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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

Comparison the Status of Women in Modern India and Contemporary India



The Modern India refers to the period from A.D.1700 to A.D.1947. This period marks the advent of the British in India. One appreciative move the British took was empowerment of women during their reign. They worked towards abolition of Sati Pratha which was a prevalent crime during that phase, abolition of child marriage, introduction of western education in the country which encouraged a lot of Indian reformers to raise their voice against the wrong happening in the society.

Education, which has been identified as the major instrument for raising the status of women, was started during British period. After the Bhakti movement, Christian Missionaries took interest in the education of girls. A girl’s school was started for the first time in Bombay in 1824. The Hunter commission too emphasised on the need for female education in 1881. The Calcutta, Bombay and Madras universities did not permit admission to girls until1875. After 1882 girls were allowed to go for higher education[1].During British period there were two major movements which affected the position of women. These were the Social Reform Movement of the nineteenth century and the Nationalist Movement of the twentieth century.

On the other hand, contemporary India (1947 to the present) has done work for the betterment of women by creating laws but the issues still exist - see the inefficient implementation of those laws and delayed justice. A society will flourish only when all its citizens contribute equally to the economy of the nation. However, women are under estimated and are hence, under recognized in our so called democratic nation where we  perpetually talk about freedom and liberty but women are not granted these in it’s true sense.


Modern India, Contemporary India, women, Sati, widow remarriage.


In 18th and 19th century, there was a worldwide demand of establishing egalitarian societies which emphasized equality of men and women. British established their rule in India, Modernization begun in the 19th century in India. At the advent of the British rule, the position of women in India was at its lowest ebb. Sati[2] was evidently prevalent. Purdah[3] was strictly enforced on Muslim women and in later period Hindus also started following the system. Dancing girls had lucrative professions. Almost all the Hindu temples openly harboured devadasis[4]. The British rule, no doubt, tried to check all these evils.


The British lifestyle began to impress Indians. The British government took bold steps to reform the caste ridden Indian social order. There were some enlightened Indians who supported the British attempt to reform the oppressive social order of India. The first was the abolition of sati by law, on humanitarian grounds. It was on the 4th December 1892 that the British government in India passed the famous resolution by which sati was made a crime of culpable homicide punishable with fine, imprisonment or both. Raja Ram Mohan Roy represented the opinion of the enlightened Indian who argued that sati practice had no religious sanction. The natural consequence of the abolition of sati was the recognition of the right of the widow to remarriage.

Most of the reform movements (Brahma Samaj of 1825, Prarthana Samaj of 1897 and Arya Samaj of 1875) were led by male reformers who set the limit of the freedom and development of women. These reformers attacked only those practices that were extremely cruel or visibly violent (of course affecting only high caste Indian women). Seldom had they challenged the kinship structures of women subordination, sanctity of marriage and family, sexual division of labor, and caste hierarchies which perpetuated inequalities. Women reformers like Pandita Ramabai, Rukhmabai and Tarabai Shinde pointed out the biases of their contemporary male reformers.

Widow Remarriage was recognized by law in 1856. Widow’s remarriage restriction was among high caste and high class families. Widow Remarriage was a high caste issue, as it was widely in practice among many low caste groups. Widow’s remarriage in levirate form was commonly accepted among the Jats of Haryana. Although, this helped women a bit however, women still didn’t have absolute decision making power in their hands. It was either their fathers or in laws who took decisions for her. She was sometimes unwilling to remarry but she was pushed in the shackles of marriage with a man who belonged to a well off family which eventually proved lucrative for the family members. Even the lower caste women had to face the new problem which deprived the widows who were remarried of the property inherited from their husbands. Therefore, after the act was passed fewer remarriages took place. Those married widows were ‘virgin’ widows who had no children to part with. Widows who were not virgin widows did not and could not remarry.[5]

Overall, the condition of women improved because of some supportive fathers and husbands who wanted the women to get recognition and majorly because of social reformers such as, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Jyotiba Phule. These social reformers had undergone number of challenges and rendered an effective contribution towards enhancing the status of women in society. Improvements were primarily dedicated towards abolishing the practice of sati, promoting widow remarriage, abolishing child marriage, allowing women right to property and prohibiting dowry. These acts brought about improvements in the status of women[6].

In the 20th and 21st century, the status of women has improved because of the quality education they have acquired. However, the condition is not very good. There is no prevalence of acts like Sati but there are acts like female infanticide and female foeticide which are prevalent today. Every now and then there are news headlines quoting “Female infanticides rise again across Andhra Pradesh”, “Parents bury week-old girl’s body in Madurai district, flee”, “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao failed in Gujarat?” and many more. We educated an appreciative number of women after years of rebellion and protest. However, we failed to educate the dogmatic people who can’t take the pride when a woman of their nation represents millions of people in a conference or Olympics. In my opinion, the reason these people do not want women to succeed is that they are afraid that what if females do a better job than men in all the fields which are presently dominated by males? Keeping this aside talking, about the parents who want their daughters to succeed, they treat her like her male counterparts and support her in all her decisions but, there is a constant fear in their mind of losing their daughters to the heinous crimes like rape, molestation and harassment at work place, public transport, trains, etc. Their concern is absolutely valid because the justice system is paralyzed, it passes delayed judgments and this is not an abrupt statement rather a very recent rape case namely “The Nirbaya case” corroborates with the above statement. She got justice after 9 years. It is not only this but cases of molestation and harassment are usually paid no heed to. The girls are told to shut their mouths and not to open up about their experience. This is a wrong concept of enduring the illegal crimes just for the sake of reputation in the society. This encourages these criminals and they continue to do the same without being punished.

Our girls should be taught self respect, self defense and reformation. Simultaneously, the government should implement harsh laws and punishments for the culprits so that others think twice before committing such criminal acts. This is the only way we can get a society where girls are self reliant, strong and invincible. Females are surpassing men in almost all the fields, be it medicine, law, entrepreneurship, business, and education. We have many examples of women who did not stop because the society wanted them to stop; they listened to their conscience and progressed forward.

Women not only take care of the family but they also protect the whole world from vari­ous kinds of ill-incidents , she (in the form of devi durga) saved the earth from a giant like Mahishasur, they have not only given birth to the great freedom fighters like Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, the great scien­tists like Albert Einstein , Isaac Newton, but  have also contributed  a lot in making them who they were. They always try to contribute in the society either actively or passively. However, the matter of concern is that they have not yet acquired equality in the society.


William Golding said, “I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men. They are far superior and always have been. Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she will give you a baby. If you give her a house, she will give you a home. If you give her groceries, she will give you a meal. If you give her a smile she will give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her. So, if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of shit!”

During the phase prior to independence (i.e., the modern history period), an awareness of the need to remove social disabilities of women was created, the doors of education were opened for them, and women’s organization emerged to represent the needs and cause of middle class urban women. However, inequalities still prevailed because women were not allowed to speak against their fathers and husbands. The condition improved a tad bit eventually because of the reformers who wanted a positive change in the conventional society which followed unnecessary things in the name of religion which surprisingly, were never mentioned in the Vedas and the holy books.

In post-independent India, the condition of women was still miserable. Eventually, people realized the need to educate women and bring reformative changes. There are laws which are still awaited which will finally talk about equality in all fields leaving no gender discriminated and unanswered.

The comparison between the two periods did not give us a winner but has made one thing very clear that none of the period helped women in the best possible manner; both of them had just initiated reformation but failed to end it on a successful note.

The only thing the women and world can do is be hopeful and continue to be audacious.

Pooja Sevaramani is a first year law student from Bhopal, India. 


[1] Puja Mondal ‘Changes in the status of Indian women during British rule’(2013)

<https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/india-2/changes-in-the-status-of-indian-women-during-british-rule-essay/4400 >(last visited Dec 29,2021).

[2]  Suttee, Sanskrit sati (“good woman” or “chaste wife”), the Indian custom of a wife immolating herself either on the funeral pyre of her dead husband or in some other fashion soon after his death.

[3] Pardah or purdah (from Persian: ????, meaning "curtain") is a religious and social practice of female seclusion prevalent among some Muslim and Hindu communities. It takes two forms: physical segregation of the sexes and the requirement that women cover their bodies so as to cover their skin and conceal their form.

[4] The Devadasi is a Sanskrit term which means servant of Deva (GOD) or Devi (GODESS). This is a kind of religious practice carried on basically in the southern part of India. In which a girl in her pre puberty period was dedicated to worship and service of deity or a temple for the rest of her life by her parents.

[5] P. Srivastava,’Status of women in India, Ancient, Medieval and Modern’ (2018) <https://www.sociologydiscussion.com/status-of-women/status-of-women-in-india-ancient-medieval-and-modern-sociology/13526> (last visited Dec 29,2021).

[6] Radhika Kapur, ‘Status of women in Pre Independence India’ (2019)

< https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330221015_Status_of_Women_in_Pre-Independence_India > (last visited Dec 29,2021).


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