the last 10 years, there are still some states where the sex ratio is still low and is a cause of alarming concern. One of the states which are continuously showing a decreasing trend in the population of women in 2011 is the state of Haryana. It has the lowest rate of sex ratio in India and the figure shows a number of 877 of females to that of 1000 males but at the same time, there are states such as Pondicherry and Kerala where the number of women is more than the number of men. Kerala houses a number of 1084 females to that of 1000 males.
During the 19th century, women in India suffered from disabilities like child-marriage, the practice of polygamy, the sale of girls for marriage purposes, severe restrictions on widows, non-access to education, and restricting oneself to domestic and child-bearing functions. The Indian National Conference started in 1885 by Justice Ranade contained these disabilities. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who played an important role in getting the Sati system abolished raised voices against the child-marriage and fought for the right of inheritance for women. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar launched a movement for the right of widows to remarry and also pleaded for educating women. The Hunter Commission emphasized the need for female education. Maharaja S. Rao, ruler of Baroda State worked for the prevention of child-marriages, Polygamy, and getting the rights of education to women, and the right of remarriage to widows. Swami Vivekananda, Annie Besant, Mahatma Gandhi, and Swami Dayanand Saraswati also took interest in the social and political rights of women. Some women organizations like the Banga Mahila Samaj and the Ladies Theosophical Society functioned at local levels to promote modern ideas for women.
A large percentage of Indian women are anemic and consecutive abortions ruin their health. They may get prolonged diseases or die early. The scientific truth is women have nothing to do with the gender of the baby. But it is only women who get blamed and even today, India is suffering from its partial paralysis due to traditional and ill social practices and a poor mindset. History proves, that an adverse sex ratio of women against men is decreasing day by day in India which results in increased increasing violence against women. 1 woman is sexually harassed every 48 hours, 1 woman or minor girl is abducted every 26 minutes, 1 woman is raped every 25 minutes, 1 woman is molested every 14 minutes and the list of crimes against women goes on and on. UNICEF recently concluded that “the alarming decline in child sex ratio (in India) is likely to result in more girls being married at a younger age, more girls dropping out of education, increased mortality as a result of early child-bearing and associated increase in acts of violence against girls and women such as rape, abduction, trafficking and force polyandry.”
Women have transformed in the modern-day, the urban woman especially has changed from being a mere homemaker to the modern-day multitasking woman, handling responsibilities without fear. She has taken on the world with confidence. Women of today handle their duties and chores at home, manage a career outside their homes, nurture their children and balance their family lives with their professions. This is the scene in most of the urban households today. The modern-day woman is independent, takes the right decisions boldly, stands up for her rights and walks a path of success. Kalpana Chawla, Indra Nooyi, Sushma Swaraj, Aishwarya Rai and many more are women achievers in their chosen fields. Women are well educated, they have crossed horizons, and their presence can be felt in many male-dominated areas. Women have been sent on many space missions. We see women rise as journalists, politicians, doctors, engineers, lawyers, actors and in many other professional fields. Women of today choose the right career paths that determine their future and thus we see them excelling in every walk of life. This is just one side of the story.
Women in downtrodden regions and rural backgrounds have still to compete a lot in terms of their urban counterparts. Not that the rural women are backward in any aspect, but the change and transformation that the urban woman sees, is definitely a little slower to the rural women. Women, be it from urban or rural backgrounds, still face harassment and humiliation in domestic as well as professional circles. However high they reach in their lives, women are still made to feel helpless. We see the presence of women in rackets of prostitution, as to call girls, as dance bar girls, etc that focuses on the other side of society. The society is coming to terms and accepts the presence of both classes of women. Women may come from socially challenging situations, they may be part of difficult situations, and they may cease to have any kind of support from their families. Reasons unknown, they may be provoked to earn a livelihood out of immoral practices which makes women vulnerable and want to join easy, but wrong routes to earning money. This is another side of the story.