• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12

The Hindu Woman: Life under the Laws of Manu

Extracts from this document...


India is one of the most rapidly developing democracies in the world, but in human rights issues it lags far behind western ideals. India's predominant religion, Hinduism, had its beginnings two and a half millennia ago and many rituals and rules instituted in ancient times have remained stagnant in the rapidly changing country (Keay, 2000:133). Archaic writings still partition contemporary society and condemn many to exclusion, abuse and subjugation based on their position at birth. Nearly half of India's people are mandated lesser beings because they were born female. A fundamental component of Hinduism is dharma which translates as "that which upholds or supports" (Leslie, 1989:23). It defines what one does and what one must do; both the real and the ideal. Dharma describes and prescribes specific actions based on an individual's position in the universe. These obligations are one's religious and moral duties, a 'righteousness', that when performed facilitate liberation from the constant cycle of rebirth (Radhakrishnan, 1948:104-108). The conditions of one's dharma are laid out in the Dharmasastra, a voluminous sacred text revered so highly it is often considered the fifth Veda (Radhakrishnan, 1948:105). The Laws of Manu, composed around 200 C.E., is a dharmic law code for every caste, class, stage of life, and occupation in Hindu society (Keay, 2000:27). From this code emerge two perspectives regarding the position of women in Hindu society. The first presents the Indian woman as a symbol of purity and faithfulness, someone who "must be honoured and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law, who desire (their own) welfare" (Laws of Manu 3.55; Buhler, trans.). The code also ordains that "in childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons... a woman must never be independent" (Laws of Manu 5.148; Buhler, trans.). From the view of a western scholar these codes may seem contradictory: how can an oppressed woman treated as a piece of property also be honoured and respected (Singh, 1996:v)? ...read more.


In general girls work more than their male counterparts. By age 10 most girls are engaged in eight hours of domestic work a day; by the time they are fifteen it is at least ten hours of work (Patil & Patil, 1996:122). Over the past few decades the numbers of young girls (those not ready for marriage) who are shouldering the burden of labour outside of the domestic realm has steadily increased. In turn, the amount of males involved in the work force is decreasing. This is because many young boys are now being enrolled in schools. Only about 15 per cent of young girls are not involved in some sort of labour (Patil & Patil, 1996:123). For most of these girls it is primarily domestic work, but many are also involved in wage labour, the rewards of which she has no entitlement. In many poor families young girls are forced into prostitution in order to support their family. It is estimated that 20 per cent of India's prostitutes are children; in Bombay alone there are 20,000 child prostitutes. A family can make a lot of money prostituting a virgin daughter (Patil & Patil, 1996:126). Even though many girls provide support for their families they are the subject of bitterness and frustration and become the victims of abuse (Guha, 1996:89). Parents rarely see a point in educating, nourishing, or nurturing their daughters because they leave the household upon marriage. Rural areas outside of a school's reach contribute to this problem, as do families who refuse to let their daughters receive an education. A census taken in 1931 noted that the rate of female literacy was 3.1% while male literacy was 17.4%. Thirty years prior female literacy had been less than one per cent (Shirras, 1931:444). A 2001 census indicated that the male literacy rate had risen to 73.4% while female literacy lagged behind at 47.8% (CIA Factbook, 2007). ...read more.


Women's rights movements have supported and freed a small proportion of Indian women, mainly those from metropolitan areas whose parents, educated under the British regime, rejected Hinduism's conservative orthodoxy and adopted western ideas such as equality (Bumiller, 1990:127). India boasts the world's largest number of professionally qualified women. It has more trained female professors, doctors and scientists than the United States (Bumiller, 1990:125), but it also has one of the lowest female literacy rates and one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. For the vast majority of women in the rural areas, very little has changed. Laws have been passed to outlaw child marriage (Child Marriage Restraint Age, 1929), ban dowries (Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961) and to prevent children from being exploited in the workplace (Indian Constitution of 1950, Art. 15)?, but these traditions remain pervasive, especially in rural areas. Nor have laws stopped infanticide and sex-selective abortions. Domestic abuse and violence, and the number of dowry deaths continue to escalate. Education and literacy in women is near to nil in rural areas. As the country continues its uneven development, a large proportion of its population sinks even further into poverty. In families where survival is the first priority religious tradition is often held tightest. For millennia women have been inculcated by traditional religious teachings to accept these injustices as their destiny. It impoverishes not only the religion, but the entire society, when religious leaders foster those parts of the doctrine which force women into helpless reliance and abuse. The Indian government, with its democratic ideals of liberty and equality, has long been engaging the education and the legal system to unshackle women from these archaic teachings. It is a desperately slow process. Fulfilling her dharma, as prescribed by the Laws of Manu, and hopefully reincarnating as a man, should not be the only chance a woman will have of escaping the oppressively traditional world she has been born in to. Increasingly Indian women are seeking, and finding, the independence to choose whatever role they want. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Sociology section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Sociology essays

  1. Pakistani Women In a Changing Society.

    As the two accused, Shahida Parveen and Mohammed Sarwar had 'confessed' to living together as husband and wife, the Court found them guilty, under the convoluted provisions of that extra-ordinary Ordinance, of raping each other ! Accordingly they were both sentenced to stoning to death.

  2. sociology research hypothesis - Attitudes towards Arranged and Love marriages In ...

    I decided to do a pilot questionnaire to see how everything will go and if it will fit into my hypotheses. For example if I have the correct data to prove my hypotheses correct. I will be giving this questionnaire to a female member in the Indian community to fill out.

  1. Compare and contrast the portrayal of Indian marriages in the stories 'The Old Woman' ...

    This idea is emphasised, in both "The Bhorwani Marriage" and "The Old Woman". In "The Old Woman", the writer says, "No wife of this family ever went on a trip alone with her husband!" showing how even an act as familiar to Westerners as going on a trip alone with

  2. Comparison between 'Woman Work' and 'Overheard in County Sligo'

    She is very tired, and needs to rest, which shows she is unhappy. In the first verse, she repeatedly uses the word 'I'. This emphasises that no one helps her with her chores, and she is responsible for everything. The woman in Woman work is not well off.

  1. The position of widows in Nepalese society - sociological study.

    For instance, in most states of India, pension schemes of some kind do exist on paper, but they have a negligible coverage and impact. However, the government is unlikely to give adequate priority to the social protection of widows in rural India in the absence of public pressure.


    Its set levels are strongly emplaced in its society, as seen here the Indian society, and because of the lack of mobility seen in the caste system, people suffering severe poverty in the lower caste cannot escape. A class system is a much more structured but a less definitive way of looking at people in society.

  1. The ancient civilizations of Central and South America

    The commoners in the Aztec empire were mostly farmers, artisans, or fishermen. Artisans would paint artwork, as well as carving items such as pottery, which was very popular throughout the empire. They would display their goods at the market place, and would gain a decent profit when people would buy or exchange them.

  2. How the film "Outsourced" shows the effects of culture shock on an American in ...

    And being embraced to take some things from him by the Indian boys, Todd no longer feels annoying. In the contrast, he feels happy and enjoys excitingly. I wonder whether Todd had opened his heart early and prepared for entering new culture, he would have got the aim in short time and had not met so many difficulties.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work