Throughout time women have been neglected, they were treated lesser than men. Much of women’s rights in the 21st century have been a direct result of the hard work women have done in the past. Women were forced to prove that they were capable of doing the same things a man can do. And yet still women are still not seen as equal to men. There are still differences in income, employment, and many other areas. Women have always been the ones to prove their worthiness in society. And when focusing on a country like India which has one of the fastest growing populations we are struck by inequality that women have to go through in their day to day life. But when comparing the life of women in the 1800’s to a women’s life in today’s time we are able to see that there have been many advancements made. But where did this all start? Who decided that women deserved rights in India? Major Alexander Walker in British India decision to stop female infanticide sparked the idea to change the social gender roles for women.
Background on Women’s Rights in India
Historically, women in India have been seen as someone whose only job is to worship a man whether that be there father, boss, or husband.2 During the 1800s in India the act of child marriage was very common.2 Many girls were married before they were fully matured.2 And as a young child you were given the job of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of your children.2 Not only were those your duties in your everyday life you were also given the job to agree to everything your husband says.2 There was no opportunity to disagree and defend yourself since many women had nowhere to go if their husbands were to leave them.2 In India, a girl is often told that after leaving your father’s house your husband’s house becomes your house and there is no longer a place for you in your father’s house. 3 And most girls who were married young often come from very poor backgrounds were having a meal every day was tough so to them life neglected in their husband’s home was better than their father’s home.2 And as far as the poor treatment that husbands gave their wives they truly did not know any better.2 People say that you learn from the people around you and if the people around you are poorly treating their wives than to you that seems like a normal act to do.2 If there is no one to look up to than you will never know what the right thing to do is.
Major Alexander Walker efforts in stopping female infanticide were one of the first rights given to women in India.1 Major Alexander Walker of Bowland in 1819 was originally sent to the region of Gujrat to bring peace to the nation.4 But as soon as he got to the region he found out that women in this nation had no rights.4 They were essentially properties of their husband.4 Even the act of motherhood was taken away from them due to old practices.4 Many men in this region did not want their wives to bear daughters because of the financial burden that daughters give.4 Daughters put the pressure of a dowry whereas a son would receive a dowry and provide for their parents for the rest of their life.4 Especially in poverty-torn nations even when a female child is born the parents still do not want to take the burden of the child so they decide on committing the crime of female infanticide.4 Many parents left their child out to starve, others decide to drop the child in a well.4 Female infanticide committed in any way is wrong, a child should not be defined by their gender. Major Alexander Walker from a nation who never practiced the act of female infanticide was shocked to see how common this act was.1,4 He did not understand why a person would even decide to kill their own kin.1,4 Great Britain at the time had begun to give rights to women.4 Women were now able to own property and work.4 Major Alexander Walker after noticing these acts in India knew that something had to be done.1,4 And the change was only going to happen if he took the initiative.1,4 So, Major Alexander Walker went to every big chief in Gujarat and convinced each and every one of them to ban the act of female infanticide.,4
With the end of female infanticide in Gujarat, the women of Gujarat began to realize that they had more potential then what they were given. They began to think that if Major Alexander Walker, one individual could make such a change in society then as a big group could fight for the rights they deserved.1,4 Women began to notice to wrongdoings they were experiencing in their day to day lives. They started fighting for their own rights.
After the act of female infanticide was banned soon after the act of Sati was also banned.5 Sati is the act of a woman committing suicide after becoming a widow.5 Many of the women in India in the 1800s was reliant on their spouse’s income in order to survive and after a spouse passes women believed that they would no longer be able to support themselves.6 There was also a taboo about widows at the time, many believed that if a husband passes before a wife, the wife is the cause of the death.3 It was considered bad luck.3 In fact, many think that women were the fighters for their rights but in true reality, more men fought for women’s right.6 The British Empire in India had a huge influence on women’s rights.6 Great Britain at the time was much more advanced in women’s right female infanticide and Sati were acts that women did not need to worry about.6 Women in Great Britain had limited rights but they were at least recognized as individuals and not property.6 Women had a say in a marriage, women were prejudiced for inheritance and work rights.6 The act of Sati was first right given to women after India was separated from Great Britain.6 Women realized that even if they were spouseless they were still able to support themselves. And women who did become widows had children that were more than willing to support their financially and emotionally.
First Free Girls School
In 1847 the first free girls was established by Peary Charan Sarkar.7 But what does it mean to be a free girls school? A free girls school is a school where any go girl can go for basic education where all books and uniforms will be provided for free.7 Peary Charan Sarkar created the Barasat Girls school when he realized many parents that had daughters refused to send their girls because of the cost of tuition.7 India in the 1800s had very few government-funded schools that provided free education and among these schools, many of them refused to admit girls to the school.7 They refused to admit because the school believed that being a female your end goal had already been determined at birth.7 Your end goal is that you become a homemaker and the property of your husband.7 But Peary Charan Sarkar knew how important education was.7 He knew that with education a female’s life opens up and they are given more opportunities to better themselves.7 They are able to feel like they have accomplished something.7 They are able to have an earning of their own and also raise their children in a better manner.
Widow Remarriage Act of 1856
The mid-1800s was a turning point for women’s rights. Women were able to conceive a female child without the worry of their husband’s considering that a daughter would be a burden. Women were also able to receive their basic education which they could use to better their lifestyle.7 But although the act of Sati was banned women were still neglected the opportunity to remarry.8 Instead of committing suicide women were left to be a burden on their children or had to find their own way to manage themselves.8,9 And unfortunately there were not many opportunities for income, they usually left to either become a servant or work in a field.8 But the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856 had changed everything. This act allowed a woman to marry if they were widowed.8 This was first act the many people opposed of because they believed that a woman to should only have one spouse.9 And Hindu marriages it is considered that a husband and wife will be together for seven lifetimes after completed the custom of the seven rounds around a fire pit.3 So by getting remarried you are redoing the customs are tying the knot with someone else and the deceased individual will be alone for seven lifetimes.3 And some even believe that if the customs are redone with someone else they will not be accepted in the afterlife.3 But in current times it is very normal now in India for a young widow to remarry for emotional and financial support.
After India gained independence from Great Britain they were finally allowed to create their own laws and acts.3,6 India was no longer forced to follow the rules and laws imposed by Great Britain. Most believed that independence for the nation was the best thing that could have happened for women’s rights in the nation.3 Women were now able to talk to government officials who first hand saw the prejudices that happened in the everyday lives of women.3 Since they were able to see first hand they were also able to realize that change needed to done.3 Immediately after independence, the equality rights among men and women were passed, women were now able to seen equal to men.10 But even after having equal rights to men there were still individuals who believed that women are lesser than men.10 Most of these individuals were the older population of India who was raised to see the wrongdoings of women normal.3,10 But as the older population died off and new population came into place women were seen in a more modernized manner.3,10
Now, in modern times in India women are no longer denied their right to bear female children or to remarry if they were widowed. They now have to face more serious matters such as rape.3,11 The act of rape of a female has risen in numbers every year.3,11 Women are now more vulnerable than ever to become a victim of rape.3,11 And unfortunately, women have nowhere to turn to since the law enforcement in India has been known to be corrupt.3,11 There are many people in uniform who still take bribes or believe that a women’s problem is not as important as a man’s problem.3,11
So, although there have been many advancements done to women’s rights in India due to the initial initiative that Major Alexander Walker took to stop female infanticide there is still a lot of change that needs to be done. These changes can only be done if someone else takes the initiative.
- Hall K. The East India Company man: Brigadier-General Alexander Walker. Charles Meryon: Etcher of Banks Peninsula | Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhet. https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/bulletin/170/the-east-india-company-man-brigadier-general-alexa. Published December 1, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2018.
- Child Marriage in India. Centre for Social Research. http://www.csrindia.org/child-marriage-in-india. Accessed December 13, 2018.
- Chaudhry S., personal communication, December 2, 2018
- Vishwanath LS. Female Infanticide, Property and the Colonial State. Sex-Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies.:269-285. doi:10.4135/9788178299587.n9.
- The Commission of Sati Prevention Act and rules. Ministry of Women and Child Development . http://www.wcd.nic.in/act/commission-sati-prevention-act-and-rules. Accessed December 7, 2018.
- Prieto A. StMU History Media. StMU History Media – Featuring Historical Research, Writing, and Media at St. Mary’s University. https://www.stmuhistorymedia.org/ancient-indian-practice-of-sati/. Published April 13, 2017. Accessed December 13, 2018.
- Basu A. Samsad Bangali Charitabhidhan. Digital Library of India; 1960.
- The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856. Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar, … on 9 March, 1979. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/144532805/. Accessed December 15, 2018.
- Hindu Widows Remarriage Act: 1856. Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research. http://www.womenpriests.org/women-history/hindu-widows-remarriage-act-1856/. Accessed December 12, 2018.
- Mondal P. Changing Status of Women after the Independence of India. Your Article Library. http://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/society/changing-status-of-women-after-the-independence-of-india/4398. Published December 10, 2013. Accessed December 12, 2018.
- Dewan A. India most dangerous nation for women, US ranks 10th in survey. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/25/health/india-dangerous-country-women-survey-intl/index.html. Published June 26, 2018. Accessed December 14, 2018.