Legal Article

Status of Women In India

Status of Women in India-Insights on Women's Rights & Empowerment

The Constitution of India has placed man and women on equal footing. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution gives equal status to women; the article says that no one shall be denied equality before law or equal protection of law while such a person is in the territory of India. This article provides clarity with respect to equality of rights provided to women in India and that any kind of discrimination against women would amount to violation of the equal rights provided to women and would be disrespect for human dignity. The Constitution of India empowers women in terms of rights and position in society like under Article 15 every female citizen has a right to access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment, and no restrictions can be imposed on female citizens with regard to the use of wells, tanks, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly by State funds. Article 16 of the Constitution gives equality of opportunity to all citizens of India in matters of employment or appointment to any office under the State.

Women in India enjoy right to equality. However, in order to improve their status further, the Constitution provides under Article 15(3) that State may make special provisions for women. The state has made many provisions to ensure that women are provided equal status and opportunities as to their counterparts. The constitutional amendment made in the year 1992 reserving 33% seats for women in Panchayats and Municipalities. This amendment was empowering for the status of women in social and economic aspect in the society. This amendment brought women to a position where she was capable of making changes to the society along with social recognition. The salary derived by her after achieving such position has empowered her economically as well.

The 42nd amendment made in the Constitution of India added Part IVA, which casts certain duties upon the citizens of India, one such duty cast is to renounce such practices which derogate the dignity of women. The Constitutional provisions are a mandate but the protection of it depends upon the judiciary. The Supreme Court acting as the protector of the Indian Constitution has interpreted various rules & regulations and regarded such rules to be discriminatory against women declaring them unconstitutional.

For instance, in the case of C.B Muthamma v. Union of India, validity of the Indian Foreign Services Rules of 1961 was challenged which provided that no married women shall be entitled as a matter of right to be appointed to the services and a woman member of the service shall obtain the permission of Government in writing before the marriage is solemnized and at any time after the marriage a woman recruited in the service may be asked to resign at any time provided the Government is satisfied that her family and domiciliary requirements can divert her from commitments made to the service in order to efficiently discharge her duties. The Supreme Court held that the provisions in Service Rules requiring female employee to obtain the permission of the Government in writing before her marriage is solemnized and denying right to be appointed on the ground that the candidate is a married woman are discriminatory against woman.

In Air India v. Nergesh Meerza, the Supreme Court struck down the provision of rules which stipulated the condition that services shall be terminated on her first pregnancy as unconstitutional. The Court stated that “it seems to us that the termination of the services of an air hostess under such circumstances is not only a callous and cruel act but an open insult to Indian womanhood – the most sacrosanct and cherished institution”. However, restriction on Air Hostess not to marry within four years of service was held reasonable.

Recently the Supreme Court in X vs The Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi & Anr entitled all women irrespective of their marital status a right to safe and legal abortion. The apex court also threw light upon right to dignity and observed that if a women is forced to carry unwanted pregnancy to full term it would amount to the state relinquishing them of their right to decide the path of their life. The court held that “Depriving women of autonomy not only over their bodies but also over their lives would be an affront to their dignity,″