"You can tell the condition of a Nation by looking at the status of its Women." Jawaharlal Nehru, Leader of India's Independence movement, and India's first Prime Minister.
Today in India the condition of inferiority of women is still a sad fact of life. Truly, the situation is somewhat contradictory because on one hand there have been women covering the role of prime ministers, but on the other women still suffer greatly within the household, being exploited and abused by their husbands. Indian women receive an inferior wage than men, they work even harder and are too often discriminated.
Many women who belong to the inferior classes look for their liberation and self-determination by converting to the Christian, Jain or Buddhist religion, often embracing monastic life. Paradoxically, religious life is one of the only ways to avoid the oppression deriving from forced weddings or from the belonging to an inferior caste. Moreover, the help that these women receive by the Christian church is often perceived as an interference and is therefore scarcely tolerated: Hindus adopted utter violent behavior against those who have been trying to help the Dalits or the Adivasi (especially women), often treated worse than beasts and exploited with gruesome jobs that no other person would do.
All that in India concerns the family is strongly influenced by the social and economic status and by the different religious traditions and conceptions.
Indeed, a huge gap exists between the big metropolises and cities, where you may find well educated and emancipated women and where weddings are careless of castes and the ratio between spouses is equal, and the small towns in the countryside. In the latter environment dwells the majority of Indians: life is harsh here, there is no job regulation, the hygienic conditions are catastrophic, ignorance is widely spread and women are treated accordingly.
The conditions in which widows live are appalling. Women that survive to her husbands – a common event given the fact that elder men marry extremely young women – are abandoned by society and often compelled by their own families to become beggars. Amongst the poorest Indian families, the widow is considered a useless burden, and thus she has little choices left: she can either commit suicide through the sati practice, or become an unfortunate beggar. Unless the husband did not leave her an annuity before dying, the widow will spend a horrible life until the end of her days. Furthermore, men who lose a wife may abandon their children in order to avoid future contrasts with the children they are going to have with their future new wives.
Another sad practice that today occurs in India is selective abortion: many babies who are born female risk to be suppressed just because of their gender. Women practice selective abortion or infanticide immediately after the birth of the baby especially when they are too poor to maintain a daughter who will probably be perceived by society as a burden. A woman who is incapable of conceiving a male child or cannot have any children at all is destined to be left by her husband. If any child is born who presents deformities or handicaps, his mother will be abandoned because malformations are considered impure.
In addition, many weddings take place only if the bride’s family corresponds a dowry to the groom. The consequence is that many families become debtors in order to gather an appropriate dowry. Nonetheless, the dowry is often insufficient for the husband’s or his family’s expectations and this may lead to mistreatments and even to the wife’s assassination.
Finally, another plague that affects modern Indian society is rape. Cases of rapes and even of gang rapes are ever increasing in the last years, often connected to conditions of social uneasiness and unemployment. Although some private initiatives have been taking place, like that of women volunteer patrolling of streets, the Indian state’s initiatives to stop these episodes of violence are still insufficient and weak.
Today, Indian women wish to emancipate. They wish to study, to receive an education, to stop working as domestic slaves, and to live a decorous and dignified life: many Indian men cannot accept this view and answer with brutality and violence. Indian men are eager to leave women in a submitted position, treating them like objects rather than subjects. What is sad is that nobody helps these women: nor their family, nor the police, nor the institutions.
Unfortunately, the issue of women emancipation in India is made more complex than it is for Western women because of the religious factor. Hinduism ontologically denies to women the same status that men possess; the only hope Indian women have is to suffer, die and reincarnate as men.