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Q. What provisions does the Indian constitution provide for women? Mention various acts meant for the benefit of women. Explain the ameliorative measures adopted by State for upliftment of women. 

Condition of women in India has not been historically very good. As is evident from Manusmriti, women did not have much rights as compared to men. Further, the women are physically weaker than men and due to this fact also, they have been exploited. Due to such continuous unfavorable treatment, the social status of women has become really bad.

That women are naturally a weaker sex was first acknowledged by US supreme court in the case of Muller vs Oregon 1908. In this case, the US SC observed that due physical structure and performance of maternal functions, women are at a disadvantage in the society and thus it is society's responsibility to implement favorable laws to bring them on the same level as men.

The makers of Indian Constitution also understood this fact and have provided several provisions for elevating the status of women and giving them a level playing field. The following is a brief description of such provisions.

Fundamental Rights

Art 14
It says that the state shall not deny any person equality before law and equal protection of law in the territory of India. While this article is general in nature, it forms the bedrock for all other provisions. The principle of equality adopted in the this article is that "like should be treaded alike". This is the key principle for a social welfare state to ensure social and economic equality. The right to equality with out the capability and the means to avail the benefits equally would be a cruel joke on the weaker sections. This concept of equality permeates throughout the entire constitution. This article facilitates the existence of other provisions that might seem discriminatory but are, in fact, not.

Art 15
While article 15(1) prohibits the state from discriminating on the basis of religion, race, case, sex, or place of birth, art 15(3) allows the state to make special provisions for women and children. This is important because as espoused by art 14, it is imperative for the state to make laws as per the social condition of various peoples. Art 15 merely elaborates that same concept and acknowledges that  women need special treatment for their upliftment.

In the case of Yusuf Abdul Aziz vs State of Bombay, AIR 1954, SC held that section 497 of IPC is valid even though it punishes only the man for adultery and not the woman even if she has abetted the crime.

Art 16
Art 16 (1) ensures equality in employment in govt. services and art 16(2) explicitly prohibits any discrimination on the ground of sex among other grounds. Even though art  16 does not directly contain any provision specifically for women, in the case of State of AP vs P B Vijayakumar AIR 1995, SC held that a rule 22A introduced by AP govt. that gave preference to women over men was valid. SC held that it is not necessary to have a specific provision in art 16 because such a provision can be made under art 15(3) itself. It further noted that art 15(3) is a recognition of the fact that for centuries the women of this country are socially and economically handicapped. As a result they are unable to participate in the socio-economic progress of the country on an equal footing. Thus, making special provisions for women in employment is an integral aspect of 15(3). This power of art 15(3) is not whittled down any way in art 16.

Art 21
The courts have interpreted very widely the right to life and personal liberty. In several cases, this article has come to the rescue of women who have been wronged. In the case of Bodhisatva Gautam vs Subhra Chakrabarti AIR 1996, SC awarded interim compensation to the rape victim.
Soon after that in the case of Vishaka vs State of Raj, AIR 1997, due to lack of any specific law, SC gave certain guidelines to prevent sexual harassment of women in workplace.

Art 23
Prohibits traffic in human beings and forced labor. This has improved the condition of women in terms of forced prostitution.

Directive Principles

Art 39 (a) Urges the state to provides equal right to adequate means of livelihood to men and women.

Art 39 (d) Equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
In the case of Randhir Singh vs Union of India AIR 1982, SC held that equal pay for equal work is a constitutional goal and is capable of being enforced.

Art 39 (e) State should ensure that men, women, and children are not forced into work that is unsuitable to their age or strength due to economic necessity.

Art 40/Art 243 D provides that 1/3 seats in panchayats shall be reserved for women.

Art 42 says that the state shall make provisions for securing just and  humane working conditions and maternity relief.

Art 44 UCC
Due to absence of a uniform civil code, women are routinely exploited in the name of personal laws promulgated by religions. This fact was known to the makers of constitution and they urged the states to implement UCC.
In the case of Sarla Mudgal vs Union of India, 1995, SC urged the implementation of UCC by states.

Fundamental Duties
51 A (e) says that it is the duty of the citizens to renounce practices that are derogatory to the dignity of women.

Acts for the benefit of women

Several Acts have been passed for the improving the condition of women from time to time.

  1. Dowry Prohibition Act 1961
  2. Contract Labor Act 1970 as well as Factories Act 1948 provide that women cannot be employed in the night between 9 PM to 6 AM. Women cannot be required to work more than 9 hours.
  3. Equal Remuneration Act 1976
  4. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986
  5. The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act 1987
  6. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005
  7. Maternity Benefits Act 1961
  8. Child Marriage Prohibition Act 1929

Ameliorative Measures for women
In the past 60 yrs of independence there has been quite a lot of work done towards the benefit of women. In intial 5 yr plans, the focus was on welfare of women. Later on the focus shifted to development and currently the focus is on empowerment. In 2001, National Policy for Women Empowerment was adopted. It main points are -
  1. To create an environment so that women feel involved in the making of economic and social policies.
  2. To give equal share in social, economic, and political aspects.
  3. To remove discrimination against women by enacting various laws.
  4. To encourage equal treatment of women in the society.

The following are other measures adopted towards this end.

  1. Swayamsidha Scheme - Implemented by joining Indira Awas Yojana and Mahila Samruddha Yojana, whose objective is the ensure the total development of women. Under this policy, women can directly control and audit the programs. It is implemented at gram and village panchayat level by Govt. as well as NGOs.
  2. Swahdhar Scheme - It helps destitute women to learn vocation and financial support so that they can start earning on their own.
  3. Kishori Shakti Yojana
  4. Mahila Samriddhi Yojana
  5. Maternity Benefits Scheme
  6. Rashtriya Mahila Kosh
  7. Scheme for working women's hostels
  8. Development of women and children in rural areas
  9. Margin Money Loan scheme