In ancient India woman enjoyed a high place in society. No religious ceremony in the family was considered to be complete without her participation. “Where women are honoured”, says Manu, “the gods are pleased, but where they are not honoured, no sacred rite yields any reward”. She was called the goddess of the lamily, Grih Laxmi. It is due to certain historical factors that she has now come to occupy a lower position. In order to maintain the purity of the Aryan race from the Dravidians, a number of restrictions began to be imposed on her. “The social drive towards the restrictions of her freedom resulted in her fall in the long run. The woman was no more an emancipated personality, but became a slave of man.
The socializing force of woman to the Indo-Aryan society disappeared. Man-made laws and man’s view points decided her fate. As a woman she was dead. Her contribution to the cultural life of the people was not positive, assertive, and realistic. It was negative and superficial.9 In Gupta period with the revival of Brahminism greater restrictions were put on women. Marriage became an obligation to women. The custom of sati was established. During the Rajput period this custom was practised with severity. The widow had to throw her living body on the funeral pyre of her husband. Widows were prohibited from remarrying. With the advent of Islam child marriage came to be established and purdah system became widely practised. In short, the position of woman deteriorated to such an extent that she had hardly any rights worth the name, her keen senses were dulled and without any right of knowledge she was steeped in ignorance and prejudice. Social prejudices against her were so firmly established that she had hardly any opportunity. freedom or chances of development and self- expression.
Reform movements – Social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy Ishwar Chander Vidyasagar, Justice Ranade and Nataranjan started movements to put an end to some of the inhuman practices. These reformers did succeed to some extent and were able to get certain Acts passed putting an end to some evil practices. The All India Women Conference also did its bit to improve the conditions of women. Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, gave a call to the women of this country to join him in freedom struggle. The call did not go in vain. Women in large numbers began to take part in the freedom movement. The part that they played amazed the world. Their picketing of liquor and foreign goods shops, marching in demonstrations, courting prisons, facing lathi charges and bullets, all these things were unique in the history of a country where women were suppressed, degraded and insulted through the centuries.
The age-old restrictions were broken within no space of time, slowly and gradually women acquired more and more rights without even begging for them. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1985 and the Commission of Sati Act, 1987 are fresh efforts to remove most of the disabilities from which Indian women are suffering. The Department of Women and Child Development in the Govt. of India has been given the main responsibility of coordinating and executing the welfare programmes for women in India. A number of voluntary agencies are working in the field of women development. Women Development Corporations have been set up to assist women in better employment opportunities. The year 1987 was declared International Women Year. A National Commission of self-employed women has also been appointed. The 73rd Amendment Act has reserved one-third seats for women in the local bodies and now there is a move for similar reservation in the Parliamentary elections. However, there is much to be done especially for the womenfolk of the villages where old prejudices and customs still hold deep roots in the family life.
Dowry system – Another problem that is to be considered regarding marriage problems in India is the commercial aspect of the marriage. By it we mean the dowry system. It needs no mention with what evils the system is fraught. The father of the girl commits suicide because he has not been able to manage for the dowry demanded by the parents of the boy. Sometimes the girl herself commits suicide on that account. Due to dowry system the parents are sometimes compelled to marry the girl to a man who is almost fit to be her father. The parents often commit theft lorgery or misappropriation, to arrange for dowry. The Government of India having realized the evils of the system has brought a Dowry Prohibition Act on the statute book. With the passage of the Act it is hoped the evils of the system will be removed. But the Act by itself would not be able to achieve its purpose unless public opinion is aroused against the system