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How Logical Is Women Reservation in India!

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More women in parliament will change face of Indian politics

Saturday, March 13, 2010 11:10:08 AM, Ranjana Kumari, IANS

Women Reservation Bill: Attempt to stifle the voice of Muslims: Every new day has its own significance and if one goes into the ....Read Full

The women’s bill was worth the risk, says Sonia

How Logical Is Women Reservation in India!

In an inclusive democracy, political power is perhaps the strongest tool to eradicate all forms of inequality. The passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha has brought forward some interesting scenarios for the Indian polity. This struggle for political rights by women’s groups has been the longest in the history of independent India as the proposed constitution amendment bill had been deferred several times by successive governments since 1996.


While the Indian constitution is one of the most progressive in the world and guarantees equal rights for men and women, Indian women have always waited anxiously for their equal dreams to be translated into reality.


Bias against women and girls is reflected in the demographic ratio of 933 females for every 1,000 males. Also, 1 in 5 women dies during childbirth, and such deaths account for more than 20 percent of the global maternal deaths. As far as political participation of women is concerned, the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 was the only time when women candidates witnessed a 10 percent participation in parliament.


The opposition to the bill is coming from the conservative and orthodox forces of “ghunghat” and “hijab” because the women are still subjugated to remain within the “purdah” (veil). These forces represented by fundamentalist men are not used to accepting women at par, questioning, arguing or participating in any kind of discourse.


The most vocal opponent of the bill is the other backward classes (OBC) leadership of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Ironically, these are the most backward states of the country in terms of gender equality. It is evident from the OBC opposition, especially the “Yadav trio”, that they have not given opportunity to their women.


On the other hand, liberal arguments such as “unless the system becomes free from corruption and nepotism, women should not participate as they will also get corrupted if they enter the political spaces,” or “they are not capable!”, etc. remind us of the colonial logic given by the British against freedom that Indians will not be able to manage the country.


But women’s participation at the grassroots in the Panchayati Raj has proved that women are capable of providing governance and given an opportunity they can come forward and make their contribution to strengthening democracy and nation building.

The active journey for women’s empowerment in India in the 20th century began with the call by Mahatma Gandhi during the independence struggle.


It was during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister that the idea of decentralising power and empowering women at the grassroots was mooted. The one-third reservation for women in panchayats came through the 73rd constitution amendment during P.V. Narasimha Rao’s tenure as prime minister.


As part of its 100-day action plan, the Congress-led UPA government that came back to power last year started pushing for the bill, and also promised to give women 50 percent seats in local government institutions like the village council, up from the 33 percent of seats currently reserved for them.


Women’s rights organisations in India have been working relentlessly for the past decade to ensure the passage of the 33 percent quota bill. Countrywide signature campaigns, rallies and dharnas (sit-ins) have been organised throughout the country. We undertook train journeys to cover the length and breath of the country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to explain our position and mobilise support for our demands for 33 percent seats for women in parliament and state assemblies.


Numerous meetings have been held with MPs before and after each session of parliament, along with the formation of lobby groups and national networks like Women PowerConnect (WPC) to persuade the government to place the bill in parliament to enable discussion and debate. Furthermore, a Gender Ginger Group of MPs supporting the bill was also formed to push the bill in parliament.


The media was involved throughout as an important stakeholder to facilitate the passage of the bill. Countless press conferences and media interfaces were organised in the last 14 years to mount pressure on policymakers.


In 2007, we at the Centre for Social Research, with support from the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), launched a landmark initiative in the country, wherein we built the capacities of as many as 1,000 women leaders to participate in state and national electoral politics. The two-year project titled “Enhancing the Role of Women in Strengthening Democracy” trained this massive pool of women leaders by implementing the core strategy of “Train, Contest & Win”. We have also launched an online course “” to enable women to build their leadership potentials.


The reservation bill has been undoubtedly one of the most controversial pieces of legislation to ever get passed in any house of the Indian parliament. This is notable as being one of the rarest occasions when a political consensus was reached among the three major national parties - the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, and the Left parties.


The passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha is not only a heartwarming step for India but is likely to be an inspirational trendsetter for women’s empowerment in the entire region. One of the challenges that the bill faces among other barriers is of course getting the Lok Sabha’s approval. However, with the kind of momentum it has acquired in the last few days, the subsequent passage in the lower house should be relatively easy.


More women walking into parliament will definitely change the face of Indian politics and will help weed out corruption and crime that exists in Indian politics. It will also be instrumental in paving the way for equitable socio economic development in the country.


The author is director, Centre for Social Research.

She can be contacted





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