To all the people who were hopeful that we will have a constitutional provision to improve the position of women in our democracy, things are looking a bit gloomy for now. When the Women's reservation bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha amid trans-party cooperation, Sonia Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat coming together to get justice for womanhood, there was light at the end of the tunnel.Women have never had such dominating presence in the echelons of power with a President, Opposition Leader, the Guiding force behind the ruling party and more from the weaker sex. With maverick politicians in the regional parties out in the open protesting the bill in its original form and recommending watering down amendments, the bill looks a distant dream.
The history of women's reservation dates back to the Panchayati Raj Act of 1992 which provides for 33% reservation in local self-governance. Then the Deva Gowda Govt in 1996 proposed women’s reservation in a similar form, which was followed by another ambitious attempt by IK Gujaral which was all stalled at its birth. The women’s reservation bill proposes to provide reservation of 33 % in the parliament, state legislature and local bodies. The reserved seats for women will be rotated in every two terms and the SC/ST reservation will mandate 33 % reservation for women within its fold. The proposal is only for a pilot period of 15 years.
Why do we need women’s reservation? The arguments for and against are various but one aspect that can be quiet compelling is our relative performance with regard to gender empowerment. You will be surprised to hear that women in India is far behind their equals in Pakistan and Bangladesh and is ahead of only countries like Yemen and Saudi Arabia. We consider ourselves modern when the representation of women in the parliament, in higher education, in the corporate sector is abysmal. The number of women who die during pregnancy and girls who do not complete schooling is alarming.
So is reservation a panacea to all the ills that the women in the country is suffering from, not likely but it could be a good start. Better representation will pave way for more sensible law making, more empowerment and more development to the country. But there are inherent flaws in the current proposal which is ambiguous in terms of reservation for women from backward classes; it will lead to proxy candidates in the form of politician’s kith and kin contesting. The proposal to rotate seats after two terms will not let to develop a relationship between the candidate and the constituency. The fate of the pilot period could be similar to the 10 year threshold kept for SC/ST reservation which continues even today.
Another alternative to the cumbersome Women’s reservation bill is to bring changes in the people representation act making it compulsory of political parties to yield 33% percentage of its candidate, women to maintain the party’s registration. There has to be some amendments to the structure of the houses as the current strength of 545 members in the parliament is based on the 1971 population which is actually half of the current population. More representation will let us yield more people which will to certain extend thwart the opposition put forward by the dissidents. The opposition is mainly arising out of fear of losing sitting seats and lack of future opportunities to contest.
Let’s further look at the case of Pakistan, they have reserved 60 seats for women in the 360-member National Assembly and 17 in the 100-member Senate with a view to empower women. According to a report, 42 percent of private member bills, 27 percent of questions and 24 percent of resolutions in parliament came from women parliamentarians. If this can happen in the socially medieval (as perceived by most of us) so what’s stopping us from taking the plunge.
At least like what someone said “If all the countries in the world were ruled by women, we wouldn't have any war, just a bunch of countries who don't speak to each other” It might lead to an end of the boisterous cacophony and all the drama prevalent in our parliament.
Ps. The post was written in June 2011, and some of the examples used in context are based on that time frame.