"Behind every successful man is a woman". This is the statement we have heard many a times in the English language. The underlying aspect of this statement is that women are always behind men or in the background of men.
In the Indian context, the same thought is expressed very differently. It is known as Saha Dharmini. The man and woman are equal and together in their role in society. It is this concept that is expressed in divinity as "Ardhanari"- half man and half woman.
In this subject capsule, we look at the Indian woman and her role in this civilization through her various facets.
Education – Indian women:
One of the primary erroneous views is that, women were not given access to education in those days. The traditional Indian records as well as the British records categorally show that women had equal educational opportunity in India till about a few hundred years back.
After a basic study which was common to both boys and girls the women had special higher studies for them called as Savithri Vachana.
The other erroneous comment is, women were not allowed in the field of Vedic studies. In fact over 24 women Rishi have themselves composed the Veda and women Rishi Gargi and Maithreyi have substantially contributed to Brihadaranya Upanishad.
Stree Dhana – Dowry:
In the field of Law, the one sore point that has been expressed is that the women have been controlled and squashed with the ancient concept of Stree DhanaStree Dhana concept that was practiced in India prior to the arrival of British in India was very different from the dowry that we know of today.
This Stree Dhana concept of ancient to medieval India was practiced so that the women had equal right to the wealth of the family. Once the wealth enters the female kingdom it would remain only in the female kingdom and the male members of the family have no right over the wealth of the ladies or Stree Dhana.
This concept ensured economic independence and respect to the women of India through the ages. This concept of equality to women in wealth was alien to the medieval British administrators and hence they changed the law which became detrimental to the women.
Apart from controlling the wealth of the land and the respect that goes with it, the women also controlled two other important aspects of the agrarian society, they being water and seeds.
All across the land of India right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari there are 10,00,000 water harnessing and irrigation projects of India which have been used for thousands of years. The upkeep and maintenance of these have always rested with the women. It is they, who have provided the waters for the irrigation of their fields and for their homes. That is why almost all the rivers in India have a feminine name given to them.
Unfortunately the current generation has not understood this, noble and sustainable concept in the last couple of decades, because water harnessing is now being administered by men who have turned them into garbage dumps.
To revive the water harnessing scenario it is for the women to once again wrest control of the water harnessing systems of the land so that their ilk do not have to suffer in providing water for their families.
Traditionally the seed bank of India was in the hands of women. Year after year they would garner the best of produce and keep it aside as seeds for the next season sowing.
Because of this alround role they had in the society and the respect that accrued from it, they also had the freedom of choice in choosing their life partner.
This concept was called "Swayamvara" – meaning self choice.
This wholesome role of women in the society led to them having their own special women festivals all over India.
Through this multimedia capsule, we see the high role of women in the Indian society because of which the women were not looked down upon in India but had equality in gender through the ages in the progress of Indian civilization.