Essay on Education and Status of Women in India!

Indian Constitution guarantees equal rights to men and women. Articles 14, 15 and 16 of Part III of our constitution guarantee right to equality. Equal­ity before law of all citizens irrespective of caste, creed and sex has been es­tablished. No discrimination shall be made against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, places of birth or any of them.

There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters of public employment.

But our constitution is conspicuously silent in respect of equality of education­al opportunity to men and women. Our society is basically patriarchal in na­ture where men dominate over women and enjoy more rights and privileges than women. Equal rights and privileges including educational were denied to the fair sex through the ages.

It is true that in ancient India women en­joyed high honour and status in the society. A good number of them were highly educated such as Gargi, Maitreyee and Lilabati. They used to parti­cipate in learned discourses with men. Thus in the vedic period women had free access to educational opportunity. But the condition of women in general was not so high.

Polygamy was the order of the day. Even the institution of prostitutions evident in those days. The general atmosphere of freedom for women gradually went into oblivion. Women lost their freedom as a result of foreign incursion. Since the days of Manu women degradation started.

A wall of conservatism was raised around them. Since she was incapable of guarding herself against deceit and immorality, she was dependent throughout her life successively, on her father, husband and son. So com­plete was the subjection of women to man that in course of time even the lim­ited property rights she possessed were restricted and denied.

As a chal­lenge to Buddhism and Jainism, Hinduism became more conservative and reactionary social force. Hardening social customs were introduced. Child marriage became prevalent.

The system of “Purdah” was introduced. This downward trend in the status of women and degradation in the position of women is related to the decline in education. Even literacy education was denied to women who, as a class, occupied a low social status. Girls were not allowed to attend the indigenous schools. Girls belonging to rich families were given instruction by private tutors at home (Zenana Schools).

This state of affairs continued for many centuries. With the advent of the Chris­tian Missionaries the situation was substantially changed. The missionaries for the first time in the history of modern India strongly advocated in favour of women education and raising the status of women.

It is education, they pleaded, which can bring economic self-sufficiency for women and self- consciousness for graceful living and honourable status in the society. Educa­tional privilege, economic self-sufficiency and personal status are intimately related.

The Christian Missionaries actually established a few schools for Indian girls who were mainly recruited from the lower strata of the Hindu Society because conservative Hindu elite disapproved these schools for Indian girls.

They suspected proselytization and even argued that husbands of educated women face mortality. But even in the face of this strong elitist disapproval the English Mission Schools for girls continued to exist. To en­sure attendance of girl’s incentives in the form of free books, clothes and priz­es for attendance were liberally distributed.

The East India Company as a policy of religious neutrality and politi­cal expediency had refrained from assisting and promoting the educational activities for girls. The Macaulay Minute of 1835 discouraged religious and vernacular schools. It was based on the notorious “Downward Filtration Theory”. Consequently the education of Indian Girls was neglected.

The Wood despatch of 1854 may be regarded as an important landmark in the education policy in relation to women. It outright rejected the earlier “Filtration Theory” and accepted officially the principle of mass education. It made a specific mention of the need to encourage the education of women through a policy of grants-in-aid from public funds.

It way candidly con­fessed and recognised that the Indian society would be much more benefited by the education of women rather than education of men.

The Indian Educa­tion Commission of 1881-82 strongly recommended to promote education of girls through local public funds. It advocated a policy of liberalising grants-in- aid to girls’ school and providing substantial assistance to teachers, train­ing. Through the efforts of Miss Mary Carpenter and other English Social re­formers (Rev. May and Miss Cooke, Dr. William Carey, Lady Amherst) the earliest institutions for the training of women teachers were established.

But inspite of all these efforts the disparity between the number of boys and girls at school remained wide. The Government Resolution on Indian Educa­tional Policy, 1904, during the regime of Lord Curzon, clearly confessed that progress of education among Indian women was not satisfactory. Out of forty girls only one could read and write. Lord Curzon liberally sanctioned Govt. grants for the spread of women education.

He established more primary schools for girls, appointed lady inspectors of schools in large numbers and emphasised training of lady teachers. However, women education was sub­stantially increased in the following decades. This was due to the general, social and cultural awakening in India particularly in the 2nd half of the 19th century.

This cultural and social upheaval goes by the name of Indian Renaissance. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Raja Radha Kanta Deb, Drinkwater Bethune and Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar vigorously supported the cause of women’s education. Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar dedicated his life for the cause of women education and he himself established as many as 35 schools for girls.

The social movements like Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Prarthana Samaj and Theosophical Society contributed immensely to the cause of women education in India. The forces like the introduction of widow remarriage, the campaign against child marriage, the gradual decadence of the joint family system, the abolition of the practice of Sati and the growth of self-consciousness and individual liberty among women undoubtedly proved helpful in promoting the education of girls.

Women education also received a strong fillip from the contemporary Indian belief that the lack of education among women acted as a hindrance to social progress. This change in the attitude towards education of women in the country found its fullest expression in the national education movement in the early decades of the 20th century.

The emerging nationalist movement strengthened the belief that women must be given opportunities for education in order to take their place in the task of social and political reconstruction. It is true that, some extent educated women served as the spearheads for movements demanding equality with men in political spheres and became symbols of a new image of Indian womanhood.

This “new image” led to the establishment of the women’s Indian Association in 1917, National council of Women in 1925 and the organization of the All Indian Women’s Conference in the following dec­ade (1927). There are clear manifestations of emerging social awareness among women.

This “awareness” was further strengthened by joining Indian women of different social strata the National Movement for liberation under the leadership of Gandhiji who greatly emphasised spread of education among women in his scheme of Basic Education in the thirties of this centu­ry Indian women not only played a prominent part in the struggle for Inde­pendence but also contributed constructively in a variety of areas such as teaching, medicine, social and political work.

But we should note here that this emerging social awareness among Indian women was limited to the middle class and upper middle class of Indian society. Lower rung of the so­ciety was out of the orbit of this social upsurge.

Without a wide-spread fem­inist movement on Western lines mass awakening among Indian women was impossible in those days. The leadership of women’s movement was also limited to well-to-do educated women. Because of this inherent lacuna, m- spite of social and political equality recognised in our Constitution, educa­tion among Indian women had not made a satisfactory progress.

With the advent of Independence in 1947 the arena of women education in India received a new dimension. The Constitution of India (1950) has es­tablished at least in paper complete equality to both sexes in respect of so­cial and political rights. Many individuals, voluntary social organisations, committees, Commissions (Radhakrishnan Commission 1948-49 and Mudaliar Commission 1952-53), and conferences have strongly recommended the need for spreading education among girls.

But inspite of this enrolment of girls lagged far behind than enrolment of boys. For this reason in 1958 the Govt. of India appointed a National Committee on Women’s Education.

Its main recommendations consist of the following:

i) Constitution of a National Council for the Education of Girls and Women,

ii) Women education should be placed under a woman joint adviser to the Govt. of India,

iii) Each State Govt. should appoint a joint woman D.P.I, at whose dis­posal women education would be placed,

iv) More money should be sanctioned for education of Girls.

v) Primary curriculum for boys and girls should be same but there should be different curriculum at secondary level,

vi) Women teachers may be appointed on part-time basis.

Accordingly in 1959 the National Council for Women Education was set up under the Chairmanship of Sm. Durgabai Desmukh. A special unit was opened in the central Ministry of Education to look after women education.

In 1961 the National Council for Women’s Education appointed a Com­mittee under the Chairmanship of Sm. Hansa Mehta to solve the problems of a separate curriculum for girls. The Committee strongly recommended in favour of rapid expansion of women education to minimise the disparity in education among men and women. It also recommended co-education at the primary level.

Women teachers should be appointed in secondary schools and colleges. At primary level the same curriculum should be followed. In the appointment of teachers at primary level women should be preferred. According to the abilities and aptitudes of girls and boys the curriculum at the secondary level should be diversified. Steps should be taken to encour­age girls in science and mathematics education. Girls should also be encour­aged to receive vocational and technical education.

Inspite of all these recommendations the progress of women education was not satisfactory in certain regions in India particularly in rural and hill areas and in some sections of Indian population who were socially backward and economically distressed. For rapid expansion of women education in ru­ral areas the National Council for Woman’s Education again appointed a National Committee for women education under the Chairmanship of M. Bhakatbatsalam in 1963.

This Committee also made remarkable recommen­dations on the lines of the earlier committees for rapid expansion of women education. It strongly recommended privatization in women education, es­tablishment of hostels for girls and quarters for teachers, improvement of service conditions of women teachers, part-time appointment of married women teachers, free distribution of text-books and uniforms among poor girls, establishment of a primary school in each habitation with a population of 300 and within a radius of one mile, establishment of a separate women inspectorate in each state, provision of hundred per cent central assistance for primary education and provision of funds by all states in order to make primary education compulsory and free up to secondary level.

To equalise educational opportunity between men and women and to minimise the disparity in education between men and women the Education Commission (1964-66) fully endorsed the recommendations of the above three national committees and advocated earliest and fullest implementation of them.

Inspite of all these sincere attempts at national level progress of edu­cation among girls and women did not make much headway. Women are still lagging far behind men in respect of educational advancement. No doubt some success has been achieved. India has produced since Independence women Prime Minister, Governor, Ministers both in the States and at the Centre, Judges, ambassadors, scientists, doctors, engineers, professors and teachers. Still the disparity in education between men and women is striking.

Inspite of the considerable advances made in women’s education since Independence a wide gap remains between the percentage of men and women receiving edu­cation. According to the Census of 1981 the percentage of literacy in India is only 36%. But the general literacy rate for men is higher than that for wom­en.

It is only 14% for women. It is true there has been substantial increase in the number of enrolment of girls and boys both at the primary and secondary levels in the different 5-year plan periods. But the gap between the propor­tions of boys and girls still remains very wide. Women unfortunately consti­tute the bulk of the illiterate population in India.

The disparity between the number of boys receiving education as against girls becomes even more marked among Scheduled Castes and Tribes. The special educational facilities provided to these groups in successive five- year plans were calculated to raise their educational level, but the expecta­tion was not fulfilled.

The gap between men’s and women’s education widens with each higher level of education, and at the stage of college or higher education it becomes more pronounced. The number of women receiving high­er education, professional technical training is very small as compared to that of men.

The high cost of education also imposes a bias in favour of wom­en of the relatively well-to-do economic classes. Thus women belonging to lower economic groups cannot avail themselves of educational facilities al­though they are more likely to need higher education in order to supplement family income through paid employment.

Because of regional imbalance in respect of development of educational opportunity in different parts of India and among different communities dis­parity of inequality in education of girls in Kerala, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal is much higher than that of Bihar, Orissa, Rajasthan and Assam. This is due to diverse socio-economic reasons existing in different re­gions.

For example, higher percentage of education among Christian girls in Kerala is noticed, which is much lower in other communal groups. Similarly, in industrial and urban areas percentage of education among girls is much higher than that of girls in rural areas. Girls in rural areas constitute 36.18% of the total enrolment in rural areas. In urban areas, the breakup of enrolment between boys and girls is 55.25% and 44.75%. Sex wise enrolment shows that proportionately more girls are attending urban schools than rural schools.

There are 2, 62,51,230 girls in classes I-V and they constitute 38.27% of the total enrolment in these classes. Disparity in women’s education among various communities is remarkable. Christian and Parsi girls are more educated than Hindu or Muslim girls. Even percentage in education of Hindu girls is higher than that of Muslim girls.

It has been noted that among the limited number of women receiving education, a majority come from urban ar­eas. Rural areas on the whole, have poor levels of education. This disparity should be removed by providing uniform distribution of educational institu­tions in different regions of the country.

The major obstacles in the way of mass education are the problems of stagnation and wastage. Stagnation means repeated failures in the same class. It has demoralizing effect on the pupil.

Stagnation leads to wastage which means drop-out or premature withdrawal of a child before the completion of an academic course. Class one is the stagnant pool. Out of hundred girl students enrolled in Class I only 30 reach Class V and 20 reach Class VIII. The problems of stagnation and wast­age are serious in case of girls.

Stagnation and wastage are not diseases by themselves. They are rather symptoms of other diseases, like headache and fever, inherent in our socio-economic set-up and educational system.

One of the significant factors accounting for the considerable extent of stagnation and wastage is the attitude of parents towards the education of girls. In Indian society girls are very often engaged in family work. In rural areas parents are found reluctant to send their girls to mixed schools even sometimes to colleges.

Educational institutions sometimes impose restrictions on the admission of girls. Early marriage of girls is another formidable ob­stacle in the way of rapid expansion of women education. The poor quality of instruction in schools has also been considered an important factor leading to stagnation and wastage.

A part of this problem is closely related to acute shortage of competent and qualified women teachers particularly in rural areas. Out of hundred teachers of the primary stage only 27 are women. Only 18.90% teachers are female in rural schools but in urban schools this percent­age is 56.22.

Educational facilities are also inadequate for girls in rural areas. Only 44.52% primary schools in rural areas have pucca buildings. A large number of schools do not have urinals and lavatory facility. Even a large number of schools do not have the basic facility of availability of drinking water. 36% primary schools in rural areas are single-teachers schools. Many schools are deprived of black-boards which is the minimum equipment for teaching.

Six percent primary schools in rural areas have no black-boards. To tackle this problem the Govt. has launched the scheme of “Operation-Black Board”. The teacher-pupil ratio is unbelievably disproportionate. The optimum ratio at primary level is 1:25. But in actual practice it is 1:40. School library is an in­tegral part of the school education. Majority of the primary schools are func­tioning without a library.

In rural areas the percentage of primary schools with library is only 28.02. Now-a-days text books are distributed free of cost among the students of the primary level. But many rural primary schools are denied of this privilege. Many schools get the text books in the middle of the academic session.

Opening of text-book bank is the only possible solution to this problem. Many primary schools in rural areas have not the provisions of minimum furniture. In these schools teachers do not have chairs and the students do not have either benches or mats. Sports facility is rare in urban primary schools. Many urban primary schools are hired schools without play grounds.

Students spend hour after hour in most unhygienic atmosphere. From this point of view the condition of rural primary schools is a little bit better. In our schools whether primary or secondary, medical facilities are almost nil. There is no provision of educational travel in our schools. Even the so called provision of supplying tiffin or mid-day meal is a hoax. Most
of the parents are uneducated or illiterate. They do not feel the need of giv­ing education to their children.

They are rather apathetic to the education of their children particularly of girls. They often express unwillingness to spend money for their daughters. They think that expenditure on the educa­tion of girls is useless and non-productive. Now the attitude is changing and the ice is gradually melting.

Home environment is not at all conducive to the education of most of the children in rural areas. To crown all these the pov­erty of the parents stands as a stumbling block in the way of primary educa­tion both for boys and girls. In India 45% people live below the bare subsis­tence level. When parents do not have the bare necessities of life and struggle for existence, it is unthinkable and unjustified to imagine that they would think of education of their daughters. Considering the practical real­ity such presumption is nothing but a myth.

This serious problem of mass poverty is intimately connected with the bigger problem of over-all econom­ic development of the country which is outside the preview of our present theme of discussion. Unless proper social attitude is developed in the coun­try in favour of urgency of providing education to girls the problem of ine­quality or disparity in education between men and women will not be solved even at the end of this century.

The Education Commission of 1964-66 has greatly emphasised the need of providing equal opportunity of education to girls and boys. This is surely an egalitarian thinking in the right direction. Though we have achieved in this regard to some extent yet the target has not yet been fulfilled. Most of the progressive countries of the world have es­tablished equal opportunity of education to men and women.

In India men and women are equally participating in different sectors of our national life. The role of the women is not now limited to the kitchen or the labour-room. The role of women outside the home has become an important feature of the social and economic life of the country. So the educational privilege provid­ed to women must commensurate with the multifarious duties performed by them both at home and outside.

It is a good sign and a matter of hope that the existing gap between the education of men and women is gradually and steadily narrowing. The significance of providing equal opportunity of edu­cation to men and women cannot be over emphasised.

For full development of our human and natural resources, the improvement of homes, social justice, effective population control, and for moulding the character of children dur­ing the most impressionable years of infancy, the education of women is of greater importance than that of men.

The National Education Policy, 1986 has laid “special emphasis on the removal of disparities and to equalise educational opportunity by attending to the specific needs of those who have been denied equality so far”. The new policy declares that “education will be used as an agent of basic change in the status of women. The National Education system will play a positive, interventionist role in the empowerment of women”.

The educational institu­tions will be encouraged to take up active programmes, curricular as well co- curricular, to further women’s development. In the years to come the women will take a significant role in our national reconstruction activities, who constitute almost half of the total population of India. In our national interest they should be given better deal and equal status in every respect with men and this will surely be in full conformity with our constructional guarantee.