Medieval period and women
Krishna at Goddesss Radharani's feetThe Indian woman's position in
the society further deteriorated during the medieval periodwhen
Sati, child marriages and a ban on widow remarriages became part
of social life in India. The Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent
brought the purdah practice in the Indian society. Among the Rajputs
of Rajasthan, the Jauhar was practised. In some parts of India, the
Devadasis or the temple women were sexually exploited. Polygamy
was widely practised esp. among Hindu Kshatriya rulers. In many
Muslim families, women were restricted to Zenana areas.
In spite of these conditions, some women execeled in the fields of
politics, literature, education and religion. Razia Sultana became
the only woman monarch to have ever ruled Delhi. The Gond queen
Durgavati ruled for fifteen years, before she lost her life in a battle with
Mughal emperor Akbar's general Asaf Khan in 1564. Chand Bibi
defended Ahmednagar against the mighty Mughal forces of Akbar
in 1590s. Jehangir's wife Nur Jehan effectively wielded imperial power
and was recognized as the real force behind the Mughal throne.
The Mughal princesses Jahanara and Zebunnissa were well-known
poets, and also influenced the ruling administration Shivaji's mother,
Jijabai was deputed as queen regent, because of her ability as a warrior
and an administrator. In South India, many women administered
villages, towns, divisions and heralded social and religious institutions.
The Bhakti movements tried to restore women's status and questioned
some of the forms of oppression. Mirabai, a female saint-poet, was
one of the most important Bhakti movement figures. Some other female
saint-poets from this period include Akka Mahadevi, Rami Janabai and
Lal Ded. Bhakti sects within Hinduism such as the Mahanubhav, Varkari
and many others were principle movements within the Hindu fold to
openly advocate social justice and equality between men and women.
Shortly after the Bhakti movement, Guru Nanak, the first Guru of Sikhs
also preached the message of equality between men and women.
He advocated that women be allowed to lead religious assemblies;
to perform and lead congregational hymn singing called Kirtan or
Bhajan; become members of religious management committees; to
lead armies on the battlefield; have equality in marriage, and equality
in Amrit (Baptism). Other Sikh Gurus also preached against the
discrimination against women.