Women in India

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Women in India
Girl in india.jpg
A girl in India
Gender Inequality Index[3]
Value0.563 (2014)
Rank130th out of 157
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)174 (2015)[1]
Women in parliament12.2% (2014)
Females over 25 with secondary education27% (2014)
Women in labour force29.0% (2014)[2]
Global Gender Gap Index[4]
Value0.664 (2015)
Rank108th out of 149

The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia.[5] With a decline in their status from the ancient to medieval times,[6][7] to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful. In modern India, women have held high offices including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and Governors.

Women’s rights are secured under the Constitution of India — mainly, equality, dignity, and freedom from discrimination; further, India has various statutes governing the rights of women.[8][9]

As of 2011, the President of India, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the parliament) were women. However, women in India continue to face numerous problems, including violent victimisation through rape, acid throwing, dowry killings, and the forced prostitution of young girls.[10][11][12] India is ranked as the worst G20 country to be born a woman and one of the worst countries for women in the world. [13][14]


Ancient India

"Amrapali greets Buddha", ivory carving, National Museum of New Delhi

Women during the early Vedic period[15] enjoyed equal status with men in all aspects of life.[16] Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period.[17][18] Rigvedic verses suggest that women married at a mature age and were probably free to select their own husbands.[19] Scriptures such as the Rig Veda and Upanishads mention several women sages and seers, notably Gargi and Maitreyi.

In approximately 500 B.C., the status of women began to decline.[6][7] Although reform movements such as Jainism allowed women to be admitted to religious orders, by and large women in India faced confinement and restrictions.[15] The practice of child marriages is believed to have started around the sixth century.[20]

Few texts exist that specifically deal with the role of women[21] an important exception is the Stri Dharma Paddhati of Tryambakayajvan, an official at Thanjavur c. 1730. The text compiles strictures on women's behaviour dating back to the Apastamba sutra (c. 4th century BCE).[22] The opening verse goes:

मुख्यो धर्मः स्मृतिषु विहितो भार्तृशुश्रुषानम हि  :
women are enjoined to be of service to their husbands.

Some kingdoms in ancient India had traditions such as nagarvadhu ("bride of the city"). Women competed to win the coveted title of nagarvadhu. Amrapali is the most famous example of a nagarvadhu.

Medieval period

Krishna at Goddess Radharani's feet.

Indian women's position in society further deteriorated during the medieval period,[7][16] when child marriages and a ban on remarriage by widows became part of social life in some communities in India. The Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent brought purdah to Indian society. Among the Rajputs of Rajasthan, the Jauhar was practised. In some parts of India, some of Devadasis were sexually exploited. Polygamy was practised among Hindu Kshatriya rulers for some political reasons.[20] In many Muslim families, women were restricted to Zenana areas of the house.

In spite of these conditions, women often became prominent in the fields of politics, literature, education and religion.[7] Razia Sultana became the only woman monarch to have ever ruled Delhi. The Gond queen Durgavati ruled for fifteen years before losing her life in a battle with Mughal emperor Akbar's general Asaf Khan in 1564. Chand Bibi defended Ahmednagar against the powerful Mughal forces of Akbar in the 1590s. Jehangir's wife Nur Jehan effectively wielded imperial power, and was recognised as the real power behind the Mughal throne. The Mughal princesses Jahanara and Zebunnissa were well-known poets, and also influenced the ruling powers. Shivaji's mother, Jijabai, was queen regent because of her ability as a warrior and an administrator. In South India, many women administered villages, towns, and divisions, and ushered in new social and religious institutions.[20]

The Bhakti movements tried to restore women's status and questioned certain forms of oppression.[15] Mirabai, a female saint-poet, was one of the most important Bhakti movement figures. Other female saint-poets from this period included Akka Mahadevi, Rami Janabai and Lal Ded. Bhakti sects within Hinduism such as the Mahanubhav, Varkari and many others were principle movements within the Hindu fold openly advocating social justice and equality between men and women.

Immediately following the Bhakti movements, Guru Nanak, the first Guru of Sikhs, preached equality between men and women. He advocated that women be allowed to lead religious assemblies; to lead congregational hymn singing called Kirtan or Bhajan; to become members of religious management committees; to lead armies on the battlefield; to have equality in marriage, and to have equality in Amrit (Baptism). Other Sikh Gurus also preached the same.

Historical practices

Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi .

Traditions such as Sati, Jauhar, and Devadasi among some communities have been banned and are largely defunct in modern India. However, some instances of these practices are still found in remote parts of India. The purdah is still practiced by Indian women in some communities. Child marriage remains common in rural areas, although it is illegal under current Indian law.

Sati is an old, almost completely defunct custom among some communities, in which the widow was immolated alive on her husband's funeral pyre. Although the act was supposed to be voluntary on the widow's part, its practice is forbidden by the Hindu scriptures in Kali yuga, the current age.[23] After the foreign invasions of Indian subcontinent, this practice started to mark its presence, as women were often raped or kidnapped by the foreign forces.[24] It was abolished by the British in 1829. There have been around forty reported cases of sati since independence.[25] In 1987, the Roop Kanwar case in Rajasthan led to The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act.[26]
Jauhar refers to the practice of voluntary immolation by wives and daughters of defeated warriors, in order to avoid capture and consequent molestation by the enemy. The practice was followed by the wives of defeated Rajput rulers, who are known to place a high premium on honour. Evidently such practice took place during the Islamic invasions of India.[27]
Purdah is the practice among some Muslim communities requiring women to cover themselves in front of males for the purpose of modesty.
Devadasi is often misunderstood as religious practice. It was practised in southern India, in which women were "married" to a deity or temple. The ritual was well-established by the 10th century A.D.[28] By 1988, the practice was outlawed in the country.[29]

British rule

Sarojini Naidu, a poet and freedom fighter, was the first Indian woman to become President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman to become the governor of a state in India.
London Mission Bengali Girls' School, Calcutta (LMS, 1869, p.12)[30]

During the British Raj, many reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Jyotirao Phule fought for the betterment of women. Peary Charan Sarkar, a former student of Hindu College, Calcutta and a member of "Young Bengal", set up the first free school for girls in India in 1847 in Barasat, a suburb of Calcutta (later the school was named Kalikrishna Girls' High School).

While this might suggest that there was no positive British contribution during the Raj era, that is not entirely the case. Missionaries' wives such as Martha Mault née Mead and her daughter Eliza Caldwell née Mault are rightly remembered for pioneering the education and training of girls in south India. This practice was initially met with local resistance, as it flew in the face of tradition. Raja Rammohan Roy's efforts led to the abolition of Sati under Governor-General William Cavendish-Bentinck in 1829. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's crusade for improvement in the situation of widows led to the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856. Many women reformers such as Pandita Ramabai also helped the cause of women.

Kittur Chennamma, queen of the princely state Kittur in Karnataka,[31] led an armed rebellion against the British in response to the Doctrine of lapse. Abbakka Rani, queen of coastal Karnataka, led the defence against invading European armies, notably the Portuguese in the 16th century. Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi, led the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British. She is now widely considered as a national hero. Begum Hazrat Mahal, the co-ruler of Awadh, was another ruler who led the revolt of 1857. She refused deals with the British and later retreated to Nepal. The Begums of Bhopal were also considered notable female rulers during this period. They did not observe purdah and were trained in martial arts.

Chandramukhi Basu, Kadambini Ganguly and Anandi Gopal Joshi were some of the earliest Indian women to obtain a degree.

In 1917, the first women's delegation met the Secretary of State to demand women's political rights, supported by the Indian National Congress. The All India Women's Education Conference was held in Pune in 1927, it became a major organisation in the movement for social change.[15][32] In 1929, the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed, stipulating fourteen as the minimum age of marriage for a girl.[15][33][full citation needed] Though Mahatma Gandhi himself married at the age of thirteen, he later urged people to boycott child marriages and called upon young men to marry child widows.[34]

Women played an important part in India's independence struggle. Some famous freedom fighters include Bhikaji Cama, Dr. Annie Besant, Pritilata Waddedar, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani and Kasturba Gandhi. Other notable names include Muthulakshmi Reddy and Durgabai Deshmukh. The Rani of Jhansi Regiment of Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army consisted entirely of women, including Captain Lakshmi Sahgal. Sarojini Naidu, a poet and freedom fighter, was the first Indian woman to become President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman to become the governor of a state in India.

Independent India

Female Safety Index per state according to the Tata Strategic Management Group. Light green indicates greatest safety; yellow, medium safety and light red, least safety.

Women in India now participate fully in areas such as education, sports, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, science and technology, etc.[7] Indira Gandhi, who served as Prime Minister of India for an aggregate period of fifteen years, is the world's longest serving woman Prime Minister.[35]

The Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian women equality (Article 14), no discrimination by the State (Article 15(1)), equality of opportunity (Article 16), and equal pay for equal work (Article 39(d)). In addition, it allows special provisions to be made by the State in favour of women and children (Article 15(3)), renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women (Article 51(A) (e)), and also allows for provisions to be made by the State for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief. (Article 42).[36]

Feminist activism in India gained momentum in the late 1970s. One of the first national-level issues that brought women's groups together was the Mathura rape case. The acquittal of policemen accused of raping a young girl Mathura in a police station led to country-wide protests in 1979-1980. The protests, widely covered by the national media, forced the Government to amend the Evidence Act, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Indian Penal Code; and created a new offence, custodial rape.[36] Female activists also united over issues such as female infanticide, gender bias, women's health, women's safety, and women's literacy.

Since alcoholism is often associated with violence against women in India,[37] many women groups launched anti-liquor campaigns in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and other states.[36] Many Indian Muslim women have questioned the fundamental leaders' interpretation of women's rights under the Shariat law and have criticised the triple talaq system.[15]

In the 1990s, grants from foreign donor agencies enabled the formation of new women-oriented NGOs. Self-help groups and NGOs such as Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) have played a major role in the advancement of women's rights in India. Many women have emerged as leaders of local movements; for example, Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

The Government of India declared 2001 as the Year of Women's Empowerment (Swashakti).[15] The National Policy For The Empowerment Of Women came was passed in 2001.[38]

In 2006, the case of Imrana, a Muslim rape victim, was highlighted by the media. Imrana was raped by her father-in-law. The pronouncement of some Muslim clerics that Imrana should marry her father-in-law led to widespread protests, and finally Imrana's father-in-law was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The verdict was welcomed by many women's groups and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.[39]

According to a report by Thomson Reuters, India is the "fourth most dangerous country" in the world for women,[40][41] India was also noted as the worst country for women among the G20 countries,[42] however, this report has faced criticism for its inaccuracy.[43] On 9 March 2010, one day after International Women's day, Rajya Sabha passed the Women's Reservation Bill requiring that 33% of seats in India's Parliament and state legislative bodies be reserved for women.[44]


Sarla Thakral became the first Indian woman to fly an aircraft in 1936 CE.

The steady change in the position of women can be highlighted by looking at what has been achieved by women in the country:

Indira Gandhi becomes the first woman Prime Minister of India in 1966 CE.


India has one of the highest number of female politicians in the world. Women have held high offices in India including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Leader of the Opposition. The Indian states Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh,[53] Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan and Tripura have implemented 50% reservation for women in PRIs.[54][55] Majority of candidates in these Panchayaths are women. Currently 100% of elected members in Kodassery Panchayat in Kerala are Women.[56] There are currently 5 female chief ministers in India.


Women in Bihar

The status of women India is strongly connected to family relations. In India, the family is seen as crucially important, and in most of the country the family unit is patrilineal. Families are usually multi-generational, with the bride moving to live with the in-laws. Families are usually hierarchical, with the elders having authority over the younger generations, and the males over females. The vast majority of marriages are monogamous (one husband and one wife), but both polygyny and polyandry in India have a tradition among some populations in India.[57] Weddings in India can by quite expensive. Most marriages in India are arranged.[58]

With regard to dress, a sari (a long piece of fabric wound around the body) and salwar kameez are worn by women all over India. A bindi is part of a woman's make-up. Despite common belief, the bindi on the forehead does not signify marital status; however, the Sindoor does.[59]

Rangoli (or Kolam) is a traditional art very popular among Indian women.

Education and economic development

According to 1992-93 figures, only 9.2% of the households in India were headed by females. However, approximately 35% of the households below the poverty line were found to be headed by females.[60]


School girls in the classroom, Lakhiganj High School, Assam

Though it is gradually increasing, the female literacy rate in India is less than the male literacy rate.[61] Far fewer girls than boys are enrolled in school, and many girls drop out.[36] In urban India, girls are nearly on a par with boys in terms of education. However, in rural India, girls continue to be less educated than boys. According to the National Sample Survey Data of 1997, only the states of Kerala and Mizoram have approached universal female literacy. According to scholars, the major factor behind improvements in the social and economic status of women in Kerala is literacy.[36]

Under the Non-Formal Education programme (NFE), about 40% of the NFE centres in states and 10% of the centres in UTs are exclusively reserved for females. As of 2000, about 300,000 NFE centres were catering to about 7.42 million children. About 120,000 NFE centres were exclusively for girls.[62]

According to a 1998 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the chief barriers to female education in India are inadequate school facilities (such as sanitary facilities), shortage of female teachers and gender bias in the curriculum (female characters being depicted as weak and helpless).[63]

The literacy rate is lower for women compared to men: the literacy rate is 60.6% for females, while for males it is 81.3%. The 2011 census, however, indicated a 2001–2011 decadal literacy growth of 9.2%, which is slower than the growth seen during the previous decade. There is a wide gender disparity in the literacy rate in India: effective literacy rates (age 7 and above) in 2011 were 82.14% for men and 65.46% for women. (population aged 15 or older, data from 2015).[64]

Workforce participation

A woman working at an Aadhaar center in India.

Contrary to common perception, a large percentage of women in India work.[65] National data collection agencies accept that statistics seriously understate women's contribution as workers.[36] However, there are far fewer women than men in the paid workforce. In urban India, women participate in the workforce in impressive numbers. For example, in the software industry 30% of the workforce is female.[66] In the workplace women enjoy parity with their male counterparts in terms of wages and roles.[citation needed]

In rural India in the agriculture and allied industrial sectors, females account for as much as 89.5% of the labour force.[60] In overall farm production, women's average contribution is estimated at 55% to 66% of the total labour. According to a 1991 World Bank report, women accounted for 94% of total employment in dairy production in India. Women constitute 51% of the total employed in forest-based small-scale enterprises.[60]

One of the most famous female business success stories is the Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad. In 2006, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who founded Biocon, one of India's first biotech companies, was rated India's richest woman. Lalita D. Gupte and Kalpana Morparia were the only businesswomen in India who made the list of the Forbes World's Most Powerful Women in 2006. Gupte ran ICICI Bank, India's second-largest bank, until October 2006[67] and Morparia is CEO of JP Morgan India.[68]

Land and property rights

Women harvesting rice paddy in Tamil Nadu. Women rarely own land in their own names, although they often work in agriculture

In most Indian families, women do not own any property in their own names, and do not get a share of parental property.[36] Due to weak enforcement of laws protecting them, women continue to have little access to land and property.[69] In India, women's property rights vary depending on religion, and tribe, and are subject to a complex mix of law and custom,[70] but in principle the move has been towards granting women equal legal rights, especially since the passing of the The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.[71]

The Hindu personal laws of 1956 (applying to Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains) gave women rights to inheritances. However, sons had an independent share in the ancestral property, while the daughters' shares were based on the share received by their father. Hence, a father could effectively disinherit a daughter by renouncing his share of the ancestral property, but a son would continue to have a share in his own right. Additionally, married daughters, even those facing marital harassment, had no residential rights in the ancestral home. Thanks to amendment of the Hindu laws in 2005, women now have the same status as men.[72]

In 1986, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Shah Bano, an elderly divorced Muslim woman, was eligible for maintenance money. However, the decision was opposed by fundamentalist Muslim leaders, who alleged that the court was interfering in their personal law. The Union Government subsequently passed the Muslim Women's (Protection of Rights Upon Divorce) Act.[73]

Similarly, Christian women have struggled over years for equal rights in divorce and succession. In 1994, all churches, jointly with women's organisations, drew up a draft law called the Christian Marriage and Matrimonial Causes Bill. However, the government has still not amended the relevant laws.[15] In 2014, the Law Commission of India has asked the government to modify the law to give Christian women equal property rights.[74]

Crimes against women

The map shows the comparative rate of violence against women in Indian states and union territories in 2012. Crime rate data per 100,000 women in this map is the broadest definition of crime against women under Indian law. It includes rape, sexual assault, insult to modesty, kidnapping, abduction, cruelty by intimate partner or relatives, trafficking, persecution for dowry, dowry deaths, indecency, and all other crimes listed in Indian Penal Code.[75][76]

Police records in India show a high incidence of crimes against women. The National Crime Records Bureau reported in 1998 that by 2010 growth in the rate of crimes against women would exceed the population growth rate.[36] Earlier, many crimes against women were not reported to police due to the social stigma attached to rape and molestation. Official statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of reported crimes against women.[36]

Acid throwing

A Thomas Reuters Foundation survey[77] says that India is the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women to live in.[78] Women belonging to any class, caste, creed or religion can be victims of this cruel form of violence and disfigurement, a premeditated crime intended to kill or maim permanently and act as a lesson to put a woman in her place. In India, acid attacks on women[79] who dared to refuse a man's proposal of marriage or asked for a divorce[80] are a form of revenge. Acid is cheap, easily available, and the quickest way to destroy a woman's life. The number of acid attacks have been rising.[81]

Child marriage

Child marriage has been traditionally prevalent in India and continues to this day. Historically, child brides would live with their parents until they reached puberty. In the past, child widows were condemned to a life of great agony, shaved heads, living in isolation, and being shunned by society.[34] Although child marriage was outlawed in 1860, it is still a common practice.[82] The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 is the relevant legislation in the country.

According to UNICEF’s "State of the World’s Children-2009" report, 47% of India's women aged 20–24 were married before the legal age of 18, rising to 56% in rural areas.[83] The report also showed that 40% of the world's child marriages occur in India.[84]

Domestic violence

Domestic violence in India is endemic.[85] Around 70% of women in India are victims of domestic violence, according to Renuka Chowdhury, former Union minister for Women and Child Development.[86] Domestic violence was legally addressed in the 1980s when the 1983 Criminal Law Act introduced section 498A "Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty".[87]

The National Crime Records Bureau reveal that a crime against a woman is committed every three minutes, a woman is raped every 29 minutes, a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes, and one case of cruelty committed by either the husband or relative of the husband occurs every nine minutes.[88] This occurs despite the fact that women in India are legally protected from domestic abuse under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.[88]

In India, domestic violence toward women is considered as any type of abuse that can be considered a threat; it can also be physical, psychological, or sexual abuse to any current or former partner.[89] Domestic violence is not handled as a crime or complaint, it is seen more as a private or family matter.[89] In determining the category of a complaint, it is based on caste, class, religious bias and race which also determines whether action is to be taken or not.[89] Many studies have reported about the prevalence of the violence and have taken a criminal-justice approach, but most woman refuse to report it.[89] These women are guaranteed constitutional justice, dignity and equality but continue to refuse based on their sociocultural contexts.[89] As the women refuse to speak of the violence and find help, they are also not receiving the proper treatment.[89]


A map of the Indian dowry death rate per 100,000 people, 2012.

In 1961, the Government of India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act,[90] making dowry demands in wedding arrangements illegal. However, many cases of dowry-related domestic violence, suicides and murders have been reported. In the 1980s, numerous such cases were reported.[65]

In 1985, the Dowry Prohibition (maintenance of lists of presents to the bride and bridegroom) Rules were framed.[91] According to these rules, a signed list should be maintained of presents given at the time of the marriage to the bride and the bridegroom. The list should contain a brief description of each present, its approximate value, the name of who has given the present, and relationship to the recipient. However, such rules are rarely enforced.

A 1997 report claimed that each year at least 5,000 women in India die dowry-related deaths, and at least a dozen die each day in 'kitchen fires' thought to be intentional.[92] The term for this is "bride burning" and is criticised within India itself. Amongst the urban educated, such dowry abuse has reduced considerably[citation needed].

In 2011, the National Crime Records Bureau reported 8,618 dowry deaths. Unofficial estimates claim the figures are at least three times as high.[87]

Female infanticide and sex-selective abortion

A map of India's child sex ratio, 2011.

In India, the male-female sex ratio is skewed dramatically in favour of males, the chief reason being the high number of females who die before reaching adulthood.[36] Tribal societies in India have a less skewed sex ratio than other caste groups. This is in spite of the fact that tribal communities have far lower income levels, lower literacy rates, and less adequate health facilities.[36] Many experts suggest the higher number of males in India can be attributed to female infanticides and sex-selective abortions. The sex ratio is particularly bad in the north-western area of the country, particularly in Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir.[93]

Ultrasound scanning constitutes a major leap forward in providing for the care of mother and baby, and with scanners becoming portable, these advantages have spread to rural populations. However, ultrasound scans often reveal the sex of the baby, allowing pregnant women to decide to abort female foetuses and try again later for a male child. This practice is usually considered the main reason for the change in the ratio of male to female children being born.[94]

In 1994 the Indian government passed a law forbidding women or their families from asking about the sex of the baby after an ultrasound scan (or any other test which would yield that information) and also expressly forbade doctors or any other persons from providing that information. In practice this law (like the law forbidding dowries) is widely ignored, and levels of abortion on female foetuses remain high and the sex ratio at birth keeps getting more skewed. [94]

Female infanticide (killing of girl infants) is still prevalent in some rural areas.[36] Sometimes this is infanticide by neglect, for example families may not spend money on critical medicines or withhold care from a sick girl.

Continuing abuse of the dowry tradition has been one of the main reasons for sex-selective abortions and female infanticides in India.

Honor killings

Honor killings have been reported in northern regions of India, mainly in the Indian states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, as a result of people marrying without their family's acceptance, and sometimes for marrying outside their caste or religion. Haryana is notorious for incidents of honour killings, which have been described as "chillingly common in villages of Haryana".[95] In contrast, honor killings are rare to non-existent in South India and the western Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. In some other parts of India, notably West Bengal, honor killings completely ceased about a century ago, largely due to the activism and influence of reformists such as Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Vidyasagar and Raja Ram Mohan Roy.[96] In 2010, the Supreme Court of India issued notice in regard to honor killings to the states of Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.[97]

Accusations of witchcraft

Violence against women related to accusations of witchcraft occurs in India, particulary in parts of Northern India. Belief in the supernatural among the Indian population is strong, and lynchings for witchcraft are reported by the media.[98] In Assam and West Bengal between 2003 and 2008 there were around 750 deaths related to accusations of witchcraft.[99] Officials in the state of Chhattisgarh reported in 2008 that at least 100 women are maltreated annually as suspected witches.[100]


People in Delhi, India protesting after a young student was gang-raped in Delhi in December 2012.

Rape in India has been described by Radha Kumar as one of India's most common crimes against women[101] and by the UN’s human-rights chief as a "national problem".[102] Since the 1980s, women's rights groups lobbied for marital rape to be declared unlawful,[101] but the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 still maintains the marital exemption by stating in its exception clause under Section 375, that: "Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape".[103] While per-capita reported incidents are quite low compared to other countries, even developed countries,[104][105] a new case is reported every 20 minutes.[106][107]

New Delhi has the highest rate of rape-reports among Indian cities.[108] Sources show that rape cases in India have doubled between 1990 and 2008.[109][110]

Sexual harassment

Eve teasing is a euphemism used for sexual harassment or molestation of women by men. Many activists blame the rising incidents of sexual harassment against women on the influence of "Western culture". In 1987, The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act was passed[111] to prohibit indecent representation of women through advertisements or in publications, writings, paintings or in any other manner.

Of the total number of crimes against women reported in 1990, half related to molestation and harassment in the workplace.[36] In 1997, in a landmark judgement[ambiguous], the Supreme Court of India took a strong stand against sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The Court also laid down detailed guidelines for prevention and redressal of grievances. The National Commission for Women subsequently elaborated these guidelines into a Code of Conduct for employers.[36] In 2013 India's top court investigated on a law graduate's allegation that she was sexually harassed by a recently retired Supreme Court judge.[112] Recently, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace ( Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 came into force in December 2013, to prevent Harassment of women at workplace.


The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act was passed in 1956.[113] However many cases of trafficking of young girls and women have been reported. These women are either forced into prostitution, domestic work or child labour.

Women's safety laws

  1. Guardians & Wards Act, 1890[114]
  2. Indian Penal Code, 1860
  3. Christian Marriage Act, 1872
  4. Indian Evidence Act, 1872[115]
  5. Married Women's Property Act, 1874
  6. Workmen's compensation Act, 1923
  7. Indian Successions Act, 1925
  8. Immoral Traffic (prevention) Act, 1956
  9. Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961[116]
  10. Commission of Sati(Prevention) Act, 1987
  11. Cinematograph Act, 1952
  12. Births, Deaths & Marriages Registration Act, 1886
  13. Minimum Wages Act, 1948
  14. Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012
  15. Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929
  16. Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application,1937
  17. Indecent Representation of Women(Prevention) Act,1986
  18. Special Marriage Act, 1954[117]
  19. Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
  20. Hindu Successions Act, 1956
  21. Foreign Marriage Act, 1969
  22. Family Courts Act, 1984
  23. Maternity Benefit Act,1861
  24. Hindu Adoption & Maintenance ACT,1956
  25. Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
  26. Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act,1971
  27. National Commission for Women Act, 1990
  28. The Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection)] Act, 1994
  29. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
  30. Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013[118]
  31. Indian Divorce Act, 1969
  32. Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
  33. Hindu Widows Remarriage Act, 1856
  34. Muslim women (protection of rights on divorce) Act, 1986

Women's rights

Centre for Equality and Inclusion (CEQUIN), alternatively spelled in the press as Center for Equality and Inclusion, is a non-governmental organisation based in India that works towards female empowerment and women's rights.

Other concerns

Women in Jharkhand

Social opinions

In the wake of several brutal rape attacks in the capital city of Delhi, debates held in other cities revealed that men believed women who dressed provocatively deserved to get raped; many of the correspondents stated women incited men to rape them.[119][120]

Participation of women in social life

The degree to which women participate in public life, that is being outside the home, varies by region and background. For example, the Rajputs, a patrilineal clan inhabiting parts of India, especially the north-western area, have traditionally practised purdah, and many still do to this day. In recent years however, more women have started to challenge such social norms: for instance women in rural Haryana are increasingly rejecting the ghunghat.[121] In India, most population (about two thirds[122]) is rural, and, as such, lives in tight-knit communities where it is very easy for a woman to ruin her family's 'honor' through her behavior. The concept of family honor is especially prevalent in northern India. Izzat refers to a concept of honor prevalent in the culture of North India and Pakistan.[123] Izzat applies to both sexes, but in different ways. Women must uphold the 'family honor' by being chaste, passive and submissive, while men must be strong, brave, and be willing and able to control the women of their families.[124] The rural areas surrounding Delhi are among the most conservative in India: it has been estimated that 30% of all honor killings of India take place in Western Uttar Pradesh,[125] while Haryana has been described as "one of India's most conservative when it comes to caste, marriage and the role of women. Deeply patriarchal, caste purity is paramount and marriages are arranged to sustain the status quo."[126]


The average female life expectancy today in India is low compared to many countries, but it has shown gradual improvement over the years. In many families, especially rural ones, girls and women face nutritional discrimination within the family, and are anaemic and malnourished. [36] Almost half of adolescent girls are chronically malnourished.[127] In addition, poor nutrition during pregnancy often leads to birth complications.[128]

The maternal mortality in India is the 56th highest in the world.[129] 42% of births in the country are supervised in Medical Institution. In rural areas, most of women deliver with the help of women in the family, contradictory to the fact that the unprofessional or unskilled deliverer lacks the knowledge about pregnancy.[36]

Family planning

The average woman living in a rural area in India has little or no control over becoming pregnant. Women, particularly women in rural areas, do not have access to safe and self-controlled methods of contraception. The public health system emphasises permanent methods like sterilisation, or long-term methods like IUDs that do not need follow-up. Sterilisation accounts for more than 75% of total contraception, with female sterilisation accounting for almost 95% of all sterilisations.[36] The contraceptive prevalence rate for 2007/2008 was estimated at 54.8%. [130]

Women from lower castes

The caste system in India is a system of social stratification. Dalit women, who are deemed "untouchable", suffer severe discrimination in society, because in this case caste and gender are intersected, putting these women on a very low social position. Dalit women are frequently the victims of rape and other crimes.[131]

Sex ratios

A sign in an Indian hospital stating that prenatal sex determination is a crime.

India has a highly skewed sex ratio, which is attributed to sex-selective abortion and female infanticide affecting approximately one million female babies per year.[132] In, 2011, government stated India was missing three million girls and there are now 48 less girls per 1,000 boys.[133] Despite this, the government has taken further steps to improve the ratio, and the ratio is reported to have been improved in recent years.[134]

The amount of missing women totaled to 100 million across the world.[135] The male-to-female ratio is high in favor toward men in developing countries in Asia, including India, than that of areas such as North America. Along with abortion, the high amount of males in India is a result of sex selection, where physicians are given the opportunity to incorrectly determine the sex of a child during the ultrasound.[136] India currently has a problem known as the "missing women", but it has been present for quite some time. The female mortality in 2001 was 107.43.[137] The deaths of these "missing women" were attributed to the death history rate of women in India starting in 1901.

The gap between the two gender titles is a direct response to the gender bias within India. Men and women in India have unequal health and education rights. Male education and health are made more of a priority, so women’s death rates are increasing.[137] The argument continues that a lack of independence that women are not allowed to have is a large contributor to these fatalities. Women in India have high fertility and get married at a young age. Those who are given more opportunity and rights are more likely to live longer and contribute to the economy rather than that of a women expected to serve as wife starting at a young age and continuing the same responsibilities for the rest of her life. As women continue to "disappear," the sex ratio turns its favor toward men. In turn, this offsets reproduction and does not allow for a controlled reproductive trend. While the excess mortality of women is relatively high, it cannot be blamed completely for the unequal sex ratio in India. However, it is a large contributor considering the precedence that Indian men have over women.


In rural areas, schools have been reported to have gained the improved sanitation facility.[138] Given the existing socio-cultural norms and situation of sanitation in schools, girl students are forced not to relieve themselves in the open unlike boys.[139] Lack of facilities in home forces women to wait for the night to relieve themselves and avoid being seen by others.[140] Access to sanitation in some parts of northern India is very poor: about 85% of the rural households in Bihar have no access to a toilet; and this creates a dangerous situation for women and girls who are followed, attacked and raped in the fields.[141]

In 2011 a "Right to Pee" (as called by the media) campaign began in Mumbai, India's largest city.[142] Women, but not men, have to pay to urinate in Mumbai, despite regulations against this practice. Women have also been sexually assaulted while urinating in fields.[142] Thus, activists have collected more than 50,000 signatures supporting their demands that the local government stop charging women to urinate, build more toilets, keep them clean, provide sanitary napkins and a trash can, and hire female attendants.[142] In response, city officials have agreed to build hundreds of public toilets for women in Mumbai, and some local legislators are now promising to build toilets for women in every one of their districts.[142]

Notable Indian women

Savitribai Phule was a social reformer. Along with her husband, Mahatma Jotiba Phule, she played an important role in improving women's rights in India during British Rule. Savitribai was the first female teacher of the first women's school in India and also considered to be the pioneer of modern Marathi poetry. In 1852 she opened a school for Untouchable caste girls.
Arts and entertainment
Singers and vocalists such as M.S. Subbulakshmi, Gangubai Hangal, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and others are widely revered in India. Anjolie Ela Menon is a famous painter.
Although in general the women's sports scenario in India is not very good, some Indian women have made notable achievements in the field. Some famous female sportspersons in Indian include P. T. Usha (athletics), J. J. Shobha (athletics), Kunjarani Devi (weightlifting), Diana Edulji (cricket), Saina Nehwal (badminton), Koneru Hampi (chess) and Sania Mirza (tennis). Female Olympic medalists from India include weightlifter Karnam Malleswari (bronze, 2000), Saina Nehwal (bronze, 2012), and boxer Mary Kom (bronze, 2012).
Through the Panchayat Raj institutions, over a million women have actively entered political life in India.[69] As per the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts, all local elected bodies reserve one-third of their seats for women. Although the percentages of women in various levels of political activity has risen considerably, women are still under-represented in governance and decisionmaking positions.[36]
Many women writers are prominent in Indian literature as poets and story writers, such as Sarojini Naidu, Kamala Surayya, Shobha De, Arundhati Roy, and Anita Desai. Sarojini Naidu is called the nightingale of India. Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize (Man Booker Prize) for her novel The God of Small Things.
Government Servants
Indian Railways: Surekha Yadav, Samata Kumari, Preeti Kumari, C.V.Thilagavathi, S.Satyavathi, Matrubhoomi - MMTS Ladies Special Driver, Mumtaz Kazi.
Indian Foreign Service: Beno Zephine N L

See also

Lists of Indian women by profession:


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Further reading

  • Ali, Azra Asghar. The Emergence of Feminism among Indian Muslim Women 1920-1947 (Oxford University Press, 2000).
  • Altekar, Anant Sadashiv. The position of women in Hindu civilization, from prehistoric times to the present day (Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1956).
  • Amin, Sonia Nishat. The World of Muslim Women in Colonial Bengal, 1876-1939 (Brill, 1996).
  • Anagol, Padma. "Feminist Inheritances and Foremothers: the beginnings of feminism in modern India." Women's History Review 19.4 (2010): 523-546; traced to social and religious reform movements in Maharashtra, Western India. online
  • Clarisse Bader (2001) [1925]. Women in Ancient India. Trubner's Oriental Series, Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-24489-3.
  • Banerjee, Swapna M. "Debates on Domesticity and the Position of Women in Late Colonial India." History Compass 8#6 (2010): 455-473.
  • Borthwick, Meredith. The changing role of women in Bengal, 1849-1905 (Princeton UP, 2015).
  • Brinks, Ellen. Anglophone Indian Women Writers, 1870–1920 (Routledge, 2016).
  • Chakravarti, Uma (2003), Gendering Caste Through a Feminist Lens, Popular Prakashan, ISBN 978-81-85604-54-1
  • Chaudhur, Maitrayee, ed. Feminism in India. Issues in Contemporary Indian Feminism (New Delhi: Kali for Women & Women Unlimited, 2004).
  • Choudhary, Renu. "Women in Indian society: a historical perspective." Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences 18#1 (2013): 41-53.
  • Forbes, Geraldine. Women in modern India (Cambridge University Press, 1999), A major scholarly survey.
  • Healey, Madelaine. Indian Sisters: A History of Nursing and the State, 1907–2007 (Routledge, 2014).
  • Joshi, Rama and Joanna Liddle. Daughters of Independence: Gender, Caste, and Class in India (Rutgers University Press, 1986).
  • Joshi, Rama, and Joanna Liddle. "Gender and Colonialism: Women’s Organization under the Raj”." Women’s Studies International Forum (1985) 8#5 pp 521-29.
  • Kumar, Radha. History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women's Rights and Feminism in India, 1800-1990. (1997). ISBN 8185107769.
  • Prema, A. "Women Status in India." Indian Streams Research Journal 2.1 (2012): 1-4. online
  • Raman, Sita Anantha. Women in India: A Social and Cultural History (2 vol. ABC-CLIO, 2009). online
  • Sangari, Kumkum; Vaid, Sudesh, eds. (1990), Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History, Rutgers University Press, ISBN 978-0-8135-1580-9
  • Sarkar, Sumit. and Tanika Sarkar, eds. Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader (2008) excerpt
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External links