The Status of Women in India

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1526 to 1707 A.D.

Purdah: Through the ages, there was deterioration in the status of women but there was no seclusion ever. Strict veiling of women was a common practice among the Muslims in their native lands and naturally great stress was laid upon it by all kings, including a liberal one like Akbar. Hindus adopted purdah as a protective measure to save the purity of their women and maintain the purity of their social order. Purdah was, however, less rigorously followed in Rajput families. Their women, trained in all arts of warfare, took part in hunting expeditions. Barring notable Muslim families, South India did not adopt purdah. Hindu women used a dupatta to cover their heads with women from lower strata of society not following any system of purdah at all.

Sati was widely prevalent during this period. Widows who would not burn themselves were harshly treated by society, were not allowed to sport long hair or put on ornaments.

Education: Woman’s education was not completely ignored, though education was imparted by their parents. Muslim girls learnt the Quran. The rich appointed tutors to teach their daughters at home. The daughters of Rajput chiefs were able to read and write. Mughal princesses were more able to read and write. An average women had sufficient knowledge about her native language. The knowledge of Sanskrit was widely spread in the South. However, since the average age of girls was low, she did not get the benefit of education.

General Status: The birth of a daughter was considered inauspicious (in the previous periods it was not like that – a product of the environment they lived in). Girls were married off at an early age less than 10, leaving no room for her to be educated or choose her partner. Dowry was demanded and paid. In some cases, the bridegroom had to pay the bride’s guardians. Girls belonging to high class Rajput families had greater freedom to choose their husband.

Monogamy seemed to have been the rule among the lower strata of society in both the communities during this period. After getting married, the girl was responsible for the management of her household. She was to be a devoted wife who took care of her husband’s needs. On the other hand, her husband was to take good care of her. It appears that most Hindus led a happy domestic life.

Divorce and remarriages were common among Muslims but were prohibited to Hindu women. Widow Remarriage, except for the lower strata of society, had completely disappeared in Hindu society during this period.

A Muslim woman inherited a definite share of her husband’s or father’s property with an absolute right to dispose it. Unlike her Hindu sister, she retained the right after marriage. Mahr was another safeguard for her while a Hindu woman had no right to the property of her husband’s parents. A Hindu woman was entitled to maintenance, besides movable property. Thus, women were led to a position of despondency in every sphere of life. They became home birds, period.

Inspite of their seclusion, some Mughal ladies were writers of distinction and administrators of rare merit. Mira Bai, Salima Sultana, Zib-un-Nisa (eldest daughter of Aurangzeb) were poetesses of distinction. In Maharashtra, Aka bai and Kena disciples of Ramdas Swami were important literary figures. Shivaji’s mother Jijabai developed in him, a spirit of defiance and self assertion. Tarabai Mohite was the supreme guiding force in Maharashtra after the death of her husband Rajaram. Her brilliance helped counter the Mughal onslaught by Aurangzeb.

Whatever may have been the position of a woman in the society, she certainly occupied the most respectable position as a mother.

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