Hindu society dictates that once a girl is married, she no longer belongs in the home of her parents and her husband's home is her entire future. She may never return to her maternal home on a permanent basis, for that would bring shame upon her in Hindu society. This is the reason why Hindu weddings are always characterized by much weeping as the girl ceremoniously bids farewell to her ancestral home. Her husband becomes her God, his home becomes her home and her life is dedicated to serve him and obey him. In the absence of the support of her maternal home, dowry was provided as a means to provide for the girl's new family needs in the event of a financial crisis. However, over the years this practice has degenerated into a mercenary enterprise, where a premium is placed on a male and the woman is bought and sold like a piece of property - only, in this instance, the family of the woman pays for the privilege of having a man take her off their hands. Hindu families prefer boys to girls for several reasons, of which dowry is the most important. A boy is preferred because (a) Hinduism designates the male superior from a religious, social and political point-of-view (b) Educating a boy is perceived as a worthwhile enterprise, because he may go out into society and put that education to good use in securing employment, whereas a girl's fate is merely to be married off and go to her husband's home - Marriage of a girl involves heavy investments, mainly due to the practice of dowry.
Marriage in Hinduism is a heavily commercial enterprise. It has become an occasion for the ostentatious display of wealth. The more pomp and splendor associated with a girl's marriage, the better the parents are perceived as having performed their duty, according to Hindu standards. Marriages today are no more than a vulgar display of wealth. The parents of girls bear the entire burden for organization this vainglorious occasion, mortgaging themselves to the hilt to gain respect for themselves in Hindu society by organizing the marriage with pomp and show. The practice of dowry has degenerated to the point where a male's family demands several lakhs of rupees in addition to big ticket consumer items such as appliances, vehicles etc. In order to give their consent for the marriage. The better educated the boy is or the higher his social status, the more dowry the family demands. The practice of dowry exists even among the poorer castes and the families of girls spend their entire lifetimes amassing money to conduct their daughter's marriage with sufficient pomp and show.
In the present day, women have gained a much higher level of rights of access to education and the Hindu law has been amended to permit daughters to inherit ancestral property. But in spite of the gains in education and knowledge and in spite of the fact that the Government has banned the heinous practice of dowry, it still persists, even more commercialized than before, to such an extent that women have set themselves on fire or otherwise committed suicide in order to escape the constant demands of their in laws to bring additional dowries from their homes. There have also been cases where the families of Indian males deliberately kill the woman in order that the man may marry again and amass more dowry by marrying again. Hindu society condones a variety of vices in the male but expects a much more rigorous standard of morality and behavior from women.
Some Hindu organizations now organize mass marriages where several couples are married all at once in a mass wedding ceremony, with the specific intent to overcome the evils of dowry. The "Swamyamvar" system was also devised as a method to redress the evils of dowry, wherein a woman garlanded the husband of her choice from among a number of prospective suitors. But here again, the power rests with the male, in that garlanding by the male is ignored [O'Henry].
THE SATI SYSTEM:
Perhaps the most evil of all social oppression against women is Sati - the practice of burning a wife on her husband's funeral pyre. This was particularly barbaric in ancient times because the wife generally tended to be much younger than her husband. With the inherent male superiority of Hinduism, a man may marry a woman young enough to be his granddaughter and no eyebrows will rise. However, the same privilege is not accorded to women and the prospect of marriage to a man old enough to be her father or grandfather is supposed to be one that a women should welcome because it provides her with financial security. The practice of Sati has been outlawed by laws enacted by Government and has disappeared from most parts of India except for isolated pockets in some northern states.
Another unpleasant offshoot of the Hindu religious and cultural system is the practice of female foeticide, that renders the Hindu female inherently disadvantaged, even before she is born - natality mortality [Sen, 2001]. This practice is especially prevalent among poorer families, who see girls as a social and economic liability. The costs of getting a girl married are prohibitive and many families of girls go bankrupt in the process. Thus some families try to get the girls murdered when they are born, by feeding them the milk of calatropis, which is a poisonous plant. Modern advances in technology have meant that facilities such as ultrasound are available to determine the sex of the fetus while it is still in the womb. Unscrupulous doctors often aid couples in aborting female fetuses who are perceived as a financial liability. The birth of a girl is not welcomed as an auspicious event, as is the case with a boy.
Most of the injustices and problems that are faced by women vis a vis their status in Hinduism have been attributed by some scholars to be caused by poverty [Malhotra, 2000]. For example, the evils of female foeticide and child marriage may be directly related in the case of lower caste families to poverty and oppression by the higher castes. However, the factor of wealthy Hindus resorting to the very same practices also needs to be taken into question. Therefore, while it may be argued that some of the social problems that affect the status of women in Hinduism are exacerbated by poverty, it is undoubtedly the religious and caste aspects that determine the subordination of women in Hinduism and her perceived status as inferior to the male, as a consequence of which her rights are given less importance.
HINDUISM vs MODERN STATUS of WOMEN:
Ancient Hindu history reveals very sparse contributions by women to the fields of art. There are women poets in the Vedas (1500 B.C.), theoretically the most important scriptures of Brahminical Hinduism, but the most prominent ones came after the seventh century. [Narayan]. This is surprising, since religious music and dance are an inherent part of every good Hindu's upbringing. Acting, music and dance are considered as ways to attain salvation, according to the tenets of Hinduism. Bharatnatyam, Odissi, Kathak and other dance forms are practiced by most Hindu women but until recently, Hindu women were not permitted to perform outside their homes, because it was considered improper in society. But with the onset of liberalization in India since the 1990s there has been an influx of westernized values and practices into traditionally Hindu domain and the gender inequalities prevalent in Hindu society[Sen, 2001] are drawing more attention. This has also drawn to the fore, a resurgence to traditional, conservative Hinduism with all its restrictions upon women. The effects of globalization have been equated to westernization [Malhotra, 2000] and as a result, strident Hindu nationalists are protesting about the assault on Hindu values. Increasing education among women, the migration of male members to cities to seek jobs thus leaving the women members to perform the functions traditionally associated with male members - all these have produced a change in the status of women as compared to several years ago. For example, in villages in northern India, the old Hindu-based systems of domination by landlords and male family heads are being increasingly challenged by education, migration and changing family relationships. [Wiser, 2001]. Government laws are being enacted to control and abolish the age old Hindu practices of Sati, child marriage and dowry which are an evil offshoot of the inferior status accorded to women in Hinduism. Significant contributions are also being made by NGO's (Non Governmental Organisations) who are working at the grass roots level to uplift the status of women in Hindu India. The process is a slow and pain staking one, since many of these traditional belief systems are…