Voice Of Empowered Indian Women
In India, women have been respected since ancient times. In Hindu mythology, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are famous as Trimurtis ('The Trinity'). Of them, Brahma's wife is Saraswati, Vishnu's wife is Lakshmi and Shiva's wife is Parvati. Saraswati is the goddess of education, Parvati is the goddess of might and Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth. Man needs all three - education, might and wealth. Women of the Vedic period (circa 1500-1200 BCE), were epitomes of intellectual and spiritual attainments. The Vedas have volumes to say about these women, who both complemented and supplemented their male partners. Scholars believe that in ancient India, the women enjoyed equal status with men in all fields of life. Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period. Rigvedic verses suggest that the women married at a mature age and were free to select their husband. Scriptures such as Rig Veda and Upanishads mention several women sages and seers, notably Gargi and Maitreyi. The Rig Veda contains hymns that are accredited to Maitreyi, the woman seer and philosopher. She contributed towards the enhancement of her sage-husband Yajnavalkya's personality and the flowering of his spiritual thoughts. The Rig Veda also has long conversations between the sage Agasthya and his wife Lopamudra that testifies to the great intelligence and goodness of the latter. Gargi, the Vedic prophetess and daughter of sage Vachaknu, composed several hymns that questioned the origin of all existence. When King Janak of Videha organized a 'brahmayajna', a philosophic congress centered around the fire sacrament, Gargi was one of the eminent participants. She challenged the sage Yajnavalkya with a volley of perturbing questions on the soul or 'atman' that not only confounded the learned man who had till then silenced many an eminent scholar, but also bamboozled other great Vedic men of letters. The Vedas and the epics have upheld the equality of men and women. In ancient India the culture was based on Vedas and called Vedic culture. In those times women were not only revered and respected but also very protected and the motto was: A woman should be protected by her father in the childhood, husband in the youth and sons in the old age.
In the medieval period also many women excelled in the fields of politics, literature, education and religion. Razia Sultana became the only woman monarch to have ever ruled Delhi. The Gond queen Durgavati ruled for fifteen years, before she lost her life in a battle with Mughal emperor Akbar's general Asaf Khan in 1564. Chand Bibi defended Ahmednagar against the mighty Mughal forces of Akbar in 1590s. Jehangir's wife Nur Jehan effectively wielded imperial power and was recognized as the real force behind the Mughal throne. The Mughal princesses Jahanara and Zebunnissa were well-known poets, and also influenced the ruling administration Shivaji's mother, Jijabai was deputed as queen regent, because of her ability as a warrior and an administrator. In South India, many women administered villages, towns, divisions and heralded social and religious institutions. Mirabai, a female saint-poet, was one of the most important Bhakti movement figures. Some other female saint-poets from this period include Akka Mahadevi, Rami Janabai and Lal Ded. Kittur Chennamma, the queen of the princely state Kittur in Karnataka, led an armed rebellion against the British in response to the Doctrine of lapse. Abbakka Rani the queen of coastal Karnataka led the defence against invading European armies notably the Portugese in 16th century. Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi, led the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British. She is now widely considered as a nationalist hero. Begum Hazrat Mahal, the co-ruler of Awadh, was another ruler who led the revolt of 1857. She refused the deals with the British and later retreated to Nepal. The Begums of Bhopal were also few of the notable female rulers during this period. They did not observe purdah and were trained in martial arts.
Sixty years ago when India became independent, it was widely acknowledged that the battle for freedom had been fought as much by women as by men. Women played an important part in India's independence struggle. Some of the famous freedom fighters include Bhikaji Cama, Dr. Annie Besant, Pritilata Waddedar, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Anjali Ammal, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani and Kasturba Gandhi. Other notable names include Muthulakshmi Reddy, Durgabai Deshmukh etc. The Rani of Jhansi Regiment of Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army consisted entirely of women including Captain Lakshmi Sahgal. Sarojini Naidu, a poet and a freedom fighter, was the first Indian woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman to become the governor of a state in India. Her presence was a signal for hundreds of other women to join the freedom movement spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi. Sarojini Naidu's spirit lives on in thousands of Indian women today, who are to be found all over India form part of one of the most dynamic and vibrant of political movements in India today, the women's movement. That makes it possible for there to be women who can aspire to, and attain, the highest political office in the country - Mrs. Pratibha Patil is currently holding the position of the President of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was India's most powerful Prime Minister (1966-1977, 1980-1984) and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, who declined to be prime minister, is the charismatic Chairperson of United Progressive Alliance, the ruling coalition in the country. Consider women like Sheila Dikshit, Chif Minister of Delhi (1998-incumbent), Vasundhara Raje, Chief Minister of Rajasthan (2003-2008), Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of Tamilnadu (1991-1996, 2001-2006 ), Mayavati, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (2007-incumbent) ), Sushma Swaraj, Chief Minister of Delhi (October-December 1998) and incumbent Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Mamta Bannerjee, the incumbent Railway Minister in the central government and many more women holding high position in the central and state governments. The astonishingly wide social and political spectrum spanned by these "women in power" challenges popular assumptions.
Much progress has been made to protect and promote women’s rights in recent times. However, nowhere in the world can women claim to have all the same rights and opportunities as men, according to the UN. The majority of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor are women. On average, women receive between 30 and 40 percent less pay than men earn for the same work. Women also continue to be victims of violence, with rape and domestic violence listed as significant causes of disability and death among women worldwide. The UN drew global attention to women's concerns in 1975 by calling for an International Women's Year. It also convened the first conference on women in Mexico City that year. The UN General Assembly then invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women's Rights and International Peace in 1977. The day aimed to help nations worldwide eliminate discrimination against women. It also focused on helping women gain full and equal participation in global development. Several milestones have been achieved in terms of education, freedom of choice and liberty, equality etc., especially in India.With growing literacy and financial independence women feel more empowered today to assert their right to a life of dignity and self worth. The International Women's Day celebrated on 8th March is a universal day for all women around the world. It endows them with a sense of honour, dignity and self respect for being the person that they are. In India this day marks acelebration of the economic, social, cultural and political achievements made by women over the years. Thanks to the voice of empowered Indian women.