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FEMINISM IN INDIA-Voice of modern India

–Written By Sushant Dogra


Feminism is a 20th century revolutionary concept that has evolved as a movement over the years. The core idea that this idea represents is the emancipation and liberation of women from traditional social rigidities and suggest the idea of change and transformation in the same direction. Femenists are often misconstrued to mean anti men which is not true to suggest and this is the first myth that we intend to highlight. A feminist is any conscious person of any gender and sexual orientation who advocates for vindication of social hierarchies against women and granting them equal status and opportunities in the sphere of public life.

Indian has a rich and dedicated history that is marked by a strong contribution by women of our country. Despite existing social and cultural barriers in the society Women under imperial rule had actively made contributions for the general cause of freedom struggle. Feminism in India has various dimensions and courts in India are are shouldered with this responsibility to promote their interest. Justice Chandarchud of Supreme court quoted that “feminism is a lot about disrupting the existing social heirarchies, and that is what constitution intends to do. Transformation involves disruption of existing social structures”


  • The concept originated during a period from mid 19th century that can be termed as the first wave of Feminism. Women’s movement had acquired force during this period in many countries and it was the strongest, especially in countries where political democracies was strong and advanced. The centrality of their issue was a demand for equal legal and political rights that were already enjoyed by their sons and husband, that is, female sufferage, right to vote and abolition of slave lie treatment. It was believed by these activists that right to vote has far reaching consequences and if this goal is achieved discrimination based on sex would vanish and disappear. This wave ended with the achievement of female sufferage which was first granted by New Zealand in 1893 and later to US and UK.

In India the society during the period of 1840-1870, there was wide prevalence of social practices such as SATI PRATHA, CHILD MARRIAGE, WITCH HUNTING, CASTE SYSTEM etc. that prejudiced against the interest of women. It was against these evils that movement was initiated by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who successfully played a significant role in social reformation of Indian society by advocating for abolition of Sati. During this period stress was also laid to educate women and eliminate caste system, one of the pioneer proponent was Savitribai Phule who started first female school in Pune along with her husband Jotirao Phule. Efforts were also made by reformist such as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar to allow widows to remarry which finally resulted in enactment of Widow remarriage act, 1856.  This period therefore marked the beginning of feminism in India.

  • The second wave of feminism began in 20 th century. The movement by then had become more radical as it was felt that the earlier achieved goals of reforms in legal and political sphere could not contribute much towards the cause therefore they demanded social change to this effect by highlighting the myths that are centred around women relating to their inherent role as housewife and mother. The idea and the object was centred around broadening educational and career related opportunities for women with a special focus on middle class women.

When feminism around world started gaining momentum against patriarchy, it was during the period of 1900 when Indian women armed themselves against colonial or imperial powers and contributed in nationalist movements directed toward achieving independence. They were conscious about the developments overseas and therefore ascertained their prospects in shaping future of India by associating them with enhanced political participation, achievement of female franchise and assuming political leadership. Women groups such as ALL INDIA WOMEN’s CONFERENCE, NATIONAL FEDERATION OF INDIA WOMEN were formed and they actively participated in civil disobedience and non corporation movement led by Mahatma Gandhi.

  • The third wave of feminism began during the period of 1980s which is also referred to as the period when post modern feminists as a distinct class had voiced their dissent against the non achievement of their earlier goals. This wave was centred round the idea and need of broadening their goals and objectives that were earlier set. This period paved way for the new ideologies to set in such as queer theory, black feminism, lesbian feminism etc. abolishing gender role expectations and stereotypes.

Post 1947 and more importantly when constitution of India came into force that is 26th January 1950 all the efforts and sacrifices made by women paid awards when our constitution embodied in itself equality clause under Article 14 which suggested equality before law and equal protection of laws. Similarly Article 15 prohibited any form of discrimination based upon religion, race, caste, gender and place of birth. Despite various guarantees the struggle continued but only its nature varied that is, now there the challenge was against social inequalities that included equality in matters of employment, equal wages for work, suitable work conditions, social security etc.

The traces of inherent patriarchal system in India can be attributed to its mythology. Women are characterised as the ones who always listen to what they are told by the elders (father or husband), never resist or protest against oppression and the most appropriate recourse is to sacrifice material pleasures and lead a life of an ascetic. Some of the prominent characters include Draupadi, in Mahabharata wherein she is played and lost in a gambling, much like an object of trade by her husband’s. Same is the tale of Madhavi, who was blessed with the ability to bear only male children who are destined to become conquerors. There are similar stories in Indian mythologies which inspire and govern the Indian patriarchal system, wherein birth of a male child is a celebrated event characterised by the features of valour, domination and conquest and are also believed to carry the family name unlike females.


Inspired by the radical and post-modernism feminist thoughts, 21 century women in India resorted to protests and movements in order to liberate their caged identity out of the shackles of patriarchy. Some of the recognised campaigns include, 2003 initiative of THE BLANK PROJECT marked against eve teasing, followed by PINK CHADDI that gripped in State of Karnataka against moral policing of hardliners on Valentine’s Day, next such initiative was SLUTWALK against victim blaming, followed by #Metoo campaign carried out by women who were sexually abused at any point of time in their life and lastly PinjraTod by women hostellers of Delhi University against rigid and discriminatory timings.  

21st Century struggle for Women in India :

Women of 21st century still faces host of challenges in order to ascertain themselves on equal footing with their male counterparts in various dimension be it legal (Rape laws, Sexual harassment at workplace, Assault and outraging the modesty of women, Domestic violence and various other offence against women are collectively inefficient to bring down crime rate against women), political (Non formulation of policies, guidelines and laws that provide social security to women), Industrial (Industrial policies relating to maternity benefits, equal wages for equal work, adequate working condition etc. are prejudiced against the interest of women workforce), Media (indecent representation of women and its vast circulation over cyber space, character assassination by media etc.), Educational (Low turnout ratio in schools, and colleges, absentism, illiteracy etc.)

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