The modern woman of the twenty-first century is slowly becoming a rapid movement to keep up with. But let us look back, to a time when, the Indian soils, drew strength from women of a different time. A time when the media intrusion was unheard of.
Several leaders, queens, poets and mystics, made pivotal achievements during the Mughal era. However, for the masses or remaining women, be it Hindu or Muslim, it was either a life in pardah or child marriage.
The concept of equality, or even social democracy, as is prevalent today did not exist.
When we speak of the history of India, it is important we consider the factor that it was largely a monarchy. The concept of equality, or even social democracy, as is prevalent today did not exist. In the times of the kings, the government was coloured by conquered territories, and religious warships. A time when equality was only a distant dream that one could look at from a window.
Under the Britishers
Under the rule of the British, when they had officially taken India as one of its colonies, we became subject to their rule. However, it is they who rectified several practices, with new laws of widow re-marriage, the abolition of Sati, etc.
A wife, walking into a fire, was prevalent in medieval India.
Locked under the cast of religious justification, they were forced to accept reality. The girl child, with no value to the household, was more often than not, the subject of discrimination or death. A wife, walking into a fire, was prevalent in medieval India. It was not uncommon, and one cannot stress enough, the practice of Sati, which plagued the countryside, along with, female infanticide, slavery, lack of education, were mere social customs. It is under the medieval period, that one sees a significant drop in the status of women in relation to equality and justice.
However, one cannot deny the noteworthy achievements of women, princesses and queens, who were business women, and would partake in trade and royal construct. And many, including Jahangir’s wife, were highly influential in the same. Noor Jahan not only the known as the most powerful woman in the Mughal Empire, but also dominated her relatively weak-minded husband. Jahangir seemed to share his passion for gardening with his wife. Salima Sultana, one of Akbar’s wives, was his favorite. However, she did not bear him any children. She was highly influential, and the emperor greatly valued her opinion. She appears to have been intelligent, exceptionally well-read, and an accomplished poetess.
Kings would seek wives with high political influence at times, getting married at young ages, and some simply loved affairs. It is said that Akbar the Great, “had three chief queens, 800 other wives and a harem of 5000”. One can only imagine that not all women were queens, and he, as their ruler and husband, decided what status they might achieve in society.
Mystics and the Bhakti Movement
Interestingly enough, several women, during a time of no hope, and in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, found expression in mystical poetry. They belonged to a larger sect of the Bhakti movement and expressed their unhappiness in their poems.
Bhakti movement is known to have empowered the lowest rungs of Indian society.
Lal Ded’s (14th-century Kashmiri mystic poet) songs, for example, mocked her mother in law and the stupefying task of household chores. Similarly, Bahina Bai (Varkari female-saint from Maharashtra) describes being hemmed in and ‘cornered in by marriage’. Mira Bai, described her annoyances with her ‘restricted life, in her husbands’ home’. These are all facing tumultuous times, and their only escape was the mystic movement. The Bhakti movement was prevalent in India, started in the 7th century Tamil Nadu.
‘The Bhakti movement was more about the wanderings of another time, and a break from family and community. However, evidence shows, that women struggled to find a place within these movements as well.’
‘The bhaktas were not social emancipator, they were individuals trying to lead a liberated life. It is their individualism, that continues to inspire us’. Neera Desai, a leading lady in the studies of women in India (1925-2009).
If one gets into the complexities of the Mughal empire, we will find out a thousand sources and memoirs, all painted with their own views on the livelihood of one and many during the time.
The man was the bread earner, in a primarily agricultural economy. The woman helped in the domestic sector, as a wife or mother. It was considered her role, to stay at home
“Can man be free if woman is a slave?” said the famous romantic poet PB Shelly. A potent question, that resonates deeply in one’s heart, how far have we come?
Navina Singh is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.