NIOS Class 12 Sociology Chapter 32 Status Of Women In Society: A Socio-Historical Perspective

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NIOS Class 12 Sociology Chapter 32 Status Of Women In Society: A Socio-Historical Perspective

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Status Of Women In Society: A Socio-Historical Perspective

Chapter: 32




Answer the following Questions in One Sentence:

Q.1. Which period of the Vedic age is known as the early Vedic period?

Ans. Rig Vedic Period.

Q.2. Name the two the great epics. 

Ans. The Ramayana and Mahabharta are two great epics of our country.

Q.3. What imposed blindness on Draupadi?

Ans. Her loyalty to Dhrishrashtra.


State whether the following statements are ‘true’ or ‘false’. 

1. The Dharmashastras prescribed codes of conduct. (True/False)

Ans. True.

2. Yagnavalkya said that a woman does not deserve freedom at any point of time in her life. (True/False)

Ans. False.

3. Buddhism did not permit women to participate in religious discourses. (True/False) 

Ans. False.

4. During the late-Vedic period women’s status began to decline. (True/False)

Ans. True.


Choose the correct Answer:

1. In which year did the British government pass the Sati Prohibition Act?

(a) 1829.

(b) 1830.

(c) 1856.

(d) 1880.

Ans. (a) 1829.

2. What is the name of the reformer whose name is associated with the Child Marriage Restriant Act of 1929?

(a) Harbilas Sarda.

(b) Dayananda Saraswathi.

(c) Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

(d) Raja Rammohan Roy.

Ans. (a) Harbilas Sarda.

3. Who among the following said ‘Swaraj without social reform was not a meaningful proposition?

(a) Gandhiji.

(b) Lokmanya Tilak.

(c) G. K. Gokhale.

(d) Sardar Patel.

Ans. (a) Gandhiji.

4. Who started the first school for Dalit girls in Maharashtra?

(a) Maharshi Karve.

(b) Joyti Ba Phule.

(c) Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.

(d) Pandita Rama Bhi.

Ans. (b) Jyoti Ba Phule.


Choose the Correct Answer:

1. The Hindu Marriage Act of …………….. created a provision for divorce.

(a) 1956.

(b) 1955.

(c) 1976.

(d) 1961.

Ans. (b) 1955.

2. What is the sex ratio in India as per 2001 census?

(a) 927.

(b) 933.

(c) 960.

(d) 929.

Ans. (b) 933.

3. The female literacy rate according to the Census of 2001 is ……………… %. 

(a) 54.16.

(b) 56.37.

(c) 53.45.

(d) 52.11.

Ans. (a) 54.16.

4. The only state in India, where there are more women than men is …………….. .

(a) Goa.

(b) Kerala.

(c) Sikkim.

(d) Tamil Nadu.

Ans. (b) Kerala.


Answer the following questions in 200- 300 words.

Q.1. Explain the status of women during the early Vedic period.

Ans. The Status of Women during the early Vedic (or Rig Vedic) Period: The earliest known source of information available about ancient India is the Rig Veda. The period between 1500-1000 B.C. is identified as the early Vedic or the Rig Vedic period. Though we can not clearly state that this age was characterized by total equality between men and women, it is evident from available data sources that many liberal attitudes and practices pertaining to women existed during this period. Women took  part in religious and social activities and they had some freedom to choose their partner in marriage. Marriage was not compulsory for women. The daughter was not considered a liability or an unwelcome guest in her parental household. Girls would also be initiated into Vedic studies.

The Rig Vedic Aryans were patriarchal. The position of a husband was considered superior to that of his wife. Polygyny was permissible. A widow was permitted to marry as is demonstrated by the prevalent practice of a widow marrying the younger brother of her deceased husband. In short, it can be said that to an extent women in the early Vedic Period lived in a liberal social atmosphere.

Q.2. What were the factors responsible for the decline in the status of women during the period of the Dharmashastras? 

Ans. The factors responsible for the decline in the status of women during the period of the Dharmashastras:

(i) During the age of Dharmashastras codes of conduct, which served as the base for prescribing behaviour norms also for women were evolved. These belong to a large body of secular literature, compiled in 500-200 B. C. This period saw the exclusion (leaving out) of women from both economic and religious sphere. Since education was virtually denied to women they had to be dependent on men for their survival and maintenance.

(ii) The concept that women were inferior to men gained ground and women were pushed to a state of utter despair and ignorance. This period was also characterized by consolidation of religious customs and caste system assuming rigid proportions.

(iii) The Dharmashastras prescribed codes of conduct, which regulated not only family life but also life in society at large. They also prescribed punishments for violation of these codes of conduct. The two most important authoritative law codes of this period were Manu Smriti and Yagnavalkya Smriti.

(iv) Manu Smriti upheld the view that a woman did not deserve freedom at any point of time in her life (Na Stree Swatantram Arhati). Manu’s view was that ‘a woman, in her childhood is dependent on her father, in her youth on her husband, and in her old age on her son.’ This view of Manu was not just a theoretical idea but also a practice followed in foto bby the society of that period. The same Manu also said that ‘where women are respected, there the Gods delight’. This is a statement, which is in clear contradiction of his pronouncements about women not deserving any freedom.

(v) Yagnavalkya laid down that parents who did not get their daughters married before they attained the age of puberty would be committing an unpardonable sin. The Dharmashastras planted the impression that an unmarried woman could never attain salvation from these worldly obligations if she remained single. As a result, marriage came to be considered an unavoidable ritual for a woman.

(vi) While girls had to be married at a very tender age no such restrictions were imposed on men. The husband was even given the right to enforce the obedience of his wife by resorting to physical punishment. 

(vii) During the period of Dharmashastra, child marriage was encouraged and widow marriage looked down upon. The birth of a girl came to be considered an ill omen and many parents went to the extreme extent of killing their female infants. The practice of Sati became quite wide spread because of the ill treatment meted out to widows.

(viii) It was during the period of the Dharmashastras that the status of women completely deteriorated. Women led a life of total subjugation (subordination) and had virtually lost all hopes of emancipation (freedom). This situation more or less continued until the 19th century when the social reform movements launched a struggle to improve the conditions of women.

Q.3. Explain the main features of the social reform movements during the British period. 

Ans. The main features of the Social reform movements during the British period:

(i) The British set in motion an era of social reform when they imposed a ban on the inhuman practice of sati (the practice of self or forced immolation of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband) in the year 1829. The famous social reformer Raja Rammohan Roy’s fight against sati received a positive response from the then Governor General Lord William Bentick who took the lead in enacting the Sati Prohibition Act. Religious fundamentalists and traditionalists put up a stiff resistance to this Act by claiming that the British government had meddled with a custom sanctioned by religion. But the voices of reason prevailed and the British government refused to withdraw the Act. However, a distinction was made between voluntary sati and forced sati. Also, the passage of this Act did not put an end to the practice of sati. 

(ii) Because of the ban on widow marriage and lack of opportunities for education, women who were rescued from the practice of sati had to undergo a great deal of suffering. Many widows preferred to die, because life held no meaning for them.

(iii) It was this plight of the young and tortured widows that moved West Bengal’s great reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, who led the movement for lifting the ban on widow marriage. Due to his efforts the Widow Remarriage Act of 1856 was passed. Though there was no significant increase in the number of widow marriages, the passage of this Act paved the way for ending a longstanding oppressive custom. Social approval of widow marriage was also not forthcoming immediately. Vidyasagar had to often bear the wrath (anger) of hostile fundamentalists, who did not even hesitate to hurl physical assaults on him for his role in lifting the ban on widow marriage. But the great scholar and a truly progressive human being, that he was, Vidyasagar went ahead with his progressive reforms. The role of Vidyasagar in promoting the cause of women’s education also deserves special mention.

(iv) The social reform movement, which started in West Bengal, spread to other parts of India too. Jyoti Ba Phule the great reformer from Maharashtra dedicated his life for the cause of women. He started a school for girls in 1848 and in 1852 established the first school for Dalit girls. He also supported widow marriage and started a home for protecting the children of widows. Women’s education got a fillip (boost) in Maharashtra from Maharshi Karve who was a pioneer in establishing educational institutions for girls and women. This period saw immense philanthropic (humanitarian) activity by many Indians in different parts of the country.

(v) There were also a number of other progressive pieces of ligislation during the British period, prominent among these being the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. Many of the woes of women were rooted in child marriage. Leave alone child marriage, there were even infant marriages. The Act of 1929 fixed the minimum age at marriage for girls as 14 years and for boys as 18 years. Harbildas Sarda took the initiative in leading the campaign for increasing the age at marriage and in recognition of his role the Act also came to be known as the Sarda Act. Today the minimum age at marriage for a women is 18 and for a man, 21 years. These changes were brought about by the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, which was passed in 1976.

(vi) The pre-independence era of the twentieth century was also remarkable for one more reason. The large-scale participation of women in the freedom movement both as visible and invisible freedom fighters was a standing testimony not only to their courage but also their capacities Gandhiji, under whose leadership women participated in the nationalist movement opposed such practices as child marriage and dowry. ‘Swaraj without social reform was not a meaningful proposition’ was Gandhiji’s view.

(vii) The British period saw the rise of social reform movements which took up the issue of gender inequality, primarily by passing laws that removed barriers to women’s emancipation. Though wide spread changes did not take place, the stage was definitely set for launching a struggle for creation of a gender just society (a society in, which laws give equal treatment to men and women. In cases relating to women courts must give judgements in such a way that the interests of women are protected). Independence brought new hopes and led to the creation of departments and launching of schemes, meant exclusively for improvement in the status of women. 

Q.4. Discuss the impact of legislation on women’s status in independent India.

Ans. The Impact of Legislation on women’s status in Independent India: After India got her independence the Constitution of India laid the foundation for creating a social order where men and women are treated as equals. While Article 14 of the Constitution conferred equal rights and opportunities on men and women 15 (1) prohibited discrimination against any citizen on grounds of sex. The Constitution, through Article 

15 (3) also laid down that the state can make special provision for women. According to Article 16 (2) no citizen shall be discriminated against in respect of any employment in office under the state.

A number of laws were also implemented for liberating women from oppressive social customs and protecting their rights. Prominent of these laws are as follows:

(i) The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (This Act made monogamy compulsory and created a provision for divorce. It has prescribed the minimum age at marriage as 15 years for a girl and 18 years for a man).

(ii) The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (This Act confers property rights on women; but the provisions of the Act applied only to self-earned property and equal share is not guaranteed for women in ancestral property).

(iii) The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and the subsequent amendments of 1984 and 1986 (As you will read in the lesson: Some Problems of Women).

(iv) The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (This Act grants maternity leave with full pay for 135 days to women who have completed 80 working days in a given job and prohibits the dismissal for discharge of a women during the leave period. This Act extends to factories, mines, plantations, shops and establishments where 10 or more persons are employed.

(v) The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 (This Act provides for payment of equal wages for men and women for equal work).

(vi) The Indecent Representation of Women [Prohibition] Act, 1986 (This Act. prohibits indecent presentation of women in advertisements and media campaigns and makes it a punishable offence).

Besides the Acts referred to above, there are also many legislations such as Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956, The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act of 1956 amended in 1986, The Family Courts Act of 1984 and The National Commission for Women Act of 1990 have been passed after the country became independent.

Constitutional provisions and a series of laws have actually paved the way for bringing about major changes in the lives of women. Though women have been enfranchised, their age-long social subordination continues to prevail in many forms. In the 55 years following India’s independence, the position of women on different indicators of development such as education or life expectancy has improved considerably, but there are still gaps in such areas of access to health care or work participation.



Q.1. Prove giving some proofs that women enjoyed relatively higher status in early Vedic period.

Ans. During the early Vedic period women enjoyed a relatively higher status. They could receive education and choose their marital partners. Evil practices such, as sati, child marriage or ban on widow marriage did not exist.

Q.2. What was the attitude of the British for social reforms in India? Mention their negative attitude in one sentence.

Ans. Though the British came to India in the beginning of the 17th century, they started taking initiative for introducing social reforms only in the 19th century.

Q.3. Mention in one sentence of free India for women status after January 1950.

Ans. After India became independent, the Constitution of India conferred equal rights on women and men with a view to abolish gender discrimination.

Q.4. Mention any two points mentioned under “the Directive Principles of State Policy for women status. (Very Imp.)

Ans. The Directive Principles of State Policy prescribed that: 

(i) Men and women equally have the right to adequate means of livelihood. 

(ii) There is equal pay for equal work for both men and women. 

(iii) The health and strength of women workers cannot be abused.

(iv) Provision should be made for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity. (Note: write any two).

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