The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. From equal status with men in ancient times through the low points of the medieval period,to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful. In modern India, women have adorned high offices in India including that of the President, Prime minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Leader of the Opposition. As of 2011, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha (Lower House of the parliament) both are women. However, women in India continue to face discrimination and other social challenges and are often victims of abuse and violent crimes and, according to a global poll conducted by Thomson Reuters, India is the “fourth most dangerous country” in the world for women, and the worst country for women among the G20 countries.
Scholars believe that in ancient India, the women enjoyed equal status with men in all fields of life. However, some others hold contrasting views. Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period Rigvedic verses suggest that the women married at a mature age and were probably free to select their husband. Scriptures such as Rig Veda and Upanishads mention several women sages and seers, notably Gargi and Maitreyi. There are very few texts specifically dealing with the role of women; an important exception is the Stri Dharma Paddhati of Tryambakayajvan, an official at Thanjavur around c.1730. The text compiles strictures on womenly behaviour dating back to the Apastamba sutra (c. 4th c. BCE). The opening verse goes: mukhyo dharmaH smr^tiShu vihito bhartr^shushruShANam hi : women are enjoined to be of service to their husbands.
Some kingdoms in the ancient India had traditions such as nagarvadhu (“bride of the city”). Women competed to win the coveted title of the nagarvadhu. Amrapali is the most famous example of a nagarvadhu. According to studies, women enjoyed equal status and rights during the early Vedic period. However, later (approximately 500 B.C.), the status of women began to decline with the Smritis (esp. Manusmriti) and with the Islamic invasion of Babur and the Mughal empire and later Christianity curtailing women’s freedom and rights. Although reformatory movements such as Jainism allowed women to be admitted to the religious order, by and large, the women in India faced confinement and restrictions. The practice of child marriages is believed to have started from around sixth century.
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