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--------------- Print Magazine --------------
  May 2016
  April 2016
Legal Article


Dr. Justice AR. Lakshmanan
Former Judge, Supreme Court of India

Status of Women in India

In ancient India, women had enjoyed equal status and equal rights with men. But they lost all their freedom during the Mughal period. Now, with the advent of the modern era, women have proved that both in efficiency and intellect, they are at par with men. But due to casteism, illiteracy, outdated customs and tradition, the full potential of Indian women can not be gauged and recognized. Despite the fact that women constitute almost half of human population, their importance as individuals has never been recognized in the social and economic scenario and thus remains 'invisible'.

The Constitution of India, though ensured gender equality through Article 14, a special provision by way of Article 15 had to be enacted to treat women as a 'special category' so as to create variety of opportunities and avenues for women to utilize their abilities.

The Ideals of Women's Emancipation

The Indian Constitution in Articles 14, 15 and 16 provides for equality between men and women. But in practice, there is often denial of equality for women in large parts of India, particularly in the rural areas due to the disgusting survival of remnants of feudalism and medievalism. The lives of women in feudal societies were marked by continual, unending labour, a kind of labour that was looked down upon and bore the imprint of bondage.

Indian society is still largely male dominated and women are often looked down upon. The birth of a female child is often regarded as a disaster and female foeticide is common in parts of India (despite the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994). Indian Courts are flooded with cases of crimes against women, including dowry deaths. Wife-beating and other forms of cruelty to women are rampant. In fact, such acts seem to have grown by leaps and bounds.

Women account for 50% of the population in India. Looking at the global level, the UNO Report (1980) points that women constitute half the world's population, perform nearly two-thirds of work hours, receive one-tenth of world's income and own less than 1% of world's property. The UNDP's Human Development Report for 1995 further shows that 70% of world's poor are women and according to the Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative, two-thirds of illiterate people in the world are women, 70% of drop outs from schools are girl children. Malnutrition and mortality rates are higher among girls.

The representation of women has never gone beyond 8% in Parliament, 10% in State Assemblies and 13% in Council of Ministers. More disheartening figures indicate that 276 million women are still illiterate. In the total work force, women representations do not exceed 23%. Women of India are the most unrepresented sections in the present political system. On the Executive side, only 5.8% of senior management and administration posts are occupied by women. Even in the Judiciary, only 3% of the Judges are women. In the 12 th Lok Sabha, there were only 43 women MPs and 19 in Rajya Sabha. These figures are quite disheartening. Though Women's Reservation Bill, providing for 33% reservation for women in Legislature, was introduced after much difficulty, the Bill could not be passed.

Today's Woman - An equal match to her Male Counterpart

Today, a woman is an equal match to her male counterpart in intellectual activities and physical pleasures. Gone are the days when she was confined to the household. Today, equal number of lady lawyers are found in the High Court of Madras, which was not the position about a decade ago. They argue cases more firmly and effectively.

Social Responsibility of Legal Fraternity

Fearlessness and service are part of our great Indian heritage. The Judges who are the legal guardians and the lawyers who are Officers of the Court and legally entitled spokesperson of the community have great social responsibilities. The real test of the independence of judiciary arises when times are abnormal, when the general atmosphere is surcharged with passion and emotion and when those in power attempt to superimpose their vested interests at the cost of common good.

The judicial system gets complete not with the Bench alone or with the Bar alone, but it acquires fullness only with both the Bench and the Bar. The Judges and the lawyers function in courts to safeguard and promote the cause of justice for which millions of litigants at enormous cost and sufferings come to the courts every day. Judges dispense justice in courts with the help and assistance of Advocates. Lawyers must be devoted to justice and fair play. If there is decline in the efficiency of the Bar, it will be reflected in the caliber of the Bench. The judiciary should also give women advocates a vital role to play in the legal system thereby encouraging women advocates to approach the courts for the protection of rights of many needy and under-privileged sections of the society, especially the women and children.

The legal profession is a frontline learned profession. We learn the law from books, but we cannot learn men from books or briefs. It is said that silence is learnt from the talkative; Toleration from the intolerant; Kindness from the unkind. A lawyer of today should learn a lot, apart from law books. He or she should be a man or woman of multiple excellence, capable of discerning the glory of the past and the hope of the future.

In India, we find plethora of laws and policies which are protective of women. Our very Constitution has shown deep concern for the upliftment of the womenfolk. The Preamble to the Constitution guarantees social justice that ensures justice to women. The Indian judiciary has also not been lagging behind in its attempt to interpret and implement laws relating to women. By assuming a proactive role, the Supreme Court and the High Courts have been addressing the issues of women on a war footing.

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