Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

From Puranas to Prabharis: How Women Empowerment is Becoming a Reality Under PM Modi

Our Puranas have the strongest representations of women. They were not symbolic of that era alone, their legacy carried on for generations even to this day. They were liberal, strong, educated, and highly empowered. It was an egalitarian system where men and women were equal in all aspects. She was equally the embodiment of power, ‘Shaktiswaroopini’ as we call it, and also the embodiment of literature, ‘ Annapoorneshwari’ as we call her. Puranas tells us about Ahalya, wife of sage Gautama one of the most beautiful women of her time, and also about ‘Draupathi’ and her strong vows. Our tradition and culture are embedded in the life of Janaki and Urmila. Sati Devi’s untimely death nearly destroyed our cosmos when Bhagwan Vishnu divided it into various Shaktipeeths across our land. Ancient age always told about such powerful women who instilled motivation in other women. During the Vedic age, the practice continued as she was the center of power in society. She had every right to select her spouse through ‘Svayamavar’. However, invasions and colonization changed the picture. Our society became more rigid and Indian women had lost their place. It took the Government under Narendra Modi to break these shackles, evoke confidence from our puranas, and make her ‘Prabhari’ once again.

The Government of India had passed many legislations previously for the empowerment of women such as ‘the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005’, ‘the Dowry Prohibition  Act, 1961’, ‘the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006’; ‘the Indecent Representation of  Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986’; ‘the Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention,  Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’, ‘the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956’, ‘the  Commission of Sati Prevention Act, 1987’, ‘the Protection of Children from Sexual  Offenses Act, 2012’, ‘the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, minimum one-third reservations for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).

However, these laws even though remarkable in their way, could not provide much to boost the confidence of our women. A strong support from the top was lacking for the rigorous implementation of many of these laws and a behavioral change was needed to be brought in for empowering our women. Ever since taking over as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has provided high support for all women in our country. Keeping the mantra of ‘Beta Beti- Ek Samaan’ Prime Minister has remarkably worked for the past ten years for the empowerment of our women. As a result of such a vision, we were able to transform from women empowerment to women-led empowerment today.

India is presently one of the only 15 countries in the world with a woman Head of State. Globally, India has the largest absolute number of elected women representatives in local Governments. India has 10percent more women pilots than the global average. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of girls in Primary and Secondary Education is almost at par with that of boys. The presence of girls/ women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is 43percent, which is one of the highest in the world. Multiple initiatives for increasing participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has been undertaken. Vigyan Jyoti was launched in 2020 to balance the low representation of girls in different streams of Science and Technology from 9th to 12th standards. The Overseas Fellowship Scheme started in 2017-18, provides opportunities to Indian Women Scientists and Technologists to undertake international collaborative research in STEM. Our space glories such as India’s maiden Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), Mangalyaan, Chandrayaan, and others are largely driven by women scientists.

The Government has brought legislative changes to support these policy-level changes for the empowerment of women. To encourage the employment of women, several enabling provisions have been incorporated in the recently enacted Labour Codes viz. the Code on Wages, 2019, the Industrial Relations Code, 2020, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 and the Code on Social Security, 2020 for creating a congenial work environment for women workers. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election for the first time in the country since independence, 81 women were elected as Members of Lok Sabha. There are over 1.45 million or 46 percent women elected representatives in Panchayati Raj Institutions (against mandatory representation of 33 percent). Paid maternity leave has been enhanced through amending of Maternity Benefit Act to 26 weeks.

The Government has now created a cordial atmosphere that enables women to be at par with men in all aspects today. Her confidence today is boosted through the successful implementation of the schemes, today more than 56 percent of beneficiaries of the Jan Dhan account are women and over 69 percent of houses being constructed under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana are under the sole or joint ownership of women. As of date, 22.56 lakh accounts were opened under the Mahila Savings certificate scheme with a deposit of Rs 14532.71 crores. This enables her to have a say in household decision-making. Safe sanitation facilities at schools and colleges reduced the dropout rates. PM Mudra Yojana ensured that over 68 percent of account holders are women.

Women can craft their own spaces through entrepreneurship due to the Narendra Modi Government’s policies. As of April 30, 2023, a total of 11 women-led Alternative Investment funds has led to an investment of over Rs 2000 crores in 110 women-led start-ups. According to Women in India’s start-up ecosystem reports the venture capital funding for women-led start-ups in 2022 was USD 21.9 billion with 32 percent of women today holding managerial positions. Nari Shakthi took center stage at our Republic Day parade this year. The interim Budget of this year shows an increase of 38.6 percent allocation for women. This is the highest-ever allocation for women and children in India. It is a matter of pride that this monetary allocation has happened under longest longest-serving women Finance Minister of India in its history. Indian women will be the major driving force of our economy’s march towards the world’s third-largest economy and our Prime Minister’s continuous commitment to women empowerment is making way for this to happen.

(Khushbu Sundar is Member, National Commission for Women. Adarsh Kuniyillam is a Parliament and Policy Analyst. View expressed are personal)