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been repeatedly stalled at the behest of myopic political leadership reflected by most of the dominant political parties in parliament. The women reservation bill is facing the same plight in parliament as women are facing in Indian society. Parliament has proved to be a true representative of disintegrating value system of Indian social fabric. Women in our society are pushed, torned, marginalised and given a lopsided treatment in all walks of life and same fate is being meted out to Women reservation bill also. Before advocating the need for women reservation bill it is essential to preview the general picture of women in Indian society. The common perception of women in our society is that they are not equal to men. The philosophy is perpetuated and ingrained right from their birth ceremony. We don’t need to delve into history to substantiate this philosophy. Even after Independence, in theory the constitution provided equal status to all its citizens, in practice women, who constitute half of the population, are not even half empowered as men. “This is a society where women are considered a personal possession and are viewed as the honour of the family and society. This patriarchal mindset restricts freedom of women and pressurizes them to act according to the set paradigm of the society, with no role of intervention in decision making. In majority of cases, from the level of education to choice of life partner, voice of family prevails, leaving lesser space for individual preference. In addition after marriage, women face oppression, but she bears it for the sake of family, the biggest institution of our society.” In the patriarchal society women are not only subdued physically but economically too. Economy plays a major role in life at all stages. Since most of the women are groomed and prepared for a life as a home maker, her contribution cannot be converted into monetary terms. Thus despite working 24 hours a day her contribution in the economy is nil. That also determines the deplorable status of women in Indian society.
According to Dhananjay Tripathi, “If we first take the gender nations development index of the world, the position of India is reprehensible.” According to UN development program which prepares the gender development index, during the period 2000-2005, India’s standing on this scale dipped from 105 to 113. The sex ratio, which reflects preference for male child over female child in a society the position of India, has continuously deteriorated in successive censuses from 1901 to 2001. As per census 1901 the sex ratio was 972 which went down to 933 in 2001. States having predominantly feudal social structures like Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana fare poorer than the national aveage. TABLE 1: ALL INDIA SEX RATIO S NO YEAR 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1901 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001 972 946 941 930 934 927 933 CENSUS SEX RATIO
SOURCE : CENSUS OF INDIA 2001 There are innumerable reasons for these deteriorating trends. Firstly, dowry system where girl’s parents are required to take the responsibility of all expenses during marriage. According to the National crime record bureau (NCRB) one dowry death is reported every 77 minute even today. Secondly, lack of education among girls prevents them from pursuing an economically independent life. Thus adhering to age old principle of Manu who had advocated for a dependent life for women- as a child she is dependent on father, as an adult on her husband and as a mother on her son. Thirdly, entrenchment of patriarchal society where a son is supposed to give mukti to parents on their death. Thus craving for a male child and abhorring a female child.
Fourthly, women are biologically weaker than men hence are sexually vulnerable. In numerous cases culprits are close relatives and family friends. Since female virginity is a social stigma in a patriarchal society women keep mum for the sake of honour. In case of revolt girls are forced to death in extreme cases by their own family members or by caste panchayats. Fifthly, the “ Caste system which is not only based on structural inequalities between the high caste and low caste ‘untouchable’ but also involves social isolation and exclusion from participation in social, political and economic processes and development of society. The Dalit women are a victim of discrimination at two levelsby the high caste on the basis of her untouchable status by birth as well as on the basis of her gender by her own caste members.” Poverty also plays a major role in determining the specific role and position of women in any social structure. Though constitution of India provides for equality of sexes in economic, political and social sphere the empirical data proves otherwise. In the May 2004 general elections, 539 candidates were elected to the 14th Lok Sabha, only 44 (less than 10%) of them were women. The low representation of women among successful candidates across the party line prompted the election commission to write to the government about the need for providing adequate representation to women. A country’s level of maturity as a nation is reflected in the way it looks after its weaker sections and elderly. If India is to claim a developing democracy, creation of adequate and affective institutional structures guaranteeing full and equal opportunity to all its citizens in walks of life is an essential prerequisite. No country can claim to be either developed or democratic if it keeps half of its population distanced from the mainstream of development process. Despite being revered as goddess and mother, women in our country have lived a marginalised life throughout the history of Indian society. The deplorable living condition of women started changing with social reforms, legislative measures and state driven executive and legislative initiatives since independence. The emergence of many institutions like National Commission for Women, Women Rights groups, National Human Rights Commission and higher degree of education among women at least in urban India
have altered some of the old established practices of Indian society dominating the Indian psyche . However despite respectable representation in educational institutions and work place, political participation of women remained at extremely low level for more than three decades till the enactment of Panchayati Raj Act in 1993 which altered the face of grass root politics in India forever. 33% reservation for women in all Panchayat bodies granted by 73rd constitutional amendment opened new doors for women’s political role in India. Empowerment through direct role in Panchayats is an instrument of great potential not only in short term but in long term also. Rather short term gains are not as impressive owing to deep rooted biases of society, but longer term gains have been noticed all around. Buoyed by the successful enactment of 73 rd amendment incorporating 33% reservation for women, in 1996 H.D Deve Gowda, the then Prime Minister of India introduced ‘Women reservation Bill’ which provided for 33% reservation for women in Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. From 1996 to 2008 history seems to be repeating itself. Fait accompli of this bill is same as the fait accompli of female foetus, it is thwarted before it can mature. Efforts were made by the Govt of the day to introduce the bill in Lok Sabha in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2003 but with no success. Finally the bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2008 and has been referred to the Standing committee for consideration. HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WOMEN RESERVATION BILL The bill in its present form includes following clauses - It would reserve at least 181 seats for women in lower house of the Parliament thereby taking away that many seats from men. - In the rotational system of reservation of seats for women, a male member of the Parliament can not represent the same constituency for more than two consecutive terms. - One third of the total number of seats reserved for SC/ST shall be reserved for women of those group in Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies.
- Reservation of seats shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of constitution amendment act. In the history of Indian Parliament there have been many bills which were introduced with the best of intentions but could not see the light of the day for one or the other reason. However the story of Women Reservation bill is different from those bills which although got tabled on the floor but could not sail through the house. The Women reservation Bill has faced peculiar problem of being thwarted before being introduced in the house. On several occasions the copies of the bill have been snatched by our supposedly learned Parliamentarians and torned apart in the house in full media glare. Many of them have openly flaunted their discontent and contempt for the bill. They don’t even want a discussion on the merit or otherwise of the bill even in the highest democratic forum of the country. It is not the provisions of the bill as such but the intellectual poverty of our political leadership, led predominantly by men, who are not rising above their parochial and chauvinistic value systems. They are representing the psyche of a typical man who wants to dominate woman in all conditions. They are insecure of their own competence. It is the fear of loosing their share in Parliament and in turn their traditional strangle hold on policy making that has virtually united the male politicians across the party line in an effort to deny the passage of the bill. These arguments hold justified till the society at large is dominated by men and state in turn lacks will to disturb the prevalent social order. POLITICAL STAND OF POLITICAL PARTIES Panchayats in thousands of villages in India are headed by women and chief Ministers of several States are or have been women. Yet any effort to advance the presence of women in chambers of Parliament itself has failed time and again. Less than 10% of the directly elected national representatives, 44 out of 545 Lok Sabha members, are women. Even in Rajya Sabha where members are nominated by political parties and indirectly elected by legislatures only 22 out of 242 seats are he;d by women.
At the Panchayat and Nagarpalika level, 73rd constitution amendment Act reserved 33% of the seats for women. A similar attempt at the highest decision making body of the nation i.e. Parliament has encountered many roadblocks at political level due to lack of broad consensus among major political parties. The Bill first introduced in Parliament in 1996 through 108th constitution amendment act has yet to sail through the house after 12 long years. One of the major concerns of some major political parties who are opposed to the concept of reservation for women is their fear that only elite women with political patronage will get elected leading to concentration of elite urban women in Parliament. Reservation for women/SC/ST is based on the concept of affirmative discrimination in favour of weaker sections of the society. This is consciously formulated by the legislature in case of reservation at Panchayat level in political arena, reservation in educational institutions for ameliorating the conditions of the weaker section at social level and reservation at job opportunity at the economic level. When reservation is provided in India at so many levels then why are hurdles created in the Parliament reserving seats in Lok Sabha. Is it because providing reservation at different levels doesn’t challenge the domination of men in Parliament for most political parties which will be severely dented with one third of the members being women. There is no denying the fact that the same political class which has vehemently argued for reservation policy in all spheres of life for decades has rejected the idea when it was threatened by women reservation bill for reservations in legislatures. Probably the very thought of sharing the highest level of power with women doesn’t go down well with our political class. Opponents of the bill also argue that it would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit. However a beginning has to be made at some point of time. During initial years of Panchayat elections there were serious apprehensions on active participation of women in contesting and voting in Panchayat elections. But recent studies have reflected that women have grabbed the opportunity to actively participate in Panchayat elections. It is seen that women are more conscious about allocation of funds for various projects and its utilisation. In places where women are active in Panchayats, resources are better utilised for women specific projects. Thus it can safely be dismissed that
women will not contest on merit. Today competent women represent almost all political parties. It is also contended that it would divert attention from the larger issues of electoral reforms such as criminalisation of politics and inner party democracy. This apprehension lacks merit in its argument. Reservation for women itself will be an electoral reform. Women’s presence in large number will automatically address both issues of criminalisation of politics and inner party democracy. Women are known to have least criminal background and their representation itself reflect democratisation of a political party. The reservation of seats for women on specific seats also restricts voter choice to only women candidates. Looking at the trend of representation in Lok Sabha it appears that representation by a specific class makes difference to the fortunes of these classes over long term. It does impact the degree of empowerment as reflected in higher level of participation of SC/STs in political decision making. Many of Dalit leaders have gone on to occupy the highest posts in States. At the Panchayat level studies have revealed that women are being empowered because of reservation and their role in decision making at grass root level has increased on all fronts. Although lot needs to be achieved in these areas at least a beginning has been made at the lowest level of political structure in our country. On the same line reservations at higher level will definitely yield better results for women. Thus as Justice Rajendra Sachar has written presciently in the people’s union of civil liberties bulletin in 2003 ‘ To impact one third of the male members to accept political hara-kiri is unrealistic. Toady’s Politicians are no Gandhians. They will not give up their privileges so easily.’ Parliament is still a man’s world. Attempts to establish reservations for women in the Indian Parliament have invoked stiff resistance especially by male members because it will dilute their power. Caste card is being played to thwart gender reservation. Nandita Menon has asserted that the experience of feminist politics shows gaps in the constitution of their subject (Women). The creation of women as a subject should be understood to be the goal of
feminist politics, not its starting point. Any law which tries to take away the very nature of women is not right. KEY ISSUES AND SUGGESTIONS The basic question that arises is why should there be reservation for women at all? As stated earlier there are a number of socio-economic and biological reasons which determines the cause for reservation for women. Women represent half of the population of a country and should have natural rights to half of the seats at any platform. They deserve to have dominant role in decisions affecting their lives directly or indirectly. A number of legislations have been passed e.g. family planning measures; maintenance after divorce, the number is endless, where the affected subject doesn’t get the opportunity to decide about it. Laws are made by men who perceive any issue within their own framework thus ignoring the vital input required from the target group. There may be wisdom among men to decide based on extensive research on a problem but there is no better way to decide than involving the subject itself in the process. Women have different social and biological experiences that affect their lives. Social stigmas, social pressure and social norms of society are different for sexes. Thus to understand and formulate a law which has wider implication on women their participation is essential. In addition women and men have partly conflicting interests. In a patriarchal society men want to be conservative on all issues as it suits them and maintain the status quo. Breaking the established norms of society like widow remarriage, giving property rights to women, providing education to women and economic opportunities etc ultimately breaks the domain of patriarchy. Political power yields dignity and equality. Thus women in position of power can inspire more women to adopt the empowerment route to emancipation. Although there is no need for debate on the merits or otherwise of the issue of reservation for women the level of resistance it has encountered in Parliament and outside it appears that there are serious apprehensions among political class about the workability and acceptability of some provisions incorporated in the bill. This bill has been drafted in right spirit and should sail through the Parliament in its original form.
However there have been some suggestions on alternatives to achieve broad political consensus for successful passage of the bill. Some of these suggestions are :- Increase the total number of seats in the legislature itself to guarantee availability of same number of unreserved seats. The present strength of Lok Sabha is based on census of 1971 when population of the country was 54 crore. As per 2001 census population has grown to 102 crore. There is independent need to restructure the constituencies and raise the representation from 545 to at least 750. This issue is already under consideration with Delimitation Commission who have been mandated to consider census figures of 2001 as basis for determination of constituencies. With reservations to women men will not loose their numbers. These extra seats could be converted into dual member constituencies which will ensure the reservation of seat for women and even permitting two to be elected, if the other women candidate gets the maximum of the votes polled. - Since in our Parliamentary system, representation is based on population hence increase in the number of representatives is understandable and can be appreciated. What is objectionable is suggestion for twin constituencies. Power is the real issue behind the hurdle in women reservation bill. Our Parliamentarians are reluctant to give up their seats, so their strategies for greater inclusion of women are superficial. - Other suggestion to compel political parties to voluntarily nominate women candidates for at least one third of the seats is flawed on two counts- first it is voilative of the constitution. Art 19(1) (C) which guarantees right to form associations is amenable for restrictions only grounds of sovereignty and integrity of India or public morality. Second is based on the political theory that political parties exist to wield power doesn’t give leverage to any candidate whether men or women to loose seat in elections. Thus women candidate who can’t win election is not welcome in any party. No political party will take chance to nominate 1/3rd of its candidates who do not promise to win in elections. In fact no one opposes the idea that more women should have access to political power. Apart from above suggestion there is yet another suggestion i.e. a
system of ‘twinning’ whereby two seats are twinned, each having to field a man and woman. And should there be quota within the quota? There is a school of thought which advocates quota for Dalit women within 33% quota reserved for women. Some of the political parties advancing the cause of Dalits are strongly rooting for this clause in the bill before they are brought in to the fold to support the bill. The debate goes on till we see the light at the end of the tunnel. By empowering women at the political level 50% of the population gets empowered. Our present day environment of governance is polluted, corrupt and devoid of ethical values. Thus to revamp the whole system of governance and to create a society which gives equality to its weaker half not only by enacting laws and paying lip service, political equality is the need of the hour. If we do not rise to the occasion now we may forever loose a historic opportunity to emerge from the shadows of traditions and march towards creating a society which honours all its citizens equally and allows them to enjoy the fruits of development. Women reservation bill is one path breaking effort like Panchayati Raj legislation and Right to Information Act which can revolutionise not only our society but also polity and economy. No one knows what is there in store for this bill but the civil society must keep pressure to ensure its successful passage in the parliament. The tunnel may be long for this particular bill but there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
REFERENCES 1 Vimal Thorat and Sandhya Gokhale- The Women’s reservation Bill- Quota within quota? 2 Kalpana Sharma Women’s reservation Bill – To live Another Day 3 Dhananjay Tripathi www.merinews.com 13th Amy 2008
4 Rajendra Sachar Women’ Reservation Bill- A Test of Political Will PUCL Bulletin 2003 5 Website of Parliament of India 6 Census of India 2001 7 Aysha Sumbul Women’s reservation Bill-A Critique PUCL Bulletin August 2004 8 People’s Union for Civil Liberties Website www.pucl.org 9 Kaushiki Sanyal One Third of the Lawmakers- A Legislative Brief 10 www.indiatogethr.org Tripathi, Dhananjay, Women Reservation Bill: Look beyond the narrow prism Tripathi, Dhananjay, Ibid Dr Vimal Thorat and Sandhya Gikhale: Quota within Quota ?
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