Relations in India
Throughout history the roles and relations between the different genders has dramatically changed. In most societies, gender is a term that is socially constructed in that society plays an important role in shaping the different behaviors and attitudes of the members of society. The differences amongst genders are strongly reflected in the development of certain behavior traits and social roles within the specified gender. In addition, the development of gender roles begins in the early stages of life (as early as infancy). More specifically, throughout Indian history, gender roles have been very specific and traditional. They have been defined not only by political laws, but also by religious readings and literature. As time passed by, the traditionality of the gender roles has been influenced by technology.
In classical India (c. 700 BCE-350 BCE), like many civilizations prior to India, men were very much the dominant gender in the agricultural society. As agriculture became better organized and technology improved, the economic contributions from women were reduced (not eliminated) which meant the stress on male authority expanded. India followed a common pattern in agricultural societies, as the women’s sphere of action was gradually circumscribed. One of the largest customs in classical India was the introduction of arranged marriages. The parents contracted unions for their children, principally daughters, at quite an early age, to spouses they had never met before. The purpose of this was to promote a family’s economic well-being and to ensure solid economic links. Also the child brides would contribute dowries of land or domesticated animals to the eventual family estate. However, as a result, young people, notably girls, were drawn into a new family structure in which they had no say. These wedding dowries also meant that females were a burden to the families which led to occasional infanticide. Infanticide was widely acknowledged in India and was also caused by poverty, deformed infants, lack of support services, maternal illnesses, and births to an unmarried woman. If a woman became a widow of a Hindu man she would be burned alive in a practice known as Sati. In the 18th century, Sati was very popular amongst the upper castes. A huge factor in child marriages and gender roles is political, religious, and literary establishments.
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Most rules for the different genders stem from political laws, religious books, and literature. These sources were a reflection of the limits imposed on women. For political laws, one of the Indian code of law recommended women worship their husbands as if they were god himself. The great epics stress the control of the husbands and fathers while still recognizing the independent contributions from the women. As for religion, Hinduism and Islam were two major religious sects during classical India. In Hinduism, the Hindu doctrine states that women were created by the Brahman (priest) to provide company for a man and to facilitate procreation, continue family lineage, and progeny. According the the Vegas, the role of women was to support the man and enable him to continue his family traditions. In Islam, the Quran lays down that women are secondary to men. Muslim men are allowed to be abuse their wives, be a polygamist, and get rid of their wife if she is undesired. With regard to literature, the stories often celebrated the emotions and beauty of women. Indian culture, in general, often featured clever and strong-willed women and goddesses. This in turn contributed to their status as mothers and wives.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the British began colonizing the Indian peoples due to the abundance of cotton in India. They created a division of labor in that men were subservient to a higher power which meant women were subservient to men and British colonizers. In 1858 the British Raj became the new rule of India. The first empress, Victoria created a British proclamation of non-interference in the customs and practices of the people of India. In the nineteenth century, however, British rulers removed women’s inheritance and marriage rights. During the rule of India by the British, the India implemented a hierarchical caste system. Men observed overarching power over females, especially those in a lower caste. The higher level of status of a male depicted what he could get away with. For example, the men could get away with abusing women without a consequence. This made the women prone to intimidation, violence, and public shaming as a means to keeping the gender inequality. Women were literally the lowest members of society during this time period.
As we get into more recent centuries, there is a large advancement in technology that has greatly impacted the gender inequality in India. For example, in the last decade television has been introduced in Indian villages, bringing with it Indian soap operas. The female characters in these soap operas are well-educated, they work outside of the house, they control their own money, and they have fewer children. A couple of investigators went to 108 villages throughout India to see the effect cable TV had on them. They found that due to the introduction of cable, the preference of a woman to have a male fell by 12%. The average number of situations in which women said that wife beating was acceptable decreased by 10%. The likelihood of girls ages 6-10 going to school increased by about 8%. Also, for women under the age of 35, the average number of births split in half. The researchers of this study, Jensen and Oster, believe TV provides women a new televised set of peers and in turn this changes their attitudes.
Each culture and community has their own gender roles and social norms. People within these societies are raised by these stereotypes since they day they are born. The classifications and stereotypes are passed on through multiple generations and hardly ever are defied. As a result, we have gender inequalities. In India women are still in the lower class and don’t really have much of a voice, but due to different technological and social platforms, they are able to share their stories and promote change. It is up to each generation to end the stereotypes that women are to be homebodies and give them more freedom or else said society can’t truthfully reach complete gender equality.
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-Saina Nehwal (badminton player)