Women and Patriarchy in Indian Society

Women and Patriarchy in Indian Society

Author: Gunjan Rohit
II Year | National Law University, Delhi

Introduction: Women vs Patriarchy

During the 4th World Conference on Women, Beijing [1], the United Nations recognized that many women face additional barriers to the enjoyment of their human rights because of various factors. These factors include language, race, ethnicity, culture, disability, religion, or socio-economic class such as indigenous women, migrant workers, refugees, or displaced women [2].

Indian society follows patriarchy, a social system, from times immemorial. In such a society, men hold primary power, authority, and control over property and family discussions. In other words, patriarchy is the absolute rule of a father or the eldest male member over his family [3].

Status of Women in the Indian Society:

In India, there are innumerable cases of rapes, murders, dowry, marital rape, discrimination etc against women. This portrays that the women of the nation have been a victim of humiliation, torture, and exploitation and so on. From ancient times, the nation allows men to predominate the society where women tend to be victims of male domination.

Women’s Educational Deprivation:

Indian Constitution guarantees free primary education for both boys and girls up to 14 years of age. However, for girls in India, it is not really deemed necessary.

Patriarchy is the primary hindrance in the education of women in India, especially in lower-class families. In India’s patriarchal system, preference for a son’s education is a phenomenon that is ingrained to the core.

Some families regard women’s education as a waste of money due to the cultural practice of patrilocality. Patrilocality means that a girl lives with her husband’s father’s family after the marriage. Therefore, many families believe that it is important that daughters learn domestic chores instead of formal education and they would get married anyway and serve their future husband and in-laws [5].

Uneducated women become powerless in many ways. Lack of education leads to unawareness of their rights. For instance, an educated woman can access information regarding her rights via the internet even if she has no legal literacy. Secondly, if left uneducated, chances of securing a job become low, and if further unemployed, they become dependent upon their families. As a result, they become a burden and the ideal way to dispose of this burden is marriage.

Sexual Assault:

In India, the majority of women do not know what actually “Rape” is as per the Indian Penal Code. They believe that only the penetration of the penis into the vagina is rape. However, as per section 375 of the IPC [4], a man is said to commit rape if he:

  1. penetrates his penis, any object, or part of the body into the mouth, vagina, urethra, anus of a woman.
  2. manipulates any woman’s part to cause penetration into the vagina, anus, urethra, or any other part of the woman’s body.
  3. applies his mouth to the vagina, anus, urethra of a woman.

Moreover, in most cases, women lack education and legal awareness. So, they do not even know the aforementioned provisions that come under the definition of rape.

The legality of Marital Rape:

In India, marital rape is legal. Section 375 of the IPC includes all forms of sexual assault. However, exception 2 to Section 375 [6] exempts unwilling sexual intercourse between a married couple. It states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.

The legality of marital rape in India is based on the archaic idea that women are the husband’s property. Men, whether dominant or being dominated by others, have always tried to keep women in their perpetual subordination and unleashed innumerable oppressive measures [7].

Marital rape violates the right to equality provided under article 14 of the Indian Constitution [8] as the exception creates two classes of women based on their status of marriage. This immunizes actions committed by men against their wives. As a result, married women become victims. The sole reason for stripping them off of the legal protection is their marital status, while duly protecting other unmarried women.

Domestic Violence against Women:

Domestic violence continues to be a serious issue and is a major cause of the homelessness of women and by remaining in abusive relationships, many females try to prevent homelessness. Thus, the spike in violence against women during the global pandemic unmasked the tragic reality of its expansiveness [9].

It can take many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, and financial. However, women who are victims of such abuse, have legal rights as provided under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 [10]. According to the Act, they are entitled to maintenance, protection, residence, compensation, custody of children, and free legal services under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 [11].

Inadequate protection for domestic violence victims such as insufficient legal aid, shelter homes, and knowledge to women about their rights, has an impact on the level of women’s homelessness and domestic violence. The reasons for domestic aggression are primarily ingrained in the patriarchal nature of the Indian society which supports such violence at home [12].

Financial Independence of Women:

All these cases prove that crimes against women continue despite the laws that prohibit them. Information about women’s rights is important, but information alone is not going to change the circumstances. The financial independence of women is vital since it would allow them mobility which is restricted by their dependence on men. For instance, in certain cases, females do not report crimes although they know their rights because they have nowhere else to go. The cases where the perpetrator is a relative often go unreported because the families are more concerned about their families’ honour than their daughters.

The reason lower-class married women compromise against domestic violence is their financial dependency on their husbands. As their parents believe that after the marriage, their daughters are not their responsibility, they cannot return to them. Moreover, there are even those who say that they should “learn to compromise”. 

If we compare the case of lower-class women with upper-class women or middle-class women, we find that the circumstances are not the same. Most of the upper-class women, having education and financial independence, raise their voices against injustice.

For instance, in the recent case of MJ Akbar v. Priya Ramani [13], Priya Ramani, a journalist, narrated her experience from 2 decades ago when she had met MJ Akbar for an interview. In 2017, Ramani wrote an article in which she had mentioned a sexual harassment incident that she had experienced from a ‘former boss’. This indicates that financial independence enables women to raise their voice against injustice.


To conclude, in India, patriarchy has affected the lives of women in various ways. It continues to dominate various areas of women’s lives. The issue is that society has normalized it. Financial independence is the way to free females from the clutches of patriarchy. The idea of self-reliant women making independent decisions is achievable only by educating them. Education would help them achieve financial independence and gain knowledge about their rights.

[1] Fourth World Conference on Women, UN WOMEN, (May 5th, 2021, 5:38 PM) URL: https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/fwcwn.html

[2] Women’s Right are Human Rights, UHCHR, 38 (2014) URL: https://www.ohchr.org/documents/events/whrd/womenrightsarehr.pdf

[3] Patriarchy, CAMBRIDGE DICTIONARY, (May 5th, 2021, 6:00 PM) URL: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/patriarchy

[4] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, INDIA CODE, (May 6th, 2021, 10:08 AM) URL: https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/4219/1/THE-INDIAN-PENAL-CODE-1860.pdf

[5] Women’s Situation in India, SAARTHAK, (May 5th, 2021, 7:02 PM) URL: http://saarthakindia.org/womens_situation_India.html

[6] Section 375 (Exception) in The Indian Penal Code, INDIAN KANOON, (May 6th, 2021, 9:59 AM) URL: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/195673915/

[7] G. Lakshmi, GENDER PREJUDICE, POLICY, AND LAW – AN ETIOLOGY, The Indian Journal of Political Science 573, 574 (2006).

[8] Article 14 in The Indian Constitution, INDIAN KANOON, (May 6th, 2021, 10:02 AM) URL: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/367586/

[9] Pandya, Women’s Rights, and COVID-19: A Shadow Pandemic, LEAGLE SAMIKSHA, (May 6th, 2021, 11:40 AM) URL: https://leaglesamiksha.com/2021/03/17/womens-rights-and-covid-19-a-shadow-pandemic/

[10] The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, INDIAN KANOON, (May 6th, 2021, 10:04 AM) URL: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/542601/

[11] The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, NATIONAL LEGAL SERVICES AUTHORITY, (May 6th, 2021, 10:05 AM) URL: https://nalsa.gov.in/acts-rules/the-legal-services-authorities-act-1987

[12] Sutapa Saryal, Women’s Rights in India: Problems and Prospects, International Research Journal of Social Sciences 49, 50 (2014)

[13] MJ Akbar vs Priya Ramani, Case No. 05/2019

Editor: Khushi Sharma

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