Status of Indian Women in Colonial Period


Gajendra Kumar1, Sukriti Chakraborty2

1Assistant Professor, Bharati Vishwavidyalaya, Durg, Chhattisgarh.

2Research Scholars, Department of History, Pt. Ravi Shankar Shukla University, Raipur Chhattisgarh.

*Corresponding Author E-mail:



Different societies have different attitudes towards women. In Santa Dharma, to respect women, she was displayed as an ideal of wealth, power, and intelligence. Whereas in the context of Indian women, the belief is the opposite. Today, even though the law accepts the right over the wealth of the girl's father, the implementation of this law is not possible in society unless some legal claim is not resorted to. Durga may be the incarnation of Shakti in Santa Dharma, but an Indian woman is still considered an Abla. Similarly, for a long time, the intelligence and conscience of a woman have been viewed with suspicion by society and are being seen even today. “Society always creates and destroys its traditions by looking at your predecessor. Not only Indian society, but the society of any caste, creed class in the world has been and is presently male-dominated society by nature (with few exceptions). If this was not the case, then many women writers and social workers in western countries would not have been called feminists and they would not have had to break many traditions created by men.


KEYWORDS: Sanatan Dharma, Society, Indian woman, Law, Caste, Sect, Class.





The period before independence was the time of the establishment of the British Empire. It started in the 18th century. India remained under British rule for almost two centuries. The position of women during the Mughal period continued even during British rule. After the Mughal period, British rule was established over India. Even at this time, the evils of child marriage, polygamy, widow marriage prohibition, the dowry system, and the sati system were more and more prevalent in society.


1857 AD to 1920 AD The status of Indian women among-

British rule inherited a feudal society. In this system, women were considered objects of enjoyment.


The policies and principles of religion had already placed fetters on the feet of women. During the British period, the feudal system was on one side and imperialist policies on the other. What were the benefits to the rulers from the upliftment of women? The country's economic door of development was in the hands of British power. In such a situation, women's society was already dependent on men, so how could it progress? The British started emphasizing English education for their benefit.1 The roots of the culture of the West were beginning to grow in Indian society because the British had to exploit the cultural splendor here and layer their culture here, in which they were also successful. Happened. The persecuted women of the Mughal period were still experiencing the tragedy of their lives in the boundary wall of the house. She was deprived of all her rights and remained the beggar of the male-dominated. The time of eighteenth-century Indian history was a time of great decline and degradation. The British governance system was increasing its power day by day. India had lost its ancient glory. The teachings of 'Vedanta' had gone beyond the comprehension of the people. This era was the era of subjugation, during the period of British rule, there were many changes in all the social, economic and political structures of our society.


So, there was no change in the status of women. With the influence of British rule in India and the introduction of a foreign language as the medium of instruction, new changes began in the Indian way of life and national character. Cottage industries in villages were almost destroyed due to industrial development in the West and the consumption of foreign goods in Indian markets. Joint families started disintegrating. Poverty and ignorance reigned among the villagers. The tendency to flee from villages to cities increased. Indian society became a victim of a new type of exploitation. This had further adverse effects on the already exploited woman. She became further downtrodden and victimized. Based on the following disabilities of women during British rule, we can easily guess the poor condition of women during this period. During British rule, women did not have the right to freely demand and make any changes in the practical rules. Child marriage and the purdah system were the main obstacles to the education of women. Opposing child marriage and the purdah system was considered a stigma for him. Traditionally, the work area of ​​women in this era was the home. Working outside the home was considered against family honor. His only means of entertainment was the fulfillment of traditional religious obligations. All his rights in the family sphere had ended. She was the head of the family but practically all the rights were with the men. Without them, the woman could not take any family or social decision of any kind.


After getting married at an early age, the Vedic age woman who was the ‘empresses’ of her family, with traditional customs and prohibitions, became the servant of her in-laws' house. It became her main duty to produce children in the family and to serve all the relatives of her husband. The polygamy system of the later Vedic period and the medieval era, inter-caste marriage, not having the right to divorce, etc.2 evils were present in the society till the British period. The practice of giving dowry at the time of marriage, and exploitation of women for religious works was common. The woman was also satisfied with this considering all these as the result of her previous birth's actions. Due to this her family and the social status kept on deteriorating. 3 In the British period, most women's disabilities are seen in the economic field. Women were not only denied a share in the property of the joint family. But he was not given any share out of his father's property. He had no right over his father's property. In this age, the woman herself was considered an asset. So how could he be given property rights? The wife became a part of the husband's family and widows were treated as dead. No matter how much a woman was suffering from hunger and thirst, doing any economic activity was considered against her femininity and nobility. The result of this was that even after great inhuman treatment, she had to depend on the mercy of the man. He was not allowed to go out of the house or freely meet any outsider. In the society, there was a custom-like purdah system, child marriage, in such a social situation, a woman couldn't be financially self-sufficient.


European scholars realized in the 19th century that Hindu women were "naturally innocent" and "more virtuous" than other women. During British rule, many reformers like Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyotiba Phule,4 etc. fought for the upliftment of women. Although this list suggests that there was no positive contribution of the British in the Raj era, this is not entirely accurate as the wives of missionaries in South India such as Martha Moult (née Mead) and her daughter Eliza Caldwell (née Moult) were called was. Girls. It is remembered even today for its education and training. This was an effort that initially faced blockages at the local level as it was adopted as a tradition. The efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy under Governor-General William Cavendish-Bentick in 1829 led to the abolition of the practice of Sati. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's struggle to improve the condition of widows resulted in the Widow Remarriage Act 1956.5 Many women reformers such as Pandit Ramabai also helped in achieving the objective of women empowerment. Kittur Chennamma, the queen of the Kingdom of Kittur in Karnataka, led an armed rebellion against the British in reaction to the Doctrine of Lapse. Queen Abbakka Rani of Coastal Karnataka led the defense against invading European armies, notably the Portuguese army, in the 16th century. Today she is universally regarded as a national heroine. Awadh's co-ruler Begum Hazrat Mahal was another ruler who led the revolt of 1857. She refused to bargain with the British and later went to Nepal. The Begums of Bhopal were also among some notable women rulers of this period. He did not adopt the system of purdah and also took training in martial arts.6 Chandramukhi Basu, Kadambini Ganguly, and Anandi Gopal Joshi were some of the earliest Indian women to achieve academic degrees. In 1917 the first delegation of women met the Foreign Secretary to demand political rights for women, which was supported by the Indian National Congress. In 1927, the All-India Women's Education Conference was organized in Pune.7 In 1929, with the efforts of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Child Marriage Prohibition Act was passed, according to which the minimum age of marriage for a girl was fixed at fourteen years. Although Mahatma Gandhi himself married at the age of thirteen, he later called on people to boycott child marriages and appealed to the youth to marry child widows. Women played an important role in the freedom struggle of India. Bhikaji Cama, Dr. Annie Besant, Pritilata Wadekar, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani, and Kasturba Gandhi are some of the famous freedom fighters. Other notable names are Muthulakshmi Reddy, Durgabai Deshmukh, etc. The Rani Regiment of Jhansi of Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army was an all-women army, including Captain Lakshmi Sehgal. Sarojini Naidu, a poet and freedom fighter, was the first Indian woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman governor of a state in India.


Status of women in independent India:

Women in India are now participating in all kinds of activities like education, politics, media, art and culture, service sector, science, technology, etc. Indira Gandhi, who served as the Prime Minister of India for a total of fifteen years, is the world's longest-serving female prime minister. The Constitution of India guarantees equal rights to all Indian women (Article 14), no discrimination by the state (Article 15) (1), equality of opportunity (Article 16), equal pay for equal work (Article 39) (d) In addition, it allows special provisions to be made by the State in favor of women and children (Article 15) (3), to abandon practices degrading to the dignity of women (Article 51) (a and e) and It also allows the creation of provisions by the state for securing fair and humane conditions of work and for maternity assistance.


Feminist activism in India gained momentum during the late 1970s. One of the first national-level issues that brought women's organizations together was the Mathura rape case. The acquittal of policemen accused of raping a girl named Mathura at a Thana (police station) led to a massive protest in 1979–1980. The protests were widely covered in the national media and the government was forced to amend the Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Penal Code and include the category of custodial rape. Women activists united on issues like female feticide, gender discrimination, women's health, and female literacy. Since alcohol addiction is often linked to violence against women in India, several women's organizations have launched anti-alcohol campaigns in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and other states. Many Indian Muslim women questioned the interpretation of conservative leaders about women's rights under Sharia law and criticized the system of triple talaq. Grants from foreign donor agencies in the 1990s enabled the formation of new women-oriented non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Self-help groups and NGOs like Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) have played a major role in women's rights in India. Many women have emerged as leaders of local movements. For example, Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The Government of India had declared 2001 as the Year of Empowerment of Women (Swashakti).8 Kha, National Policy for Empowerment of Women was passed in 2001. The story of Imrana, a Muslim woman who was raped in 2006, was circulated in the media. Imrana was raped by her father-in-law. Announcements by some Muslim clerics that Imrana should marry her father-in-law were widely opposed, and eventually, Imrana's father-in-law was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The decision was welcomed by several women's organizations and the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board. On 9 March 2010, a day after International Women's Day, Rajya Sabha passed the Women's Reservation Bill which provides for 33% reservation for women in Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies.


During British rule, the social condition of the woman was so pathetic that her participation in the political field was beyond imagination. At a time when the woman was exploited inside the house, the man who exploited himself was a slave of the British, so how could the woman herself take part in politics. Until 1919, women did not even have the right to vote. How could she participate in political work at such a time? Indian politics was occupied by the British rulers. He had made the rules of rulership and authority according to his convenience. Due to this, the Indian people needed to follow the same rules. All these reasons show that the condition of women was pathetic during the British period. She was still an object in society to follow the rules made only by the man. The only aim of her life was to serve the husband and the members of his family. His life had become absolutely hell. The woman had knelt in front of this society created by the man.



1.      Rohit Mishra, Social Work and Women's Empowerment New Royal Book Depot Company, Lucknow, 1999, p. 42

2.      Vishwa Prakash and Mohini Gupta, Freedom Struggle and Women Naman Publications, New Delhi, 1999, p.11

3.      Preeti Mishra, Importance of Religion in the Lives of Hindu Women, Arjun Publishing House, New Delhi, 2005, p. 49

4.      Gupta, Vishwa Prakash, Freedom Struggle and Women Naman Publications, New Delhi, 1999, p.101

5.      Veena Garg, An Analysis of Indian Women, Arya Publications, New Delhi, 2011, p. 27

6.      Prabha Apte, Women in Indian Society, Classic Publishing House, Jaipur, 1996, p.1

7.      Preeti Mishra, Importance of Religion in the Lives of Hindu Women, Arjun Publishing House, New Delhi, 2005, p. 51

8.      Gupta, Vishwa Prakash, Freedom Struggle and Women Naman Publications, New Delhi, 1999, p.101




Received on 13.06.2022         Modified on 05.07.2022

Accepted on 28.07.2022      ©AandV Publications All right reserved

Res.  J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 2022;13(3):159-161.

DOI: 10.52711/2321-5828.2022.00026