Women in India

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If devotion to the fair sex be admitted as a criterion of civilization, the Rajpoot must rank high. His susceptibility is extreme, and fires at the slightest offense to female delicacy, which he never forgives. - James Tod
The pre- and post-Vedic woman was as free as man; and no impure terrestrial thought was ever mixed with the religious symbology of the early Aryans. ~ Helena Blavatsky

The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. With a decline in their status from the ancient to medieval times, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful.

Pre-1947 India[edit]

  • If devotion to the fair sex be admitted as a criterion of civilization, the Rajpoot must rank high. His susceptibility is extreme, and fires at the slightest offense to female delicacy, which he never forgives.
    • James Tod, Annals and antiquities of Rajast'han
  • Take the case of the Thaaru women in the Tarai region as described by Hugh and Colleen Gantzer. “Once upon a time… a group of beautiful Sisodia Rajput princesses were spirited out of their kingdom by their loving father. Though the old man was prepared to die in the battlefield, with all honour, he could not bear the thought of all his beautiful daughters dying in the fiery self-immolation pit of Jauhar. He therefore summoned some of his bravest old retainers, charged them with the task of guarding the princesses, gave them a posse of Bhil warriors, and sent them to the safety of a remote Himalayan kingdom with which he had ties of blood. Sadly, on their arduous journey the old retainers succumbed to malaria... Eventually when the last old Rajput male had died, the princesses realised that they could go no further… They were young women, full of life. They didn’t want to die. So they made an agreement with their Bhils that they would settle down there, in a clearing in the fertile Tarai, marry them but on one condition. From that day on their female descendants would always be superior to their males... they would not serve them. And that is the way it still is. … These women were not the docile, subservient (type) we had often encountered in northern Indian villages: they were proud (and) independent…”
    • Hugh and Colleen Gantzer, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 6
  • War being a special privilege of the martial classes, harassment of the civilian population during military operations was considered a serious lapse from the code of honour. The high regard which all Kshatriyas had for the chastity of women, also ruled out abduction as an incident of war.
    • K.M. Munshi, 'End of Ancient India' in Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan's Journal, vol. IV, no. II, December 29, 1959, pp. 8, 14. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 1
  • I do not know any book that says as many kind and delicate things to females as in the law book of Manu; these old men and saints have a way of minding their manners in front of women that has perhaps never been surpassed.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, (AC 56) quoted from Elst, Koenraad. Manu as a weapon against egalitarianism: Nietzsche and Hindu political philosophy in : Siemens & Vasti Roodt, eds.: Nietzsche, Power and Politics (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2008).
  • Orme, along with many others, affirms that “nature seems to have showered beauty on the fairer sex throughout Hindustan with a more lavish hand than in most other countries.
    • Orme’s Fragments, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 12
  • "Women were held in higher respect in India than in other ancient countries, and the Epics and old literature of India assign a higher position to them than the epics and literature of ancient Greece. Hindu women enjoyed some rights of property from the Vedic Age, took a share in social and religious rites, and were sometimes distinguished by their learning. The absolute seclusion of women in India was unknown in ancient times."
    • Romesh C Dutt: The Civilization of India: 21-22
  • In these modern days there is a greater impetus towards higher education on the European lines, and the trend of opinion is strong towards women getting this higher education. Of course, there are some people in India who do not want it, but those who do want it carried the day. It is a strange fact that Oxford and Cambridge are closed to women today, so are Harvard and Yale; but Calcutta University opened its doors to women more than twenty years ago.
    • Swami Vivekananda, Women of India [1]
  • To the women of this country... I would say exactly what I say to the men. Believe in India and in our Indian faith. Be strong and hopeful and unashamed, and remember that with something to take, Hindus have immeasurably more to give than any other people in the world.
    • Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 5, Interviews/On Indian Women--Their Past, Present And Future
  • Akbar had prohibited enslavement and sale of women and children of peasants who had defaulted in payment of revenue. He knew, as Abul Fazl says, that many evil hearted and vicious men either because of ill-founded suspicion or sheer greed, used to proceed to villages and mahals and sack them.
    • Lal, K. S. (2012). Indian muslims: Who are they.
  • In this background, it would be an unremitting task both in volume and repetition to give all anecdotes, facts and figures of enslavement and concubinage of captive women in the central and provincial kingdoms and independent Muslim states found mentioned in the chronicles. This would only lead to repetition resulting in the book becoming bulky.
    • K.S.Lal. Muslim Slave System in Medieval India (1994)
  • In 1635 AD, Shah Jahan’s soldiers captured some ladies of the royal Bundela family after Jujhar Singh and his sons failed to kill them in the time-honoured Rajput tradition. In the words of Jadunath Sarkar, “Mothers and daughters of kings, they were robbed of their religion and forced to lead the infamous life of the Mughal harem.”
    • Jadunath Sarkar, quoted by Sita Ram Goel in S.R. Goel: The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India.
  • The Hindus of this region had been victims of Muslim high-handedness for a long time, particularly in respect of their women. Murshid Qulî Khãn, the faujdãr of Mathura who died in 1638, was notorious for seizing “all their most beautiful women” and forcing them into his harem. “On the birthday of Krishna,” narrates Ma’sîr-ul-Umara, “a vast gathering of Hindu men and women takes place at Govardhan on the Jumna opposite Mathura. The Khan, painting his forehead and wearing dhoti like a Hindu, used to walk up and down in the crowd. Whenever he saw a woman whose beauty filled even the moon with envy, he snatched her away like a wolf pouncing upon a flock, and placing her in the boat which his men kept ready on the bank, he sped to Agra. The Hindu [for shame] never divulged what had happened to his daughter.”
    • S.R. Goel in Shourie, A., & Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • In the preceding pages it has been seen how women and children were special targets for enslavement throughout the medieval period, that is, during Muslim invasions and Muslim rule. Captive children of both sexes grew up as Muslims and served the sultans, nobles and men of means in various captives. Enslavement of young women was also due to many reasons; their being sex objects was the primary consideration and hence concentration on their captivity..... Forcible marriages, euphemistically called matrimonial alliances, were common throughout the medieval period. Only some of them find mention in Muslim chronicles with their bitter details...It is therefore no wonder that from the day the Muslim invaders marched into India to the time when their political power declined, women were systematically captured and enslaved throughout the length and breadth of the country.
    • K.S. Lal, Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. ch. 12.
  • Guru Nanak proceeds to describe how the oppressors shaved off the maidens, their ‘heads with braided hair, with vermillion marks in the parting’; how ‘their throats were choked with dust’; how they were cast out of their palatial homes, unable now to sit even in the neighbourhood of their homes; how those who had come to the homes of their husbands in palanquins, decorated with ivory, who lived in the lap of luxury, had been tied with ropes around their necks; how their pearl strings had been shattered; how the very beauty that was their jewel had now become their enemy – ordered to dishonour them, the soldiers had carried them off. ‘Since Babar’s rule has been proclaimed,’ Guru Nanak wrote, ‘even the princes have no food to eat.’ Their sacred squares shattered, where will the Hindu women bathe, how will they worship? the Guru lamented. Dishonoured, how may they now apply the tilak on their foreheads? Some return home to inquire about the safety of their loved ones. Others are cursed to sit and cry out in pain.
    • Guru Granth Sahib, quoted from Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • The Hindu was taxed to the extent of half the produce of his land... No gold or silver, not even the betelnut, so cheering and stimulative to pleasure, was to be seen in a Hindu house, and the wives of the impoverished native officials were reduced to taking service in Muslim families. Revenue officers came to be regarded as more deadly than the plague; and to be a government clerk was disgrace worse than death, in so much that no Hindu would marry his daughter to such a man.
    • Lane Poole : Medieval India, quoted from B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946)
  • (The soldier) takes into custody all the women of the enemy’s city… Wherever they happened to pass in that very place the ladies of the Raja’s house began to be sold in the market. They used to set fire to the villages. They turned out the women (from their homes) and killed the children. Loot was their (source of) income. They subsisted on that. Neither did they have pity for the weak nor did they fear the strong… They had nothing to do with righteousness… They never kept their promise… They were neither desirous of good name, not did they fear bad name…”
    • The poet Vidyapati writing about Muslim soldiers. Kirtilata. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • Having subjugated Khuraasaan, Babar terrified Hindustaan
    So that blame does not come on Him, the Creator has sent the Mughal as the messenger of death
    So great was the slaughter, such the agony of the people, even then You felt no compassion, Lord?
    If some powerful man strikes another, one feels no grief But when a powerful tiger slaughters a flock of helpless sheep, its master must answer
    This jewel of a country has been laid waste and defiled by dogs, so much so that no one pays heed even to the dead…
    Guru Nanak proceeds to describe how the oppressors shaved off the maidens, their ‘heads with braided hair, with vermillion marks in the parting’; how ‘their throats were choked with dust’; how they were cast out of their palatial homes, unable now to sit even in the neighbourhood of their homes; how those who had come to the homes of their husbands in palanquins, decorated with ivory, who lived in the lap of luxury, had been tied with ropes around their necks; how their pearl strings had been shattered; how the very beauty that was their jewel had now become their enemy – ordered to dishonour them, the soldiers had carried them off. ‘Since Babar’s rule has been proclaimed,’ Guru Nanak wrote, ‘even the princes have no food to eat.’
    • Guru Granth Sahib, quoted from Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • Writing about the days of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq (1325-51), Shihabuddin al-Umari writes: "The sultan never ceases to show the greatest zeal in making war upon the infidels... Every day thousands of slaves are sold at a very low price, so great is the number of prisoners .... (that) the value at Delhi of a young slave girl, for domestic service, does not exceed eight tankahs. Those who are deemed fit to fill the parts of domestic and concubine sell for about fifteen tankahs. In other cities prices are still lower..." Umari continues, "but still, in spite of low prices of slaves, 20000 tankahs, and even more, are paid for young Indian girls. I inquired the reason... and was told that these young girls are remarkable for their beauty, and the grace of their manners."
    • Masalik-ul-Absar, E.D. vol. III, pp. 580-81. (Shihabuddin al-Umri, Masalik-ul-Absar fi Mumalik-ul-Amar) Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India.
  • But when the Muhammedan invaders ... conquered the disorganised Hindu hosts, and Hindu young women began to become a prey to the lust of some of the conquerors, the custom of early marriage and the unnatural purdah were introduced by the degenerate Hindus of northern India as refuge against the inroads of Muslim Ghazis in Hindu homes.
    • Swami Shraddhanand . Hindu Sangathan p. 95, quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2014). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p.377
  • ...in any view, abduction of Hindu women by the Muslims and their continued loss to the Hindu community, so far as it affects the growth of the Hindus is a matter which cannot be neglected any longer without serious consequences.
    • J.M.Dutta, ‘Continued Abduction of Hindu Women-its Effect on the Bengali Hindus‘, Modern Review, 1941, pp.358-9 : cited in Rakesh Batabyal, Communalism in Bengal: From Famine To Noakhali, 1943-47, SAGE, 2005 p.287 [2]
  • At Mansera and some other places (N.W.F.P.) there are regular camps where Hindu girls are being sold.
    • Krapala Singh, Select documents on Partition of Punjab-1947: India and Pakistan : Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal-India and Punjab-Pakistan, National Book Shop, 1991, p.639
  • At the height of the riots, during August and September, when the majority of rapes and abductions occurred, there was almost no limit to the vehemence of the mobs. Throughout the chaos, both planned and random abductions of women and girls were carried out, particularly in situations in which large number of refugees — disoriented and inadequately protected — had assembled or were on the move. For example, Kirpal Singh records that two trains crossed on the Kamoke railway line, one carrying 260 refugees and the other carrying Pakistan Army soldiers. After the latter realized that the former was carrying Hindu refugees, it was attacked. Most of the men were killed and 50 women and girls were forcibly taken by the soldiers. Similarly, in East Bengal, the Ansars, a paramilitary force responsible for the safety of the citizens also perpetrated attacks and abducted Hindu women. One of my respondents was on one of the trains leaving Pakistan and recalled how she hid in a toilet. ... In the confusion that followed, while she was fortunate enough to avoid being abducted, she witnessed many girls and women being taken from the trains. ... Describing the massacres of refugees in Kamoke, Gujranwala district, an Indian official wrote, the most ignoble feature of the tragedy was the distribution of young girls amongst the members of the Police Force, the National Guards (an Islamo-fascist organization-AN) and the local goondas. The Station House Officer Dilder Hussain collected the victims in an open space near Kamoke Railway Station and gave a free hand to the mob. After the massacre was over, the girls were distributed like sweets ... Later on as a result of the efforts of the Liasion Agency and the East Punjab Police some girls were recovered from Kamoke, Eminabad and some surrounding villages ... A list of at least 70 untraced girls abducted from the Kamoke train was handed over [to] the Police by District Liasion Officer ... It is feared that most of these girls had been sold or taken underground.
    • Bina D’Costa, Nation building, Gender and War Crimes in South Asia, Routledge, 2011, pp.57-60. Partition of India, 1947. [3]
  • [When the Jihadist tribal Mujahidin raided Kashmir in 1947, the girls abducted by the Jihadists] 'were exhibited in the bazaars of Peshawar and Bannu, thereby enticing Pathans towards Kashmir. Many were subjected to unmentionable indignities.'
    • (Shanta Kumari, President, National Women's Conference of J&K, Hindustan Times, 30-Dec-1947) [4]
  • Shree Krishna’s army did not forsake their kinswomen, simply because they were forcibly polluted and violated — a dastardly thought which he never entertained for a minute. On the contrary Shree Krishna as the Bhoopati, the Lord of the whole Earth, brought all those sixteen thousand or more women to his kingdom, rehabilitated them honourably and took upon himself the responsibility of feeding and protecting them. This very act of Krishna, as the Bhoopati, has been fantastically construed by the writers of the Puranas as to describe him the husband of those thousands of women. He was later thought to have married all of them’.
    • V D Savarkar, 1963:1971, p.182. 'Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History' . About the Puranic example of Sri Krishna fighting against Narakasura. [5]
  • With this same shameless religious fanaticism the aggressive Muslims of those times considered it their highly religious duty to carry away forcibly the women of the enemy side, as if they were commonplace property to ravish them, to pollute them and to distribute them to all and sundry, from the Sultan to the common soldier and to absorb them completely in their fold. This was considered a noble act which increased their number.
    • V D Savarkar, 1963:1971, p.176. 'Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History' [6]

India after 1947[edit]

  • As the legacy of this scenario, Indian girls are still being sold to West Asian nationals as wives, concubines and slave girls. For example, all the leading Indian newspapers like The Indian Express, The Hindustan Times and The Times of India of 4 August 1991, flashed the news of a sixty year old “toothless” Arab national Yahiya H.M. Al Sagish “marrying” a 10-11 year old Ameena of Hyderabad after paying her father Rs. 6000, and attempting to take her out of the country. Al Sagish has been taken into police custody and the case is in the law-court now. Mr. I.U. Khan has “pointed out that no offence could be made out against his client as he had acted in accordance with the Shariat laws. He said that since this case related to the Muslim personal law which permitted marriage with girls who had attained Puberty (described as over 9 years of age), Al Sagish could not be tried under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Besides Ameena’s parents had not complained.” (Times of India, 14 August 1991). But this is not an isolated case. I was in Hyderabad for about four years, 1979-1983. There I learnt that such “marriages” are common. There are regular agents and touts who arrange them. Poor parents of girls are handsomely paid by foreign Muslims for such arrangements. Every time that I happened to go to the Hyderabad Airlines office or the Airport (which was about at least once a month), I found bunches of old bridegrooms in Arab attire accompanied by young girls, often little girl brides. “A rough estimate indicated that as many as 8000 such marriages were solemnised during the past one decade in Hyderabad alone.” (Indian Express Magazine, 18 August 1991). In short, the sex slave-trade is still flourishing not only in Hyderabad but in many other cities of India after the medieval tradition.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • The failure to adopt a Uniform civil code [has the effect that] Muslim women suffer because they do not have an equal right of inheritance, because they cannot easily obtain a divorce, because they can be divorced by their husband at their whim or caprice.
    • Atul Setalvad (1990), quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2001). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p.553

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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