It is myth that Women held very important position in ancient Indian society. Today I have come up with some proofs that show that in ancient India, life of women was pathetic and they had very low status in the society. We have many evidences of suppression and ill-treatment of women in Ancient Indo-Aryan society. Most of the problems like Child Marriages, Dowry system, Bride-Burning; No rights in their paternal property, Mass Wife-Burning (Jauhar) and Widow-Burning (Sati) have their roots in ancient India.
Female infanticide — The father of daughter was supposed to give huge dowries to the boy’s family and this system was also recommended by the Vedas. Hence a girl was seen as a burden. The woman who gave birth to a daughter was ashamed. Husbands were not supposed to have intercourse with a wife who bore only daughters. Hence infanticide arose as a convenient way of getting rid of the burden called daughter. Holy Aryan texts say:
“Tasmat striyam jatam parasyanti ut pumamsam haranti“
It means, Hence they reject a female child when born, and take up a male.”
Child marriage was common in ancient India due to the custom of dowry and to avoid scandals. Old Hindu mythology books including vedas prescribe that the best partner for a man in one-third his age.
” A man, aged thirty years, shall marry a maiden of twelve who pleases him, or a man of twenty-four a girl of eight years of age; if (the performance of) his duties would otherwise be impeded, he must marry sooner.” [Manu Smriti]
Wife-Burning — An Aryan husband could at any time accuse his wife of infidelity. In case the wife protests her innocence, the council of village elders would then order an ordeal by fire. The accused wife would be required to pass through a blazing flame. Not just death, but any signs of burns would be taken as a sign of guilt and the wife would then have to undergo the penalty for infidelity. Adultery carries the death sentence in Aryan law, so either way she would have to pay with her life for her husband’s or elders’ mere suspicions. The ideal role model for this custom was Sita, Ram’s wife. She was required by her spouse, the `ideal husband’ of the `Hindus’, to pass through the fire ordeal after her return from Sri Lanka.
Jauhar – It refers to the practice of the mass burning of all the wives and daughters in an entire town/district to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemies. Often the husbands forced their unwilling spouses, sometimes the women practiced it themselves, encouraged by the elders. It is merely a variant of sati, since it occurred in anticipation of the women’s widowhood.
Sati — The Aryans, upon their invasion of India ca. 1500 B.C. introduced the horrific custom of sati, ie. the burning of a woman after the death of her husband. When performed singly it is referred to as sati, when performed en masse by all the women and daughters of a town in anticipation of their widowhood (eg. when the men were to fight a battle against all odds), it is known as jauhar. It is sanctioned by their most sacred texts, and was practiced from the fall of the Semito-Dravidian Indus Valley civilization to the modern age.
Old Texts and quotes supporting Sati ::
“Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the house with ghee (applied) as corrylium ( to their eyes). Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned.” [Rig Veda]
“It is proper for a woman, after her husband’s death to burn herself in the fire with his copse; every woman who thus burns herself shall remain in paradise with her husband 35,000,000 years by destiny.”
On her husband’s death, the widow should observe celibacy or should ascend the funeral pyre after him. [Vishnu Puran]
” The 8 queens of Krishna, who have been named, with Rukmini at their head, embraced the body of Hari, and entered the funeral fire. Revati also embracing the corpse of Ram, entered the blazing pile, which was cool to her, happy in contact with her lord. Hearing these events, Ugrasena and Anakadundubhi, with Devaki and Rohini, committed themselves to the flames.” [Vishnu Puran]
Methods of punishing women in Ancient India ::
Cutting off the ears and nose of wives — Aryan husbands cut off the ears and nose of their wives if they left the house without their prior permission. The Ramayana and Lord Ram practiced the cutting off of women’s noses for minor offences, thereby providing divine sanction for the custom. Shurpanakha was a Dravidian lady who fell in love with Ram. She proposed to him, but he directed her to his brother Laxman. He cut off her ears and nose for this crime.
Death Penalty — The death penalty was prescribed for Aryan women guilty of infidelity. Manu Smrti says “When a woman deceives her husband (with another man), then the king should ensure that she be torn apart by dogs in a public place and the evil man should be burnt in a bed of red-hot iron’. Infidelity to husband was considered a grave sin and it was believed that such women went to hell. The husband had the power to curse the wife who was disloyal to him. Thus the sage Gautama cursed his wife Ahalya for sleeping with Indra though through no fault of her own. During the Maurya period, if a woman was found guilty of a carnal crime her generative organs were cut off and she was ultimately sentenced to death.
Other Restrictions ::
- No Property Rights — Women and Sudras in ancient India have no property rights.
- Dressing — Aryan women had to wear a face-veil when going out. They were not supposed to entertain strangers.
- Not allowed to Sleep alone — Ancient women were not allowed to sleep alone. During the absence of her husband, she was supposed to sleep with one of her female relatives.
- No Education for women — Women and Sudras were declared to be unfit for study of the Vedas.