The destiny of nations is governed by their beliefs and ideas. How a nation treats its men and women also reflects their culture. Let us see the position of women in the Vedic Dharma.
In the Vedas wherever special prayers have been made for children, they have always been for sons. Nowhere is a prayer or charm recited to be granted a daughter. For exmaple,
1. O Bounteous Indra, make this bride blest in her sons and fortunate. Vouchsafe to her ten sons, and make her husband the eleventh man. [Rigved Mandal 10, Sookt 85, Mantra 45]
2. This is thy Soma draught, O bright Âditya: take delight therein. To this mine utterance, O ye men, give credence, what good the man and wife obtain by praying: A manly son is born and gathers riches, and thrives for ever sinless in the dwelling. [Yajurved Adhyay 8, Mantra 5]
3. Fathers, bestow on me a babe, a boy enwreathed with lotuses, so that there may be here a man. [Yajurved Adhyay 2, Mantra 33]
All prayers for being granted a boy and none for a girl.
Speaking of marriage Swami Dayanad Saraswati says,
"In Sanskrit a daughter is called duhitri (from Du - distant, Hit - good), because the marriage of a girl to a man who comes from a distant country or distant part of the same country is productive of good.
"If the bride's people do not live very far from her husband's home, there is a possibility of her parents becoming poor, as whenever she visits her parents, they will have to give her something or other by the way of a present." [Satyarth Prakash Chapter 4, The advantages and disadvantages of distant and near marriages, Page 85]
Rigved Mandal 8, Sookt 33, Mantra 17 says,
"Indra himself hath said, The mind of woman brooks not discipline, Her intellect hath little weight."
At another place, it is written:
"There cannot be any friendship with a woman. Her heart is like that of a hyena." [Rig Veda, 10/95/15]
The Krishna Yajur Veda says:
Women are without energy. They should not get a share in the property. Even to the wicked, they speak in a feeble manner. [Krishna Yajur Veda vi. 5. 8. 2]
A wife has no claim to property of her husband. The wealth that she earns is not her but her husband's. [Manu Smriti Chapter 8, Sholka 416]
A girl without a brother is called Abhratr and it is prohibited to marry such a girl.
The Atharva Ved says,
Those maidens there, the veins, who run their course in robes of ruddy hue, must now stand quiet, reft of power, like sisters who are brotherless. [Atharva Ved Kaand 1, Sookt 17, Mantra 1]
Explaining this word, Nirukt, which is the oldest Indian treatise on Etymology, Philology and Semantics, says,
They stand like women who have no brother, and whose path is obstructed with regard to procreation and the offering of the sacrificial cake. With these words the simile implies the prohibition of marrying a brotherless maiden.[Nirukt 3:4]
Shatpath Brahman, preachings of the 'Yajur Veda' says,
He (the Adhvaryu) then mixes it with the residue (of ghee) which is left in the prakaranî spoon. Now other libations he completes by mixing, but this one he diminishes; for ghee is a thunderbolt, and by that thunderbolt, the ghee, the gods smote the wives and unmanned them, and thus smitten and unmanned they neither owned any self nor did they own any heritage. And in like manner does he now, by that thunderbolt, the ghee, smite the wives and unman them; and thus smitten and unmanned, they neither own any self nor do they own any heritage. [Shatpath Brahman; Kaand 4, Adhyay 4, Brahaman 2, Kaandika 13]
The same Shatpath Brahman says,
"And whilst not coming into contact with Sûdras and remains of food; for this Gharma is he that shines yonder, and he is excellence, truth, and light; but woman, the Sûdra, the dog, and the black bird (the crow), are untruth: he should not look at these, lest he should mingle excellence and sin, light and darkness, truth and untruth. [Kaand 14, Adhyay1, Brahman1, Kaandika 31]
A woman can never ask for divorce, even if her husband ill treats her. Manu says,
Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure (elsewhere), or devoid of good qualities, (yet) a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife. [Manu Smriti 5:154]
Swami Dayanand Saraswati is teaching us in Satyarth Prakash how to choose a perfect wife. Listen to him.
"Let a man never marry one who is pale and anaemic, nor one who is altogether a bigger and stronger person than himself or has a redundant member, nor one who is an invalid, nor one either with no hair or too much hair or too much hair, nor one immoderately talkative, nor one with red eyes." MANU 3: 8.
"Nor one with the name of star,of a tree,or of a river, or of a mountain.
So Hindu men should not marry women who are named Ashvini, Ganga, Saraswati, Himalaya, etc.
"Let him choose for his wife, a girl who has a graceful figure without any deformity, who has a pretty name, who walks gracefully like a swan or an elephant, who has fine hair and lovely teeth, and whose body is exquisitely soft." MANU 3: 10
[Satyarth Prakash, Pages 89, 90]
He forgets to teach how to choose a husband.
The 'Vedas,' also talk about 'Niyog' the custom of childless widow or woman having sexual intercourse with a person other than her husband to beget a child. In simple words 'Niyog' means sending a married woman or widow to a particular man for sexual intercourse so that she gets a son. Indication of this custom is available in Rig Veda.
In 'Aadiparva' of 'Mahabharata' (chapters 95 and 103), it is mentioned that Satyawati had appointed her son to bestow sons to the queens of Vichitrvirya, the younger brother of Bhishma, and as a result of which Dhartrashtra and Pandu were born. Pandu himself had asked his queen, Kunti, to have sexual intercourse with a Brahmin to get a son (Aadi Parva,' chapters 120 to 123).
It has been said in 'Aadi Parva' (chapters 64 and 104), that when Parshu Ram started killing the Kshatriyas, thousands of female Kshatriyas started going to Brahmins to get sons. Similar references are found at other places in 'Mahabharata' also. With regard to 'Niyog', there are detailed discussions at a number of places in other religious books.
In Nirkut, the meaning of 'dewar' that is, husband's younger brother, has been given as 'Duvitya Var' that is, the second husband (Nirukt 3:15).
An ancient commentator of 'Manu Smriti' (Manu's Code), Meghatithi has clearly accepted the existence of 'Niyog‘ (quoted from 'Dharam Shastra Ka Itihas', by Bharatratan Mahamahopdhyay, Dr P.V. Kane, Part I, page 341).
In the last century, Swami Dayanand Saraswati had claimed to have written a commentary free from defects in the interpretation, of the ancient commentators on the 'Vedas.' Dayanand had not only accepted the prevalence of 'Niyog' but also on the basic of 'smritis' (codes of traditional Hindu laws), discussed 'Niyog' in great detail in the language of the 'Veda mantras' (Vedic hymns). According to him there was a law that a woman or a man could have sexual intercourse with eleven persons. If no child was born from the one, then a woman could go to another. If even then she was unable to beget a child, then she could go to the third and so on till she had intercourse with eleven men (Dayanand's commentary on Rig Veda, 10/85/45).
Woman was sometimes even forced to have sexual intercourse with men in the custom of 'Niyog'. 'Devtas, Rishis, Munis' and 'Brahmins' used to participate in 'Niyog' (see 'Mahabharata Aadi Parv; chapters 64,95,103, 104).
Chastity of woman was not safe
In the name of 'beejdan' (seed donation), they used to have sexual intercourse with issueless women. This was a cruel religious custom and the chastity of women was not safe. The so-called caretakers of the religion were allowed to have sexual intercourse with another man's wife. From 'Niyog pratha', it can be inferred without fear of contradiction that the women were looked upon as mere child-producing machines.
In 'The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization', Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar writes: "Though woman was married to a man, she was considered to be the property of the entire family. But she was not getting share out of the property of her husband, only the son could be the successor to property."
Gajdhar Prasad Baudh says: "No woman of the Vedic age can be treated as pure. Vedic men could not keep even the relations between brother-sister and father-daughter sacred from the oven of rape and debauchery / adultery named 'Niyog'. Under the influence of intoxication of wine, they used to recognise neither sister nor daughter and also they did not keep in mind their relations with them. It is evident from their debauchery and adultery what the miserable plight of women was in the society then. (Refer 'Arya Niti Ka Bhandaphor', 5th edition page 14).
Till such a time as these teachings have an overwhelming influence, the improvement in the position and status of the women is next to impossible.