India is the world's largest democracy and is very proud of this fact, however its governments are beset by problems typically facing coalition governments. In the days of imperial rule, India was considered the 'jewel in the crown' for Britain and many of the legal institutions and infrastructure remain in tact. These facilities provided India with an excellent springboard for development and place it in a position superior to a number of other newly-independent former-colonies.
India is a land of extreme diversities in language, religion, caste and socio-economic class and is characterised by significant regional variations, it has long been a country of apparent dichotomies, one of the most obvious contradictions is its highly patriarchal structure that, nevertheless, allowed the election of a female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, who was repeatedly re-elected to the position and more recently Sonia Ghandi too was elected to be prime minister, making India a rare country indeed that has elected two women leaders in its short history after independence.
Upon independence, the Indian constitution acknowledged the equality of women and also makes clear that discrimination against women is illegal and yet current statistics and indices of development continually show the gap between men and women in terms of education, access to health and other primary resources. As such although the formal legal parameters are indeed in place to protect and promote women's rights, the reality however is such that informal rules, customs and norms override and dominate these rules, making it difficult for women to enter the formal sector workforce or even in some cases leave the household.
The objective of this thesis is to examine the role and significance of institutions on women's empowerment and their development in India with particular reference to legal institutions and whether the well-laid out best of intentions have truly empowered women to be equal amongst men. Or whether in fact these legal institutions and policies, which promote equal rights, are left impotent by the stronger forces of cultural and social norms which cannot be whitewashed away overnight. It is perhaps education that will prove the cornerstone in disestablishing these norms and thus enable women to enjoy the civil and economic liberties their constitution promises them.