The position of women
a. Ancient Period
In the ancient Indus civilization of India, evidences show the worship of the mother goddess. Hence, the adoration for the mother is evident during that period. During the Rig Vedic period, it is believed that the position of wife was honoured and women’s position was acknowledged, especially in the performance of religious ceremonies.
During later Vedic age witnessed a transitional development in the status of women restricting her role in the social life except in the performance of religious sacrifices. Her social and political freedom was restricted. Sati became popular during the later Vedic period where the widows either chose for themselves or were forced to jump into the pyre of their husbands. The patriarchal system became rigid. Women were denied to study Vedic scriptures.
b. Medieval Period
The position of women in the society further deteriorated during the medieval period and they suffered from many social evils such as sati, child marriages, female infanticide, and slavery. Normally monogamy was in practice but among the rich polygamy was prevalent. ‘Sati’ was in practice particularly among the royal and upper strata of the society. Widow re- marriage was rare. Devadasi system was in practice in some parts of India. Among the Rajputs of Rajastan, the Jauhar was practiced. The condition of widow became miserable during the medieval period. But we don’t ignore the fact that the Mughal ruler Akbar attempted to abolish sati. In fact very little attention was paid to female education.
Jauhar refers to the practice of collective voluntary immolation by wives and daughters of defeated Rajput warriors, in order to avoid capture and dishonour.
In spite of general determination, we can find some exceptions Razia sultana, Queen Durgavati, Chand bibi, Nurjahan, Jahannara, Jijabai and Mira bai.
During medieval times Women’s education was not completely ignored, though no regular separate school seems to have existed. Female education was informal. Girls usually had their lessons from their parents in their childhood. The rich appointed tutors to teach their daughters at home. The daughters of Rajput chiefs and Zamindars studied literature and philosophy.
c. British Period
For centuries women in India had been subordinated to men and socially oppressed. The major effect of national awakening in the nineteenth century was seen in the field of social reform. The enlightened persons increasingly revolted against rigid social evils and outdated customs. Numerous individuals, reform societies and religious organisations worked hard to spread education among women, to encourage widow remarriage, to improve the living conditions of widows, to prevent marriage of young children, to enforce monogamy and to enable middle-class women to take up professions or public employment.
In the beginning of nineteenth century female literacy was extremely low when compared to male literacy. The Christian missionaries were the first to set up the Calcutta Female Juvenile Society in 1819. The Bethune school was founded in 1849 by J.E.D. Bethune, who was the president of the council of education in Calcutta.
Charles Wood’s despatch on education in 1854 laid a great stress on the need for female education. Indian Education Commission (Hunter) of 1882 recommended to start primary schools for girls and teacher-training institution and suggested special scholarships and prizes for girls. In 1880’s Indian women began to enter universities. They were also trained to become doctors and teachers. They began to write books and magazines. In 1914 the women’s medical service did a lot of work in training mid-wives. In the 1890s D.K. Karve established a number of female schools in Poona. Prof D.K. Karve, Pandita Rama bai, made sincere effort to emancipate women through education was really remarkable. The Indian women’s university was started by Prof. D.K. Karve in 1916. It was an outstanding institution imparting education to women. In the same year Lady Harding Medical College was started in Delhi.