Social Empowerment of Women in India With Special Focus on the Recent Supreme Court Landmark Decisions

Social Empowerment of Women in India With Special Focus on the Recent Supreme Court Landmark Decisions

Chengappa M. P. (The WB National Univeristy of Juridical Sciences, India) and Aishwarya Roy (Calcutta High Court, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2819-8.ch022
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Historically, women have been attached with so many disabilities. Much attention has not been paid to the social and economic development of the women despite women consisting of half of the population. Apart from constitutional and fundamental rights, there is a separate chapter created under the Indian constitution (i.e., Directive Principles of State Policy), which mandates the state towards positive obligation for the empowerment of weaker sections of the society including women. The contribution of Parliament through the enactment of a law for the social development of women is positive. The Apex court in India struck down so many archaic legal provisions that discriminate against the women in its various decisions. The objective of the chapter is 1) an analysis of the methodology adopted by the court for the empowerment of the women, 2) to access the practical implication of court cases on the social empowerment of women, and 3) to look into the strategy adopted by the executive or government in furtherance of the said landmark decisions.
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The image of women in India is peculiar. On one side women are worshiped as goddess, she is “Shakti Rupena Samsthita” (embodiment of power) while on the other side, she is considered as weak, she gets raped, sexually exploited or even killed as a fetus. The discrimination against women has a long history in India. Historical studies show that in early Vedic period, women enjoyed a high status in society. Studies on Rig Veda has shown that women had equality with men in respect of access and capacity to acquire knowledge. The status of women in society started degrading specially since the later Vedic period. Polygamy1 and widow burning2 were prevalent in society in that era. In medieval period, the position of women got worse (Mullal, 2016). In fact, mediaeval period is considered as the ‘dark age’ for women. Veiling of women, child marriage, dowry, devadasi3 etc. were practiced which were degrading to the status of women in society (We Women, 2010). It was only in 19th century that some social workers like Raja Rammohan Roy, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Jyotiba Phule started movements against the social oppression of women, abolition of Sati, widow remarriage, establishment of girl schools etc (Bhattacharjee, 2015). Many women were directly involved in the freedom fight against the British rule in India. All these were the foundation of women empowerment in India. Women empowerment in its true sense of the term not only aims at the material development of a woman, but it aims at overall development in terms of self-realization, identity, economic development of woman.

Now looking at the legal regime, it can be very well said that the rights under the Constitution of India plays the most significant role for protection of women. The Constitution is the guiding principles which promotes rule of law, spirit of constitutionalism, equality, fraternity and liberty to all the sections of the society including men, women and third gender. The Supreme Court of India has been very pragmatic when it comes to the interpretation of the Constitution of India. The Apex court in India struck down so many archaic legal provisions which discriminates women in its various decisions since decades. It is to be noted that while passing the various landmark judgments, the Supreme Court of India has heavily referred to various international conventions in order to confer or bring positive changes. Over a period of time, by using due process, right to equality and judicial review, the court has brought about various reforms such as environmental justice, social justice, economic justice, empowerment of women and children, etc. in various facets of life. Since the constitution is a contras formative or living constitution, the court deals with the issues keeping in view of social changes existing in the country.

Research Questions

  • a.

    Identify to what extent transformative constitutionalism played pragmatic approach in order to strike away arbitrary laws against women in India?

  • b.

    What are the tools and factors responsible for bringing changes for social empowerment of women?

  • c.

    What are the implications of the landmark judgments of the Supreme Court pronounced since 2017 on the social empowerment of women in India?

  • d.

    What all strategies have been adopted by the executive or government in furtherance of the said landmark decisions?


Legal system in India for the protection of women ranges from constitutional mandates to women specific legislations. Protection of the rights of women is also an obligation of India in the international context. The role played by judiciary is significant for the protection of rights of women.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Right to Equality: Treating all the people of one group (category) uniformly. Like are treated alike.

Constitutional Mandate: Obligation imposed upon the State to ensure that the rights granted under the Constitution are available to citizens.

Personal Law: Law that applies to certain group of people due to their affiliation to any religion

Commercial Surrogacy: It is the arrangement where the surrogate mother receives money for the service of surrogacy.

Decriminalization: The process in which an act ceases to be recognized as an offence mostly through order of Court.

Woman of Easy Virtue: A woman who is considered to be easily available for sexual acts.

Constitutional Dynamism: Interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution according to the changing needs of the society.

Gender Justice: Ending of inequalities, discrimination between men and women and the subordination of women to men.

Adultery: It is a voluntary sexual action by a married person with another married or unmarried individual. It is not reflected in the penal laws of countries, but is a ground for seeking divorce from the spouse.

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