Feminism in India

Feminism in India is a set of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women in India. It is the pursuit of women's rights within the society of India. Like their feminist counterparts all over the world, feminists in India seek gender equality: the right to work for equal wages, the right to equal access to health and education, and equal political rights.[1] Indian feminists also have fought against culture-specific issues within India's patriarchal society, such as inheritance laws and the practice of widow immolation known as Sati.

The history of feminism in India can be divided into three phases: the first phase, beginning in the mid-19th century, initiated when male European colonists began to speak out against the social evils of Sati;[2] the second phase, from 1915 to Indian independence, when Gandhi incorporated women's movements into the Quit India movement and independent women's organisations began to emerge;[3] and finally, the third phase, post-independence, which has focused on fair treatment of women at home after marriage, in the work force and right to political parity.[3]

Despite the progress made by Indian feminist movements, women living in modern India still face many issues of discrimination. India's patriarchal culture has made the process of gaining land-ownership rights and access to education challenging.[4] In the past two decades, there has also emerged a trend of sex-selective abortion.[5] To Indian feminists, these are seen as injustices worth struggling against.[6]

As in the West, there has been some criticism of feminist movements in India. They have especially been criticised for focusing too much on women already privileged, and neglecting the needs and representation of poorer or lower caste women. This has led to the creation of caste-specific feminist organisations and movements.[7]

Definition in the Indian context

Women's role in Pre-colonial social structures reveals that feminism was theorised differently in India than in the West.[8] In India, women's issues first began to be addressed when the state commissioned a report on the status of women to a group of feminist researchers and activists. The report recognised the fact that in India, women were oppressed under a system of structural hierarchies and injustices. During this period, Indian feminists were influenced by the Western debates being conducted about violence against women. However, due to the difference in the historical and social culture of India, the debate in favour of Indian women had to be conducted creatively and certain Western ideas had to be rejected.[9] Women's issues began to gain an international prominence when the decade of 1975–1985 was declared the United Nations Decade for Women.[2]

Indian feminists face certain obstacles in Indian society that are not present or as prevalent in Western society. While Indian feminists have the same ultimate goal as their Western counterparts, their version of feminism can differ in many ways in order to tackle the kind of issues and circumstances they face in the modern-day patriarchal society of India. Indian feminists attempt to challenge the patriarchal structure of their society in a variety of ways. Sampat Pal Devi is a former government worker and mother of five, who noticed domestic abuse and violence within her own community as she grew up in India. As a result, she decided to start a vigilante group known as the 'Gulabi Gang' who track down abusers and beat them with bamboo sticks until it is believed that they have repented and victims have been sufficiently avenged. In the area of religion, Indian feminists draw attention to the powerful image of female Goddesses in Hinduism. They also point out the matriarchal prehistory of Indian society and emphasise on the fact that there have been periods of Indian history that were not patriarchal and communities that were largely female-orientated and matriarchal, existed.

Indian women negotiate survival through an array of oppressive patriarchal family structures: age, ordinal status, relationship to men through family of origin, marriage and procreation as well as patriarchal attributes. Examples of patriarchal attributes include: dowry, siring sons etc., kinship, caste, community, village, market and the state. It should however be noted that several communities in India, such as the Nairs of Kerala, Shettys of Mangalore, certain Maratha clans, and Bengali families exhibit matriarchal tendencies. In these communities, the head of the family is the oldest woman rather than the oldest man. Sikh culture is also regarded as relatively gender-neutral.[10][11][N 1]

In India, of communities recognised in the national Constitution as Scheduled Tribes, "some ... [are] matriarchal and matrilineal"[12] "and thus have been known to be more egalitarian."[13] According to interviewer Anuj Kumar, Manipur, "has a matriarchal society",[14] but this may not be a scholarly assessment.[N 2] Manipur was ruled by strong dynasties and the need for expansions of borders, crushing any outsider threats, etc. engaged the men. So, women had to take charge of home-front.

In Muslim families, women and men are considered equal, but not in the westernised sense. The Quran teaches that the minds of males and females work differently and are generally different biologically.[15] Therefore, Islam grants different rights to the husband and wife. In this sense, the husband may take more of a leading role in the household.

The heterogeneity of the Indian experience reveals that there are multiple patriarchies, contributing to the existence of multiple feminisms. Hence, feminism in India is not a singular theoretical orientation; it has changed over time in relation to historical and cultural realities, levels of consciousness, perceptions and actions of individual women, and women as a group. The widely used definition is "An awareness of women's oppression and exploitation in society, at work and within the family, and conscious action by women and men to change this situation."[11] Acknowledging sexism in daily life and attempting to challenge and eliminate it through deconstructing mutually exclusive notions of femininity and masculinity as biologically determined categories opens the way towards an equitable society for both men and women.[11]

The male and female dichotomy of polar opposites with the former oppressing the latter at all times is refuted in the Indian context because it was men who initiated social reform movements against various social evils. Patriarchy is just one of the hierarchies. Relational hierarchies between women within the same family are more adverse. Here women are pitted against one another. Not all women are powerless at all times.[16]

There have been intense debates within the Indian women's movements about the relationship between Western and Indian feminisms. Many Indian feminists simultaneously claim a specific "Indian" sensitivity as well as an international feminist solidarity with groups and individuals worldwide.[9][17] The rise of liberal feminism in the West in the 1970s focused deeply on demands for equal opportunities in education and employment, as well as ending violence against women. To a large extent, the emerging feminist movement in India was influenced by Western ideals. These called for education and equal rights, but also adapted their appeals to local issues and concerns, such as dowry-related violence against women, Sati, sex selective abortion and custodial rape. Some Indian feminists have suggested that these issues are not specifically "Indian" in nature but rather a reflection of a wider trend of patriarchal oppression of women.[9]


According to Maitrayee Chaudhuri, unlike the Western feminist movement, India's movement was initiated by men, and later joined by women. But feminism as an initiative by women started independently a little later in Maharashtra by pioneering advocates of women's rights and education: Savitribai Phule, who started the first school for girls in India (1848);[18][19] Tarabai Shinde, who wrote India's first feminist text Stri Purush Tulana (A Comparison Between Women and Men) in 1882; and Pandita Ramabai, who criticized patriarchy and caste-system in Hinduism, married outside her caste and converted to Christianity (1880s). The efforts of Bengali reformers included abolishing sati, which was a widow's death by burning on her husband's funeral pyre,[2][20] abolishing the custom of child marriage, abolishing the disfiguring of widows, introducing the marriage of upper caste Hindu widows, promoting women's education, obtaining legal rights for women to own property, and requiring the law to acknowledge women's status by granting them basic rights in matters such as adoption.[21]

The 19th century was the period that saw a majority of women's issues come under the spotlight and reforms began to be made. Much of the early reforms for Indian women were conducted by men. However, by the late 19th century they were joined in their efforts by their wives, sisters, daughters, protegees and other individuals directly affected by campaigns such as those carried out for women's education. By the late 20th century, women gained greater autonomy through the formation of independent women's own organisations. By the late thirties and forties a new narrative began to be constructed regarding "women's activism". This was newly researched and expanded with the vision to create 'logical' and organic links between feminism and Marxism, as well as with anti-communalism and anti-casteism, etc. The Constitution of India did guarantee 'equality between the sexes,' which created a relative lull in women's movements until the 1970s.[3]

During the formative years of women's rights movements, the difference between the sexes was more or less taken for granted in that their roles, functions, aims and desires were different. As a result, they were not only to be reared differently but treated differently also. Over the course of time, this difference itself became a major reason for initiating women's movements. Early 19th century reformers argued that the difference between men and women was no reason for the subjection of women in society. However, later reformers were of the opinion that indeed it was this particular difference that subjugated women to their roles in society, for example, as mothers. Therefore, there was a need for the proper care of women's rights. With the formation of women's organisations and their own participation in campaigns, their roles as mothers was again stressed but in a different light: this time the argument was for women's rights to speech, education and emancipation. However, the image of women with the mother as a symbol underwent changes over time – from an emphasis on family to the creation of an archetypal mother figure, evoking deep, often atavistic images.[3]

First phase: 1850–1915

Kamini Roy
Kamini Roy (poet and suffragette) became the first woman Honors Graduate in India in 1886.

The colonial venture into modernity brought concepts of democracy, equality and individual rights. The rise of the concept of nationalism and introspection of discriminatory practices brought about social reform movements related to caste and gender relations. This first phase of feminism in India was initiated by men to uproot the social evils of sati (widow immolation),[22] to allow widow remarriage, to forbid child marriage, and to reduce illiteracy, as well as to regulate the age of consent and to ensure property rights through legal intervention. In addition to this, some upper caste Hindu women rejected constraints they faced under Brahminical traditions.[3] However, efforts for improving the status of women in Indian society were somewhat thwarted by the late nineteenth century, as nationalist movements emerged in India. These movements resisted 'colonial interventions in gender relations' particularly in the areas of family relations. In the mid to late nineteenth century, there was a national form of resistance to any colonial efforts made to 'modernise' the Hindu family. This included the Age of Consent controversy that erupted after the government tried to raise the age of marriage for women.[2][23]

Several Indian states were ruled by women during British colonial advance including Jhansi (Rani Laxmibai), Kittur (Rani Chennama), Bhopal (Quidisa Begum) and Punjab (Jind Kaur).[24]

Second Phase: 1915–1947

During this period the struggle against colonial rule intensified. Nationalism became the pre-eminent cause. Claiming Indian superiority became the tool of cultural revivalism resulting in an essentialising model of Indian womanhood similar to that of Victorian womanhood: special yet separated from public space. Gandhi legitimised and expanded Indian women's public activities by initiating them into the non-violent civil disobedience movement against the British Raj. He exalted their feminine roles of caring, self-abnegation, sacrifice and tolerance; and carved a niche for those in the public arena. Peasant women played an important role in the rural satyagrahas of Borsad and Bardoli.[25] Women-only organisations like All India Women's Conference (AIWC) and the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) emerged. Women were grappling with issues relating to the scope of women's political participation, women's franchise, communal awards, and leadership roles in political parties.[3]

The 1920s was a new era for Indian women and is defined as 'feminism' that was responsible for the creation of localised women's associations. These associations emphasised women's education issues, developed livelihood strategies for working-class women, and also organised national level women's associations such as the All India Women's Conference. AIWC was closely affiliated with the Indian National Congress. Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, it worked within the nationalist and anti-colonialist freedom movements. This made the mass mobilisation of women an integral part of Indian nationalism. Women therefore were a very important part of various nationalist and anti-colonial efforts, including the civil disobedience movements in the 1930s.[3]

After independence, the All India Women's Conference continued to operate and in 1954 the Indian Communist Party formed its own women's wing known as the National Federation of Indian Women. However, feminist agendas and movements became less active right after India's 1947 independence, as the nationalist agendas on nation building took precedence over feminist issues.[26]

Women's participation in the struggle for freedom developed their critical consciousness about their role and rights in independent India. This resulted in the introduction of the franchise and civic rights of women in the Indian constitution. There was provision for women's upliftment through affirmative action, maternal health and child care provision (crèches), equal pay for equal work etc. The state adopted a patronising role towards women. For example, India's constitution states that women are a "weaker section" of the population, and therefore need assistance to function as equals.[21] Thus women in India did not have to struggle for basic rights as did women in the West. The utopia ended soon when the social and cultural ideologies and structures failed to honour the newly acquired concepts of fundamental rights and democracy.[3]


Indira Gandhi 1977
Indira Gandhi (née Nehru) was the only child of the India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. She is the first and only woman Prime Minister of India and the second-longest-serving Prime Minister.

Post independence feminists began to redefine the extent to which women were allowed to engage in the workforce. Prior to independence, most feminists accepted the sexual divide within the labour force. However, feminists in the 1970s challenged the inequalities that had been established and fought to reverse them. These inequalities included unequal wages for women, relegation of women to 'unskilled' spheres of work, and restricting women as a reserve army for labour. In other words, the feminists' aim was to abolish the free service of women who were essentially being used as cheap capital.[3] Feminist class-consciousness also came into focus in the 1970s, with feminists recognising the inequalities not just between men and women but also within power structures such as caste, tribe, language, religion, region, class etc. This also posed as a challenge for feminists while shaping their overreaching campaigns as there had to be a focus within efforts to ensure that fulfilling the demands of one group would not create further inequalities for another. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the focus of the Indian feminist movement has gone beyond treating women as useful members of society and a right to parity, but also having the power to decide the course of their personal lives and the right of self-determination.[3]

In 1966 Indira Gandhi became the first female Prime Minister of India. She served as prime minister of India for three consecutive terms (1966–77) and a fourth term from 1980 until she was assassinated in 1984.[27]

Mary Roy won a lawsuit in 1986, against the inheritance legislation of her Keralite Syrian Christian community in the Supreme Court. The judgement ensured equal rights for Syrian Christian women with their male siblings in regard to their ancestral property.[28][29] Until then, her Syrian Christian community followed the provisions of the Travancore Succession Act of 1916 and the Cochin Succession Act, 1921, while elsewhere in India the same community followed the Indian Succession Act of 1925.[30]

In 1991, the Kerala High Court restricted entry of women above the age of 10 and below the age of 50 from Sabarimala Shrine as they were of the menstruating age. However, on 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India lifted the ban on the entry of women. It said that discrimination against women on any grounds, even religious, is unconstitutional.[31][32]

The state of Kerala is often viewed as the ideal progressive leader in the women’s rights movement in India among states. Kerala maintains very high relative levels of female literacy and women’s health, as well as greater female inheritance and property rights. For example, a 1998 study conducted by Bina Agarwal found that while only 13% of all women in India with landowning fathers inherited that land as daughters, 24% of such women were able to do so in the state of Kerala.[33] This is important because it has been shown that measures to improve such access to property and economic independence through channels such as education not only directly improve women’s wellbeing and capabilities, but also reduce their risk of exposure to marital or any sort of domestic violence.[33]

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to protect women from domestic violence. It was brought into force by the Indian government from 26 October 2006. The Act provides for the first time in Indian law a definition of "domestic violence", with this definition being broad and including not only physical violence, but also other forms of violence such as emotional/verbal, sexual, and economic abuse. It is a civil law meant primarily for protection orders and not meant to penalize criminally.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a legislative act in India that seeks to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work. The Act came into force from 9 December 2013. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 introduced changes to the Indian Penal Code, making sexual harassment an expressed offence under Section 354 A, which is punishable up to three years of imprisonment and or with fine. The Amendment also introduced new sections making acts like disrobing a woman without consent, stalking and sexual acts by person in authority an offense. It also made acid attacks a specific offence with a punishment of imprisonment not less than 10 years and which could extend to life imprisonment and with fine.[34]

In 2014, an Indian family court in Mumbai ruled that a husband objecting to his wife wearing a kurta and jeans and forcing her to wear a sari amounts to cruelty inflicted by the husband and can be a ground to seek divorce.[35] The wife was thus granted a divorce on the ground of cruelty as defined under section 27(1)(d) of Special Marriage Act, 1954.[35]

In 2016 a judgment of the Delhi high court was made public in which it was ruled that the eldest female member of a Hindu Undivided Family can be its "Karta".[36]

In 2018 the Supreme Court of India struck down a law making it a crime for a man to have sex with a married woman without the permission of her husband.[37]

Prior to November 2018, women were forbidden to climb Agasthyarkoodam. A court ruling removed the prohibition.[38]


Despite "on-paper" advancements, many problems still remain which inhibit women from fully taking advantage of new rights and opportunities in India.

There are many traditions and customs that have been an important part of Indian culture for hundreds of years. Religious laws and expectations, or "personal laws" enumerated by each specific religion, often conflict with the Indian Constitution, eliminating rights and powers women should legally have. Despite these crossovers in legality, the Indian government does not interfere with religion and the personal laws they hold.[39] Indian society is largely composed of hierarchical systems within families and communities. These hierarchies can be broken down into age, sex, ordinal position, kinship relationships (within families), and caste, lineage, wealth, occupations, and relationship to ruling power (within the community). When hierarchies emerge within the family based on social convention and economic need, girls in poorer families suffer twice the impact of vulnerability and stability. From birth, girls are automatically entitled to less; from playtime, to food, to education, girls can expect to always be entitled to less than their brothers. Girls also have less access to their family's income and assets, which is exacerbated among poor, rural Indian families. From the start, it is understood that females will be burdened with strenuous work and exhausting responsibilities for the rest of their lives, always with little to no compensation or recognition.[40]

India is also a patriarchal society, which, by definition, describes cultures in which males as fathers or husbands are assumed to be in charge and the official heads of households. A patrilineal system governs the society, where descent and inheritance are traced through the male line and men are generally in control of the distribution of family resources.[16]

These traditions and ways of Indian life have been in effect for so long that this type of lifestyle is what women have become accustomed to and expect. Indian women often do not take full advantage of their constitutional rights because they are not properly aware or informed of them. Women also tend to have poor utilisation of voting rights because they possess low levels of political awareness and sense of political efficacy. Women are not often encouraged to become informed about issues. Due to this, political parties do not invest much time in female candidates because there is a perception that they are a "wasted investment."[21]

The female-to-male ratio in India is 933 to 1000, showing that there are numerically fewer women in the country than men. This is due to several factors, including infanticides, most commonly among female infants, and the poor care of female infants and childbearing women. Although outlawed, infanticides are still very common in rural India, and are continuing to become even more prominent. This is due to the fact, most especially in rural areas, that families cannot afford female children because of the dowry they must pay when their daughter gets married. Like infanticide, the payment of dowry is also illegal, but is still a frequent and prevalent occurrence in rural India.[41] Women are considered to be "worthless" by their husbands if they are not "able" to produce a male child, and can often face much abuse if this is the case.[42]

Birth ratio

Between the years of 1991 to 2001, the female-male ratio of the population of India fell from 94.5 girls per 100 boys to 92.7 girls per 100 boys.[5] Some parts of the country, such as Kerala, did not experience such a decline, but in the richer Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, and Maharashtra, the female-male ratio fell very sharply (the female-male ratios in these states were between 79.3 and 87.8).[5] This is evidence of natality inequality, and an indication that sex-selective abortion has become more pervasive. The Indian parliament has banned the use of sex determination techniques for foetuses due to this, but enforcement of this law has been largely ignored.[43]


Most of the average Indian woman's life is spent in marriage; many women are still married before the legal age of 18, and the incidence of non-marriage is low in India. Childbearing and raising children are the priorities of early adulthood for Indian women. Thus, if they enter the workforce at all, it is far later than Indian men. Urban Indian men reach the peak of their labour force participation between the ages of 25 and 29, while urban Indian women do so between the ages of 40 and 44.[4] Because of this, women have less time for the acquisition of skills and fewer opportunities for job improvements.

There is a poor representation of women in the Indian workforce. Females have a ten percent higher drop-out rate than males from middle and primary schools, as well as lower levels of literacy than men. Since unemployment is also high in India, it is easy for employers to manipulate the law, especially when it comes to women, because it is part of Indian culture for women not to argue with men. Additionally, labour unions are insensitive to women's needs. Women also have to settle for jobs that comply with their obligations as wives, mothers, and homemakers.[4][41]

The Gulabi Gang in India wear pink saris and carry lathis (bamboo staves) for protection against physical attack, and punish abusive husbands, publicly shaming and sometimes beating them. They also watch out for and expose dowry beatings, dowry death, rape, child marriages, desertion, depriving girls of education, child molestation, and sexual harassment. They have invaded police stations to demand that police investigate these matters, and other things that affect the community such as corruption. India’s police are notoriously corrupt and sometimes only the threat of a full-scale female riot will get them to act. Nobody knows quite how many of them there are. Estimates range from 270,000 to 400,000.

In 2018 the Supreme Court of India struck down a law making it a crime for a man to have sex with a married woman without the permission of her husband.[37]


Another issue that concerns women is the dress code expected of them. Islam requires both men and women to dress modestly; this concept is known as hijab and covers a wide interpretation of behavior and garments. There is mixed opinion among feminists over extremes of externally imposed control. Women from other religions are also expected to follow dress codes.

In 2014, an Indian family court in Mumbai ruled that a husband objecting to his wife wearing a kurta and jeans and forcing her to wear a sari amounts to cruelty inflicted by the husband and can be a ground to seek divorce.[44] The wife was thus granted a divorce on the ground of cruelty as defined under section 27(1)(d) of Special Marriage Act, 1954.[44]


Hindu community

A jagran in honour of Devi, the Hindu goddess.

In the Hindu religion, there has been partial success in terms of gender equality reform laws and family law. While this is a major advancement relative to other religions in India, it is still not a complete triumph in terms of feminism and relieving oppression.[39] Gandhi came up with the term stree shakti (women power) for the concept of womanhood. In the Hindu religion, Gods are not exclusively male. Hinduism sheds a positive light on femininity; females are considered to complement and complete their male counterparts. It is important to note that both the deity of knowledge and the deity of wealth are female.[21] In 1991, the Kerala High Court restricted entry of women above the age of 10 and below the age of 50 from Sabarimala Shrine as they were of the menstruating age. However, on 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India lifted the ban on the entry of women. It said that discrimination against women on any grounds, even religious, is unconstitutional.[31][32]

There has been some criticism from Dalit groups that Indian feminism tends to represent "upper caste" and upper class Hindu women, while ignoring and marginalising the interests of Dalit women. Debates on caste and gender oppression have been furthered by Other Backward Class (OBC) members of different political parties, arguing in state assemblies that "lower caste" women's interests are best represented by women from these castes.[7] Working towards this end, women within Dalit castes have formed organisations such as the All India Dalit Women's Forum and the National Federation of Dalit Women and Dalit Solidarity, which focus on the gendered implications of caste based violence and oppression, such as the ways in which Dalit women suffer from urban poverty and displacement.[7]

Muslim community

The Hindu and Muslim communities in India were treated differently by the government in that separate types of concessions were made for each community in order to accommodate their separate religious laws and regulations. The case of Shah Bano begun in 1985 was one such example of Rajiv Gandhi attempting to make "concessions" for the Muslim community to in turn secure support for the Congress. Shah Bano, a 73-year-old Muslim woman, was divorced by her husband after forty-three years of marriage. According to the Sharia or Muslim Law, her husband was not required to pay her alimony. Shah Bano challenged this decision in the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in her favour and ordered her husband to pay her a monthly maintenance allowance. This caused chaos amongst the Muslim clerics who denounced the judgement and suggested that their religion, Islam was under attack in the country. In a fear of losing overall Muslim support, Rajiv succumbed to the pressures of the Conservative Moulvis from Muslims community and his own party and backed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill which restricts alimony for Muslim Women only for 90 days after divorce. This caused an outcry from Muslim feminists and Hindu nationalists who found the appeasement of Muslim males by the Congress for political purposes wrong and opportunistic.[45]

Feminism was challenged by various minority groups for not entirely addressing the needs of minority populations. It was suggested that 'mainstream' feminism was upper caste and Hindu in its orientation and did not address the concerns of minority women. This led to the formation of the Awaaz-e-Niswaan (The Voice of Women) in 1987 in Mumbai in largely Muslim part of the city. The Muslim community has personal laws that often were considered harmful to the rights of Muslim women.[46] The Muslim personal law allows Polygamy but not Polyandry.


Feminism did not gain meaning or become an operational principle in Indian life until the country gained independence in 1947 and adopted a democratic government.[21] The Indian Constitution then granted equality, freedom from discrimination based on gender or religion, and guaranteed religious freedoms.[39] Also, seven five-year plans were developed to provide health, education, employment, and welfare to women. The sixth five-year plan even declared women "partners in development."[21]


In general, in the uneducated and rural sections of Indian society, which form a major percentage of the total population, women are seen as economic burdens. Their contributions to productivity are mostly invisible as their familial and domestic contributions are overlooked. Indian women were contributing nearly 36 percent of total employment in agriculture and related activities, nearly 19 percent in the service sector, and nearly 12.5 in the industry sector as of the year 2000. High illiteracy rates among women confine them to lower paying, unskilled jobs with less job security than men. Even in agricultural jobs where the work of men and women are highly similar, women are still more likely to be paid less for the same amount and type of work as men.[47] Although the Government of India has tried to eliminate inequality in the workforce, women still receive unequal treatment. "Men are more likely to get promotions than women—besides, for men the nature of their jobs often changed with these promotions, unlike women, who usually only got increased responsibility and higher workload."[48]

In 1955 the Bollywood group Cine Costume Make-Up Artist & Hair Dressers' Association (CCMAA) created a rule that did not allow women to obtain memberships as makeup artists.[49] However, in 2014 the Supreme Court of India ruled that this rule was in violation of the Indian constitutional guarantees granted under Article 14 (right to equality), 19(1)(g) (freedom to carry out any profession) and Article 21 (right to liberty).[49] The judges of the Supreme Court of India stated that the ban on women makeup artist members had no "rationale nexus" to the cause sought to be achieved and was "unacceptable, impermissible and inconsistent" with the constitutional rights guaranteed to the citizens.[49] The Court also found illegal the rule which mandated that for any artist, female or male, to work in the industry, they must have domicile status of five years in the state where they intend to work.[49] In 2015 it was announced that Charu Khurana had become the first woman to be registered by the Cine Costume Make-Up Artist & Hair Dressers' Association.[50]


Feminists are also concerned about the impact of globalisation on women in India. Some feminists argue that globalisation has led to economic changes that have raised more social and economical challenges for women, particularly for working-class and lower-caste women. Multinational companies in India have been seen to exploit the labour of 'young, underpaid and disadvantaged women' in free trade zones and sweat shops, and use "Young lower middle class, educated women," in call centres. These women have few effective labour rights, or rights to collective action.[51][52]

In addition to this, multinational corporations are seen to advertise a homogenous image of ideal women across the country is argued to cause an increase in the commodification of women's bodies. This is also manifested in the form of nationalist pride exhibited through Indian women winning international beauty pageants. According to some feminists, such developments have offered women greater sexual autonomy and more control over their bodies. However, many other feminists feel that such commodification of female bodies has only served the purpose of feeding to male fantasies.[51]


KRS girls
Girls in Kalleda Rural School, Andhra Pradesh.

Some of the main reasons that girls are less likely to reach optimal levels of education include the fact that girls are needed to assist their mothers at home, have been raised to believe that a life of domestic work is their destined occupation, have illiterate mothers who cannot educate their children, have an economic dependency on men, and are sometimes subject to child-marriage.[47] Many poor families marry their daughters off early with a belief that the more she will stay at home, the more they'll be needed to invest in her. Plus its a popular belief that they should be married off early so that they produce off-springs early in their life.

In 1986, the National Policy on Education (NPE) was created in India, and the government launched the programme called Mahila Samakhya, whose focus was on the empowerment of women. The programme's goal is to create a learning environment for women to realise their potential, learn to demand information and find the knowledge to take charge of their own lives. In certain areas of India, progress is being made and an increase in the enrolment of girls in schools and as teachers has begun to increase. By 2001 literacy for women had exceeded 50% of the overall female population, though these statistics were still very low compared to world standards and even male literacy within India.[53] Efforts are still being made to improve the level of education that females receive to match that of male students.[47]

Indian feminists

See also


  1. ^ The last Sikh Guru Guru Gobind Singh, gave all Sikh females regardless of their age or marital status the name of Kaur meaning that they would not have to take their husband’s name if they married.
  2. ^ A few people consider any non-patriarchal system to be matriarchal, thus including genderally equalitarian systems, but most academics exclude them from matriarchies strictly defined.


  1. ^ Ray, Raka. Fields of Protest: Women's Movements in India Archived 7 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine. University of Minnesota Press; Minneapolis, MN. 1999. Page 13.
  2. ^ a b c d Gangoli (2007), page 16.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kumar, Radha. The History of Doing Archived 10 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Kali for Women, New Delhi, 1998.
  4. ^ a b c Ray (1999), pages 25–28.
  5. ^ a b c Sen, Amartya. "The Many Faces of Gender Inequality." The New Republic, 17 September 2001; page 39.
  6. ^ Gangoli (2007), page 2.
  7. ^ a b c Gangoli, Geetanjali. Indian Feminisms – Law, Patriarchies and Violence in India Archived 1 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2007. Print; pages 10–12.
  8. ^ Partha Chatterjee, "The Nationalist Resolution of the Women's Question," in Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History Archived 7 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, eds. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  9. ^ a b c Gangoli (2007), page 6.
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Further reading

  • Bhasin, Kamla; Khan, Nighat Said (1986). Some questions on feminism and its relevance in South Asia. New Delhi: Kali for Women. ISBN 9788185107141.
  • Chaudhuri, Maitrayee (2005). Feminism in India. Issues in Contemporary Indian Feminism. London New York New York: Zed Books. ISBN 9781842776025.
  • Madhavananda, and R. C. Majumdar. Great women of India. Mayavati (2014)
  • Jain, Pratibha; Sharma, Sangeeta (1995), "Women in the freedom struggle: invisible images", in Jain, Pratibha; Sharma, Sangeeta (eds.), Women images, Jaipur: Rawat Publications, OCLC 34318242.
  • Singh, Maina Chawla (June 2004). "Feminism in India". Asian Journal of Women's Studies. 10 (2): BR2.
  • Kishwar, Madhu (2008). Zealous reformers, deadly laws: battling stereotypes. Los Angeles: Sage Publications. ISBN 9780761936374.
  • Madhu Kishwar."The Daughters of Aryavarta: Women in the Arya Samaj movement, Punjab." In Women in Colonial India; Essays on Survival, Work and the State, edited by J. Krishnamurthy, Oxford University Press, 1989.

External links

Besharmi Morcha

Besharmi Morcha, also known as "Slutwalk arthaat Besharmi Morcha", is the Indian equivalent of SlutWalk. This was an organization started in 2011 by Canadian women who protested Toronto's police public statements suggesting that women could avoid rape and sexual assault by the way they dressed. They have conducted events across the world for education about this issue.

The first Besharmi Morcha took place in Bhopal on 17 July 2011, followed by Besharmi Morcha Delhi on 31 July 2011. Besharmi Morcha Lucknow took place on 21 August 2011.Besharmi Morcha Bangalore, coordinated to coincide with similar events in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong on 4 December 2011, was cancelled by police after they received objections. A police spokesperson said that groups opposing Besharmi Morcha had "threatened to hold a ‘violent protest’". Dhillan Mowli, one of the organisers, reported that she had been told that the event was “not part of Indian culture.” Mowli also said, "The vice-president of a women's organisation called me and said that if any women were seen in skimpy clothing during the Slutwalk, they would be beaten with brooms."Christie Thompson, writing for Ms Magazine, observed "...women aren’t marching for the right to walk down the street dressed in barely-there clothes, as critics suggest. They’re fighting for the right to walk down the street. Period."

Blank Noise

Blank Noise is a community/public art project that seeks to confront street harassment, commonly known as eve teasing, in India. The project, initiated by Jasmeen Patheja in August 2003, started out as a student project at Srishti School of Art Design and Technology in Bangalore and has since spread out to other cities in India.

Dalit feminism

Dalit feminism is a feminist perspective that includes questioning caste and gender roles among the Dalit population and within feminism and the larger women's movement. Dalit women primarily live in South Asia, mainly in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Dalit women face different challenges than women in higher castes in these countries. They are more likely to be poor, uneducated and socially marginalized. Dalit feminists advocate and have advocated for equal rights for Dalit women based on gender, caste and other issues. They have addressed conferences, created organizations and helped elect other Dalit women into political office.

Dekh Le

Dekh Le is a viral video dealing with the subject of men ogling women in India. It was produced by film studies students at Mumbai-based Whistling Woods International Institute of Film, Fashion & Media and released on 16 December 2013, the first anniversary of the 2012 Delhi gang rape. It garnered one million hits in its first week on YouTube.

Delhi Queer Pride Parade

Delhi Queer Pride Parade is organised by members of the Delhi Queer Pride Committee every last Sunday of November since 2008. The queer pride parade is a yearly festival to honour and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (the whole queer community), and their supporters. The parade usually runs from Barakhamba Road to Tolstoy Marg to Jantar Mantar.

Flora Annie Steel

Flora Annie Steel (2 April 1847 – 12 April 1929) was an English writer, who lived in British India for 22 years. She was noted especially for books set or otherwise connected with the sub-continent.

Gauri Ma

Gauri Ma (February, 1857 – 1 March 1938), born Mridani, was a prominent Indian disciple of Ramakrishna, companion of Sarada Devi and founder of Kolkata's Saradeswari Ashram.While Gauri Ma was living at Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna gave her the ochre robes of a sannyasini and made arrangements for the accompanying rituals. Sri Ramakrishna himself offered a bilva leaf into the homa fire. Prior to this, Gauri Ma had worn a sannyasini's robes as an external sign of renunciation, but she had not taken any formal vows. After this ritual, he gave her a new name Gauriananda. Sri Ramakrishna usually called her Gauri or Gauridasi, and some people called her Gaurma. But Gauri Ma was the name by which she was generally known.

Gender Park

Gender Park is an autonomous institution promoted by the Department of Social Justice, Government of Kerala State, India, to resolve the gender inequity in development. The institution has its headquarters at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and its Chief Executive Officer is P.T.Mohammed Sunish who is also the Managing Director of Kerala State Women's Development Corporation.Some of the objectives of the institution are :

To generate a space exclusively for women development activities, emphasizing entrepreneurship in service and cultural activities.

To undertake research and documentation of the history and current trends in gender in different spheres of society through the Gender Park's International Institute for Gender and Development (IIGD). The IIGD is involved in research on gender at the local, national and international level, and aims to provide formal education in gender studies.

To strengthen women development activities undertaken by various departments/agencies/civil society movements, such as She-Taxi.The Gender Park campus is located at Vellimadukunnu in Kozhikkode District in Kerala. The foundation stone for the Park was laid on 8 March 2013.

Honour for Women National Campaign

The Honour for Women National Campaign is a nationwide movement in India to end violence against women. The movement was founded by women’s rights activist Manasi Pradhan in the year 2009.

Launched under the aegis of OYSS Women, the movement galvanized in the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi gang rape incident.

Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan

Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan (English: Revolutionary Adivasi Women's Organisation) is a banned women's organisation based in India. The Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan (KAMS) is a successor of the Adivasi Mahila Sanghathana (AMS). The foundation of the AMS was laid by the Maoists in 1986.

Mahila Paksh

Mahila Paksh is an Indian women's newspaper published in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, in Hindi. It covers issues and subjects ranging from atrocities committed against women to following their successes in different fields. It is published by the Shrivastava family. The paper operates through the creation of members, which it does through signing up people at a fee of two dollars and fifty cents per year.

The paper's quoted mission, as expressed by Samnvy Kumar, the chief editor of the newspaper: "Our main purpose is to create awareness in the women not about the social issues but awareness for the self. They don't understand themselves and realise their potential. We want them to recognise their potential, caliber and capability. They can take their own independent decisions."The newspaper has women filing stories across India- but includes many stories that are compiled by poor and illiterate women who are relatively disenfranchised and generally prevented from speaking out about their perceptions or situations. The stories are published with the help of editors who write them down and who train the women in reportage.

Kanta Tomar, the State Commissioner on women's issues, also has only good things to say about the paper: "Mahila Paksh is a unique newspaper of Madhya Pradesh to bring forward various problems of women. Through the initiatives of this paper, we have got lot of help to carry out various activities in the region. The paper is doing a wonderful job in this male dominated society."


Manushi: A Journal about Women and Society is an Indian magazine devoted to feminism as well as to gender studies and activism. The magazine was founded in 1978 by Madhu Kishwar and Ruth Vanita, two scholars based in New Delhi. It is currently published as a bi-monthly; a total of 157 issues have appeared by the end of the year 2006. Manushi is also a publishing house which prints not just works on the status of women in India but also novels and short stories with a less direct connection to gender issues.

Manushi from the beginning has sought to publish articles about the full range of South Asian communities. It regularly includes articles about women's issues in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as well as less frequent articles from around the world. The editors strive to cover people often relatively ignored in English-language media in South Asia. Activists are asked to contribute articles about peasants, workers and minorities, whether religious or ethnic. Manushi sponsors series of lectures and training seminars and also furnishes information to victimised women.

National Federation of Dalit Women

The National Federation of Dalit Women (NFDW) is a non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting the rights of Dalit women internationally. NFDW was founded by Ruth Manorama in 1995.

Pink Chaddi Campaign

The Pink Chaddi Campaign (or Pink Underwear Campaign) is a nonviolent protest movement launched by Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women in February 2009 in response to notable incidences of violent conservative and right-wing activism against perceived violations of Indian culture, when a group of women were attacked in a pub in Mangalore. The campaign was a brainchild of Nisha Susan, an employee of Tehelka political magazine.The campaign was conceived particularly in protest against a threat by Pramod Muthalik of the Sri Ram Sena (also spelled as Sri Ram Sene and Sriram Sena), an orthodox group based in Mangalore. Muthalik threatened to marry off and take other action on any young couples found together on Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day is traditionally not observed in India, as it is celebrated in Western cultures.

Stri Dharma

Stri Dharma was the journal of the Women's Indian Association which was first published in January 1918 by two Theosophist feminists – Margaret Cousins and Dorothy Jinarajadasa – and continued until August 1936. Its title was Sanskrit for the dharma of women – their right way.

Towards Equality

Towards Equality was the title of the report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (1974-75). This 1974 document is said to lay the foundation of women's movement in independent India, highlighting discriminatory socio-cultural practices, political and economic processes. The findings of the report reopened the women's question for government, academia and women's organisation. Its authors included Vina Mazumdar and Lotika Sarkar, who later founded the Centre for Women’s Development Studies in Delhi.The report proved to be an "eye opener" women's condition by talking about development and democracy from gender perspective. It brought to the forefront the issues of declining sex ratio (missing women). It led to women-sensitive policy-making in India and stress on girls' education.

United Women Front

United Women Front is a political party in India founded in 2007. Suman Krishan Kant is the national president of the party. Parm Ahluwalia is the general secretary of the party.Suman Krishan Kant, 74, was the wife of former Vice-President Krishan Kant. Suman has been at the forefront of active politics due to her in-laws' dedication to Mahatma Gandhi and her husband's political reign. Suman began her social activism in 1977 when the Mahila Dakshita Samiti (MDS) was formed. MDS was created to help women in distress who suffered from domestic and family violence.The focus of UWF is to provide a political party that includes women. Women cannot make decisions in issues that they are affected in without having enough numbers in decision-making. UWF addresses women's illiteracy, early marriage, and tokenism in parliament, and the safety of women. The political party wants to be included in all the facets of the mainstream political scenarios while empowering women to fight for equality.

Yogin Ma

Yogindra Mohini Biswas or Yogin Ma ( Bengali: যোগীন মা) as she was popularly called, was a foremost woman disciple of Sri Sarada Devi, holy mother of the Ramakrishna order and the spiritual consort of Sri Ramakrishna. Together with Golap Ma, she was a constant companion of Sri Sarada Devi and a major witness and an active contributor to the early formation of the monastic order of Sri Ramakrishna. She stayed with the holy mother in the Udbodhan House in Calcutta, which was built by Swami Saradananda for the use of Sri Sarada Devi.

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