Feminism in India - History and Present Times

The term Feminism is misunderstood as an ideology that aims to uplift only the women by bashing the male in the society. However, it is not true as the word Feminism means an ideology that fights for the upliftment for women and getting them the same political, social, and economic rights as the men in the society. The concept of feminism is not new but can be seen in the history of the world where women had fought for getting the political rights as well as have proven to be as great of a ruler for their empire as a man could have been.

Feminism is separated into three waves:
  • First wave feminism – beginning in the mid 19th century – when reformists began to speak in favor of women’s rights and making reforms in education and customs involving women.
  • Second wave feminism – from 1915 to Indian Independence, when Gandhi incorporated women’s movement into Quit India Movement and independent women’s organisation began emerging.
  • Third wave feminism – started post independence, which focuses on fair treatment of women at workplace, home, allowing them political rights etc.

Another misconception regarding feminism is that a feminist is only a woman. However, it is also not true as many of the men also identify themselves as feminist and it is evident in the history that many of the social reformists, fighting for the rights of the women, are male. Men like Raja Ram Mohan Roy who fought against the social evils like Sati, Polygamy and Child Marriage; Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar who championed the cause of Widow Remarriage; DD Karve who worked to eradicate the bias against widows are considered to be feminists as they worked for the social and cultural upliftment for the women. Mahadev Govind Ranade founded the Widow Marriage Association in 1861while Behram Malabari started a campaign against Child Marriage and asked the legislation to prevent it.

Even though the concept is debatable, but is believed that a Fourth Wave of Feminism began around 2012, with the focus on issues like sexual harassment, body-shaming, rape culture, etc. After the Nirbhaya case, there was a spark of protest in the country seeking for stronger laws against rapes and to ensure the safety of women in the society. Around the world, women are at a greater risk of sexual harassment at work or at home. There is also a constant debate about the fact that most of the times women are not subjected to equal pay, even though they have the same position in the company, as compared to their male colleagues.

Indira Jaisingh, the first woman to be appointed as the Additional Solicitor General of India, played an instrumental role in the framing of the Domestic Violence Act (2005). Meenakshi Arora’s led to the framing of The Vishakha Guidelines which were later included in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place Act (2013).The movement to secure women’s rights in India has come a long way and thanks to the fierce personalities throughout the history as well as the in the present times the fight against the patriarchal notions is seeing a lot of success.

A lot of scholars have claimed that western influence has paved the way for the growth of feminism in India. However, it is not true as women of different countries had different needs. The Indians did not have to borrow the concept of feminism from the west as our own history has given the evidence that women have asserted themselves in various ways and broke free from the existing notions that did not allow them the freedom in the society. However, the patriarchal documentations ignored the rebellions by the women and there is no record found for the same; but it cannot not be ignored that they were present and it is our duty to remember those rebellions.


The present day feminism in India has the following trends –
  • There is a genuine partnership and collaboration among women and men, especially youth, to fight for gender equality.
  • As there is an increase in the economic liberty for women, it is becoming easy to fight the existing stereotypes.
  • The wants of the women are also changing – from economic and political rights to social and sexual rights.
  • Women are negotiating harder for their space to expand and are not leaving it without a tough fight.
  • At last, the internet and the revolution of information sharing is also helping women from various communities as it gives them a bigger platform to voice out their opinions and demand for equal rights.

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