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Economic Condition of Women in Ancient India

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Item Code: NAP610
Author: Dr. Anita Singh
Publisher: 0---------PILGRIMS PUBLISHING VARAN_01
Language: English
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788177698442
Pages: 272 (5 B/W illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 440 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

Did a women labour force exist in Ancient India? If at all it did why have scholars in their academic works ignored it ? Either it has not been recognized or their work has been undervalued. It was a partial representation of women from above, as women of upper –classes only have found mention in historical records and little value has been accorded to the economic contribution of lower class women.

Economic condition of women in ancient India was influenced by three factors; their social position, their economic participation and their right to property. In this study an effort has been made for the problems specific to the women labour. Women labour was complementary in nature, they were equal woman of early India had to labour to earn her livehood.

The author Dr. Anita Singh in her study has tried to analyze the reasons for the prejudiced treatment of early Indian women. This work discusses women's economic participation, their role of decision –making and their right to property which gave them socio-economic security in ancient India.

There is a growing literature on women's economic history in early India as many valuable contributions to the interpretations of the various aspects of this subject. While some good works on different aspects of the economic condition of women in early societies have come to light, no study worth the name was made so far portraying women labour. It is therefore highly creditable to the young author of this work that inspite of the difficulties due to the want of adequate source –material, she has been able to throw much light on a number of points of great economic interest and importance having bearing on the economic history of ancient India.

There is no doubt that Dr. Anita Singh has made a refreshingly new approach to the various economic problems and her conditions are well balanced and judicious. She has raised certain problems which demands fresh inquiry and re –examination on the part of scholars interested in early women's economic history and problem specific to it. I hope, this book will receive the serious attention it deserve and provoke discussions on many unsettled problems relating to the early history of the women work force in Ancient India.


This work is a valued contribution to womens economic history especially in anceint India which is neccessary for a proper assessment of early Indian women. It is based on all important original sources and essential secondary literature. The work reveals the author's admirable industry, extensive study and power of original investigation. The book is divided into five chapters covering a period from the vedic age to pre –medieval age.

The author has made an analytical study of the economic condition of women from different points of view i.e, women and society, women and economy, women and her property rights. Her contributions to women labour class is remarkable as it would throw new light on women's economic activities and the economic role of women was blended with our culture and tradition and their economic contribution wasa indispensable at every India with respect to caste and class will prove a guiding line for future reseach in this field.

As a whole the book is a scholarly and work based on most authentic sources and a commendable contribution to studies associated with women of early India.


The present work rerpesents substantially my thesis accepted by Banaras Hindu University for the degree of Docter of Philosophy and is an attempt to present womens economic condition in early Indian societies is that men work in the public domain and women are restricted to the private domestic sphere. Since, it is the public domain, which is considered important, women became mere passive participants in the historical process. Their contributions have, however, largely gone unacknowledged due to various factors. In this study the social setup in which they were placed and laboured and the property rights granted to them.

The universal features across the world is that woman labour force has failed to get recognition, it has remained invisible in the records till some years back. The objective of writing this book is for the removal of woman's invisiblity and identifying the problem specific to women labour section.

The topic 'Economic Condition of Women in Ancient India' has been covered in five chapters chronologically for the justifiable study and further each chapter is divided into three sections, Society and Women, Economy and Women and Women property rights. The present study has been benefited from diverse sources ranging from ancient literary works, reports, journals, publication etc. different libraries have been covered during the investigation e.g. Central Library (Varanasi), American liberary (Gurgaon), J.N.U's libraray, I.C.H.R liberary etc.

The Publication of thesis has been financially supported by the Indian Council of Historical Reasearch, to which I owe my extreme measure of gratitude. The responsiblity of the facts stated, opinions expressed, or conclusions reached, is entirely that of the author and the Indian Council of Historical Reaserch accpets no resposiblity for them.

I am deepy indebted to all those who are pioneers in the field of studies and particularly to those who have investigated on women economic condition. With all humility and reverence I take this opportunity to record my gratitude to a number of persons. In preparation of this book my gratitude to a number of persons. In preparation of this book my grateful thanks are first and foremost due to my respected supervisior Prof. J.S. Mishra but for whose valuable guidence and encouragement right from choosing the topic to the completion of the work, this wouldn't have seen the light of the day. I would also like to extend sincere thanks to Prof Laxman Rai for his constant motivation and encouragement in bringing out this book. Last of all a special note of thanks to my father Raj Narain Singh for his forbearance, patience and extending cooperation and good wishes at every stage of my work. I run short of word to express my feelings towards my husband Sandeep Kumar Singh, to say that I am thankful to him, would be too meager a tribute to his contribution in the completion of this book. With the grace of lord Vishwanth and lord Hanuman I have succeeded in completing the book, I am aware of some of the short –coming in my endeavour, may I be forgiven for that.


Women always had distinct economic role to play right from ancient ages and that it took its contours according to different class, age, place and socio –religious conditions of that age. There was also a direct link between the social status of women and their role in production. For J.S. Mill, the most telling index of the level of civilization a society had arrived at, was the status it accorded to its women. Moreover, in today's age of globalization any attempt to understand the women's economic role in the national scenario would be incomplete without knowing what it was in the ancient ages.

"Women studies" term in itself is a modern concept and whatever literature exists on this issue mainly revolves around the general position of women in early India. If women's history has been a relatively neglected sphere of historical studies in Ancient India then 'Economic condition of Women' is an aspect which has been left out altogether by our ancient historians till some decades back, studies on the economic condition of women still remains beyond the purview of 'mainstream' history writings of ancient India. The association of women with productive and creative work is an aspect on which most ancient texts are silent, whereever the work on women we get, it usually seems to follow the pattern laid by dharmasutras, that is women in relation to household work.

Either women labour force was invisible in the academic writings or if at all visible then it was hardly recognised then it was undervalued when compared to men's work. They were generally underpid and very often unpaid, their labour was oppressed and subordinated and this subourdination was many times caste, class and gender based. This invisiblity of women labour was for varied reasons, firstly the history writing on early women was influenced by male bias which was patriarchal in framework and religious in nature which projected an ideal concept of womanhood for the Hindu society. Secondly the economic theories and methodologies kept women's work out of its domain as the conventional principle of demand and supply failed to accommodate women labour as their labour was strictly not to meet the market demands and most of the times it couldn't be measured in monetary terms as their labour was largely for subsistence and were not paid wages in the modern sense of economy. Thirdly the invisibility was because of the sex typing of the works as men's work and women's work was identified as domestic works which didn't need any skill and profiency, they been depicted as homeomakers and mothers. According to Maithreyi Krishna Raj (EPW, 1988), 'opportunity cost or market value imputations of market substitute pose basic theortical problems, unanswerable at the moment. The market value is based on given supply and demand. If all the work women did in the home moved into the market, the parameters of supply and demand will change . historrically speaking men and women were equal partners in the production –distribution process. Fourthly the women's reproductive labour and household tasks were beyond the preview of mainstream history writing as the present tools of research, models and methodologies fail to recognize it as regular labour.

It is well known that even today the largest section of rural women are directly involved in field agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry etc., as they belong to landless rural household, they are hardly visible not only in ancient sources but even in present day census reports and are seldom taken into consideration by our social and economic historians. Thus, the present study has been taken up to present a historico- analystical account of women's economic condition in ancient India and to co –relate the changes in their economic conditions with social forces. The central argument of the study is that ancient women economic condition had varied dimensions. The role of men and women were generalized in public and private domains respectively in ancient Indian societies as these restrictions were imposed on the small section of upper caste women of affluent classes belonging to the northern and central parts of India. This study is an endeavour to restore the position of the "women working class" in mainstream history. It is hard to imagine any society where women folk completely withdrew from the production process. Since primitive society women had distinct economic roles to play. The nature economy of ancient ages gives no clear cut demarcation between the gender roles and they are very much influenced by the demands of the situation. As there was no distinction between domestic and work place and production being largely for local consumption, women economic participation was always there. Some of the women's occupations are characterized by the direct involvement of women in earning for the family e.g., women in textile industry, women in administrative services, royal attendants, entertaining maids, courtesans etc. The other occupations were those in which women had either a passive role or supplementary roles and assisted their husbands in craft occupation and agricultural processes. These occupations were not a full time wages employment as production was not commercial. In such domestic craft occupation, diary farming, agriculture, pottery, oil industry etc., women's subsidiary role went unnoticed and her contribution to the family income remained hidden. For example, in agriculture process itself women's contribution is inevitable at every stage of crop production like plantings of seeds, weeding of plants, husking and winnowing of paddy and such other sundry jobs, which were done entirely by women. Nature of women work was caste and class bound. Women belonging to the lower sections of the society took up economic activities along with men to supplement the family income. The lower caste women could not afford to stay away from the public production.

The second factor which affected women's economics condition was their property rights. The evolution of women's prosperty rights was a gradual process. Initially, woman herself was regarded a property and could be gifted or sold. By the begining of the Christian era women came to be recongized as joint owners of the family property and secured some minor rights in a limited sense. Women had two sources to acquire property: Inheritance and stridhana. It was Yajanvalkya, who came forward with more liberalized principles and regarded women as 'dayad' for the first time. Later on, Mitakshara enlarged the scope of women's right over property. There would also be an attempt to explain away the inherent dichotomies related to women's economic condition i.e. depressed social status and their continually expanding property rights, a huge gap between the economic independence of women of lower and upper strates of society of different ages, distinction between right of custody and possession and the right of absolute ownership and disposal on free will.

Briefly, the historiographical shifts can be marked out in women's history writing covering the early Indian society. Many scholars undertook to study the position of women in Ancient India although from different perspectives. The existing literature on women's history can be broadly classified as –

- General studies on women in Ancient India.

- Studies limited to specific aspects.

In the first category most ofthe literature is basically concerned with the general position of women in social, religious, political and legal contexts, Clarisse Bader1, with a tendency to romanticize the early Indian situation argued that western women had much to learn from ancient aryan civilization. Despite the superficial explanation offered by her, it was the first independent study undertaken on women and this contribution cannot be underlimited by any means. But it was A.S. Altekar2 who laid the agenda for women's history in the early twentieth century. He identified two contradictory long term trends influencing the position of women.

1. Decline in their general status.

2. An increase in their proprietary rights.

Of these the first outweights the second. Off late the Altekarian Paradigm which dominated the women's with the economics context in which they were placed in and has discussed their contribution to production. He holds the view that high position of women in Vedic age was because they took active part in production and as they ceased to be productive members of the society and became parasites they lost the esteem of the society.

The influence of the nationalist histiorians continued to manifest in later works. Indra3 refers briefly to women in agriculture and weaving but tries to explain away the participation of women in the latter activitiy, dismissing cloth making as indeed a healthy occupation which necessitated no great intellectual skill or no heavy physical exertion. P. Thomas4 has disscussed the question of women in wider perspectives, he was more obsessed with the non –aryan women and this to an extant serves as a corrective to the monolithic 'Aryan model which tends to dominate most of the discussion.

Some other studies on women's history of general nature are of E.R. Martian Mary5, P. Mukherjee6, Kumud Lata Saxena7. Their work otherwise useful atleat for the wealth of details they incorporate but lack significantly with respect to the economic condition of women in early Indian society. For Tripat Sharma8 by women the concern is mainly with women of royal family and women in services of the royal family for political purposes he has discussed about the administrative capacity of the women in Hindu society. Chandrabali Tripathi9 has projected a comparative view of Indian women placed in the world civilization. In another worked. By S. Vats & S. Mudgel10 women is the subject of study in different societies but references to their economic role is limited to some stray references to their economic role is limted to some stray references of the careers pursued by them as it comes but from Panini's Astadhayi and Patanjali's Mahabhashya.

Other than these there are some other works on women's history limited in its scope with some respect. B.S. Upadhyaya's11 study was a text based purely on literary sources projecting Vedic age as the Golden age for women in early Indian history. He gives the list of activities in which women of the Vedic age were engaged in few lines. Post independence scholars continued to rely on virtually fixed patterns of explanation of the Vedic age. J.B. Chaudhary12 for instance pleas for the Vedic rituals for women. Shakuntala Rao Shastri's13 volume carries the subjects from vedic literature to Grihyasutras but hardly includes their economic condition. Prasant Kumar14 has also devoted his study on the status of women during the Vedic age.

About The Author

Dr. Anita Singh was born at Agra in 1976 and due to her father's career in the Indian Air force had a varied education throughout India as per her father's postings. She graduated from Regional Institute of Education, Mysore in 1997 and completed her Master's degree from Banaras Hindu University in 1999. She received her doctorate degree from B.H.U in 2004. She has been active in the field of women's upfilement and has several articles to her name on the subject. Economics Condition of Women in Ancient India is her first work based on her doctorial research. This is soon to be followed by 'Female Slaves in Early India'.


Content Page No.
Preface 13-14
Chapter 1: Economics Condition of Women in the Vedic Age (1500 B.C to 600 B.C)29-62
Chapter 2: Economics Condition of Women in Imperial Adminitration (600 B.C to 320 A.D)65-122
Chapter 3: Economics Condition of Women during the Classical Age (320 A.D to 740 A.D)123-172
Chapter 4: Economics Condition of Women Under the Dynasties of India (740 A.D to 1000 A.D)173-207
Chapter 5: Economics Condition of Women in the Pre-medieval Age (1000 A.D to 1200 A.D)209-246
Sample Pages

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