The position of a woman or a girl-child is not very happy in India. The girls are very often regarded as a liability in our society and the birth of a daughter is looked upon as an unwelcome evil by the poor parents. But we should bear in mind that our country has achieved her greatness through contributions from both men and women, Ancient India produced a god many great women like Gargi, Maitreyee, Gayatri, Arundhati etc. The medieval and modern India has also got ladies like Lakshmi Bai, Matangini Hazra. Indira Gandhi etc, who sacrificed their lives for the sake of their country. Annie Basant, Sarojni Naidu etc. proved their ability in politics.
But in general, the dignity of women has not been uniformly and continuously maintained in our country. We must admit that our society is basically patriarchal and being dominated by males. It has brought down various kinds of inhuman oppressions like burning of ‘sati’, child marriage etc. through ages. Though these medieval oppressions have been reduced by the great reformers like Rammohan Rai, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar etc., a major section of the womenfolk are still deprived of their due rights of property, proper nutrition, rights and dignity, minimum education, and freedom. Even the other day-Roop Kunwar, of Rajasthan, fell a victim to be a ‘sati’. Shah Banu, a Muslim divorcee, could not gain maintenance from her husband, though the Supreme Court granted it, bypassing or over-ruling the Sarita. There prevails even now discrimination in the salaries and wages paid to women workers in some private concerns. The female children of the poor parents now serve as maidservants in various families. At home, too, parents do not raise their daughters like their sons.
The dowry system is a curse on our society. It turns the brides into a marketable commodity like cattle in the market of marriage. Her sufferings do not cease even with the ceremony of marriage. In many cases, the young brides are tortured or pushed to suicide or homicide by the husbands and the in-laws so that the grooms can marry anew for a dowry larger than before!! Keeping in mind all these points, the seven members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) decided to observe 1990 as ‘The Year of the Girl-child’. And from that year it is being continued to keep the promises for the uplift of the girl-child and the womenfolk. International Women’s Day is also observed on the 8th March every year in the UNO and is designated in many countries as a holiday, but not in India. The charter of the UNO signed in 1945 was the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental right. In India, the government has enacted some legislation in order to uphold the rights of the women but it is not sufficient. All the more, they are not backed by action plans.
Rape and sexual violence or assault have been occurring not only in the villages but in towns and cities too. Though the government and the court are passing harder Acts and punishment, what we need essentially is the attitude of honour to the girls in our society.
Of late, the dignity of womenfolk has been trodden in another way with the abuse of a new scientific invention. Nowadays an embryo may be tested in the mother’s womb and if it is found to be a female child, it is killed instantly and, in this matter, the rich are more culpable than the poor. Over 2 million female-embryos or just-born female babies are killed every year in India!
But now the continuity is changing for the better. Women’s organisations and political parties are fighting for more and more rights for women. Their struggle for constitutional rights is steadily gaining ground. Daughters now have an equal share with sons in the inherited property. Moves are on to reserve one-third of the total number of seats for women in all levels of government – from the panchayet to the parliament.
We must remember that men and women are the two wheels of our social conveyance. If both these wheels roll rhythmically, our society will move faster and gain better progress and enrichment. Hence we need female education in greater proportion, as it is said when we teach a man, we teach an individual, and when we teach a woman, we teach a whole family. What is most needed in our society is the basic change in our behaviour towards female children. We should look upon them, not as our compulsion but assets. We want our women to live in dignity and grace.