Explain the main aspects of social status of rural women in India
main aspects of social status of rural women in India
Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation in
the world today. Opening the door on the subject of violence against the world’s
females is like standing at the threshold of an immensely dark chamber vibrating
with collective anguish, but with the sounds of protest throttled back to a murmur.
Where there should be outrage aimed at an intolerable status quo, there is, instead,
denial and the largely passive acceptance of ‘the way things are.’
Male violence against women is a worldwide phenomenon. Although not every
woman has experienced it, and many expect not to, fear of violence is an important
factor in the lives of most women. It determines what they do, when they do it,
where they do it, and with whom. Fear of violence is a cause of women’s lack of
participation in activities beyond the home, as well as inside it. Within the home,
women and girls may be subjected to physical and sexual abuse as punishment or
as culturally justified assaults. These acts shape their attitude to life, and their
expectations of themselves.
The insecurity outside the household is today the greatest obstacle in the path of
women. Conscious that, compared to the atrocities outside the house, atrocities
within the house are endurable, women not only continued to accept their inferiority
in the house and society, but even called it sweet. In recent years, there has been
an alarming rise in atrocities against women in India. Every 26 minutes, a woman
is molested. Every 34 minutes, a rape takes place. Every 42 minutes, a sexual
harassment incident occurs. Every 43 minutes, a woman is kidnapped. And every
93 minutes, a woman is burnt to death over dowry. One-quarter of the reported
rapes involve girls under the age of 16, but the vast majority are never reported.
Although the penalty is severe, convictions are rare.
Women are Subordinate in Society
Exposure to and interactions with the outside world are instrumental in determining
the possibilities available to women in their daily lives. The situation of women is
affected by the degree of their autonomy or capacity to make decisions both inside
and outside their own household.
“The position of women in northern India is notably poor. Traditional Hindu society
in northern rural areas is hierarchical and dominated by men, as evidenced by
marriage customs. North Indian Hindus are expected to marry within prescribed
boundaries: the bride and groom must not be related, they have no say in the matter,
and the man must live outside the woman’s natal village.
The perception that sons are the major source of economic security in old age is
so strong in the north that “many parents, while visiting their married daughters, do
not accept food or other hospitality from them. However, given women’s low
independent incomes and lack of control over their earnings, few can provide
economic support to their parents even if parents were willing to accept it.”
In the south, in contrast, a daughter traditionally marries her mother’s brother or her
mother’s brother’s son (her first cousin). Such an arrangement has a dramatic
impact on women. “In southern India, men are likely to marry women to whom they
are related, so that the strict distinction found in the north between patrilineal and
marital relatives is absent. Women are likely to be married into family households
near their natal homes, and are more likely to retain close relationships with their
Over the past several decades, however, marriage patterns have changed markedly.
Social, economic, and demographic developments have made marriages between
close relatives less common, and the bride price has given way to a dowry system
akin to that in the north. Nevertheless, as long as the underlying ethics of marriage
in the South remains the reinforcement of existing kinship ties, the relatively favourable
situation of southern Indian women is unlikely to be threatened
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Child marriages keep women subjugated. A 1976 amendment of the Child Marriage
Restraint Act raised the minimum legal age for marriage from 15 to 18 for young
women and from 18 to 21 for young men. However, in many rural communities,
illegal child marriages are still common. In some rural areas, nearly half the girls
between 10 and 14 are married. Because there is pressure on women to prove their
fertility by conceiving as soon as possible after marriage, adolescent marriage is
synonymous with adolescent childbearing: roughly 10-15 percent of all births take
place to women in their teens.
The article cites a 1993 survey of more than 5,000 women in Rajasthan, which
showed that 56 percent of them had married before they were 15. Barely 18
percent of them were literate and only three percent used any form of birth control
other than sterilization. Sixty-three percent of the children under four years of age
of these women were severely undernourished.
Each year, formal warnings are posted outside state government offices stating that
child marriages are illegal, but they have little impact.
Women are kept subordinate, and are even murdered, by the practice of dowry. In
India, 6,000 dowry murders are committed each year. This reality exists even
though the Dowry Prohibition Act has been in existence for 33 years, and there are
virtually no arrests under the Act. Since those giving as well as those accepting
dowry are punishable under the existing law, no one is willing to complain. It is only
after a “dowry death” that the complaints become public. It is estimated that the
average dowry today is equivalent to five times the family’s annual income and that
the high cost of weddings and dowries is a major cause of indebtedness among
The article goes on to state, “So complete is the discrimination among women that
the gender bias is extended even toward the guilty. In a bizarre trend, the onus of
murder is often put on the women to protect the men. Sometimes, it is by consent.
Often, old mothers-in-law embrace all the blame to bail out their sons and husbands.”
Women’s rights to inheritance are limited and frequently violated. In the mid-1950s,
the Hindu personal laws, which apply to all Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains,
were overhauled, banning polygamy and giving women rights to inheritance, adoption
and divorce. The Muslim personal laws differ considerably from that of the Hindus,
and permit polygamy. Despite various laws protecting women’s rights, traditional
patriarchal attitudes still prevail and are strengthened and perpetuated in the home.
Under Hindu law, sons have an independent share in the ancestral property. However,
daughters’ shares are based on the share received by their father. Hence, a father
can effectively disinherit a daughter by renouncing his share of the ancestral property,
but the son will continue to have a share in his own right. Additionally, married
daughters, even those facing marital harassment, have no residential rights in the
ancestral home. Even the weak laws protecting women have not been adequately enforced. As a
result, in practice, women continue to have little access to land and property, a
major source of income and long-term economic security. Under the pretext of
preventing fragmentation of agricultural holdings, several states have successfully
excluded widows and daughters from inheriting agricultural land.
Literacy and Educational Achievements
The difference in the male and female primary enrolment has reduced to a great
extent (104% for males and 85% for females in 2000) over the years, but still, there
is a huge gap in their male and female literacy levels. In 2001, the male literacy
rate was about 75% as compared to that of about 54% for the females. Even when
the school enrolment reduces considerably from primary level to secondary level
and above, both for boys as well as girls, the reduction is more for girls. Drop-out
rates in different levels of school education are significantly more for girls as
compared to boys. As observed in the NFHS-11, the cost of education has been
reported to be the single largest factor for never attending school, both for boys as
well as girls aged 6-17 years, who have never attended school. Education is not
considered to be necessary for girls in about 13% of such cases, the figure being
almost double to that of 7% for boys.
The past gains in women’s education as reflected in the female literacy rate shows
an increase from 29.76 per cent in 1981 to 54.16 per cent in 2001. Also, it is
encouraging to note that as revealed by the 2001 Census, for the first time, the
absolute number of female illiterates has come down from 200.07 million in 1991
to 189.6 million in 2001. Similarly, the gap between female and male illiterates and
drop-outs has also started narrowing down. Some states, however, continue to have
very large inter-regional variations in education and there are still 299 districts with
lower female literacy levels than the national average. While Kerala recorded the
highest female literacy rate of 87.86 per cent, Bihar recorded the lowest at 33.57
per cent in 2001.