Over a decade ago, former Union Minister Kumari Selja found herself alongside the late Law Minister HR Bhardwaj, who was due to present the “new and improved” bill on the reserve. women in the Rajya Sabha in 2008. The bill called for a 33% reserve for women in parliament and state legislatures, and promised a quota for listed castes and tribes under the legislation- framework.
But not long after, there was a heckling in the upper house. Members of the Samajwadi party attempted to rip and shred the bill, before it could even be discussed, with Selja finding herself protecting both Bhardwaj and his bill.
“Ambika Soni (former Union Minister of Congress) and I were on either side of Bhardwaj while those in the opposition and even some of our allies rallied against the bill,” said Selja, the current chairman of the Haryana Pradesh congressional committee. The women, including Renuka Chowdhury, Jayanti Natarajan and Alka Balram Kshatriya, formed a circle around Bhardwaj to ensure passage of the bill through Rajya Sabha. The bill inevitably went to the standing committee for consideration, after which it was reintroduced and passed by the upper house in 2010. However, it quickly lapsed with the 15th Lok Sabha.
It was the fourth time that the bill had been presented to Parliament and was not passed. First introduced in 1996, the bill has had a tumultuous journey through Parliament. He was opposed on many grounds, from the perpetuation of a “proxy culture” or similar concept of “sarpanch pati” to the accentuation of lack of merit. Those who support the bill hailed it as a way to empower women who continue to remain marginalized in political discourse.
On Sunday, it will be 25 years since the Women’s Reserve Bill was first introduced in Parliament.
According to PRS Legislative Research, a nonprofit legislative oversight body, “Today there are 78 women parliamentarians in Lok Sabha. This is the highest number in the history of the House. The first LS had only 24 female members.
But pundits and opposition parties argue that even as India envisions a new egalitarian society that envisions equal rights for men and women, the Reserves Bill remains crucial because its need does not not decreased, especially since the increase in the number of women parliamentarians is marginal. .
Women’s Reserve: Logic, History
First introduced in 1996, the bill aimed to secure 33% of women’s reserves in parliament and state assemblies. The idea for the bill arose out of a constitutional amendment in 1993 that stipulated that one-third of sarpanch (or head of council) positions in the gram panchayat should be reserved for women.
The bill was opposed in many ways, with critics saying it would highlight the lack of merit of women as they would enter on a reservation basis. It was then reintroduced in 1998, 1999 and 2008. “Opponents argue that this would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be seen as contributing to merit. They also argue that this policy distracts attention from the broader issues of electoral reform such as the criminalization of politics and internal party democracy, ”PRS Legislative Research said in a research paper.
India ranks 148th in the world on a list of 193 countries for women’s representation in parliament, according to global data on national parliamentarians from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). This despite the fact that the current number of women parliamentarians in the country is at a record high of over 14%, which is still far from the international average of almost 22%.
Head of Outreach, PRS Legislative Research, Chakshu Roy, said studies indicate that political reservation has increased the redistribution of resources in favor of groups that benefit from the reservation. “So far there have been four unsuccessful attempts to introduce a women’s reserve bill to Parliament. On the last two occasions, copies of the bill have been ripped up and torn in the House, ”he said.
“The reserve for women in the panchayats has also shown that women elected under reserve invest more in public goods closely linked to women’s concerns. On the other hand, a woman member of the Constituent Assembly argued that reserving constituencies for women would result in their disregard for general seats, despite their competence.
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) leader Kavita Krishnan said there might be technical details in the bill that could be considered, but the essence of it is the need of the hour. “Now is not the time to consider the technical details,” she said, adding: “There is already a bill, it should be put to a vote.”
Selja agreed with the sentiment. “In our time, there was a will but not a majority. Today, the party in power has the majority but does not have the will, the situation is different ”, she declared.
Trinamool Congresswoman (TMC) leader Sushmita Dev said reserving reserved seats for women would not empower women. “This should also be accompanied by other political reforms,” she said.
Just follow our model: BJP
Shazia Ilmi, spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said that it is not necessary to reserve women if one “follows the model of the ruling party”. “The BJP rewards people on merit, whether they are men or women,” she said. “Look at the number of women ministers in the Union cabinet and even the number of women parliamentarians. This is the highest number we have ever seen. Moreover, even within the national executive, the BJP has a significant number of women.
The leaders of the opposition parties believe, however, that the BJP has aligned itself with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideology which excludes women. Dev, who recently joined the TMC from Congress, said there was no place for women in the Sangh. “The ideology of the BJP and the RSS is completely against women … They are symbolic, which is counterproductive for the empowerment of women,” she added.
Against the proxy representation argument, Dev said women subjected to such scrutiny were unfair because men were never assessed for similar reasons. “How is it that we always talk about incompetent women, aren’t there incompetent men? she asked.
“It’s a double standard. There are as many competent women as there are men. Almost 14 lakh (1.4 million) women are part of the panchayati raj structure, are we trying to imply that they are all incompetent? “
She also pointed out that West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC Chief Mamata Banerjee has taken the lead in empowering women in positions of power. “Look at the number of women MPs, it’s higher than any party’s share percentage,” Dev said.