In Support of the Act:
"If we look from the perspective of the dignity of the Constitution, then (Goddess) Lakshmi has taken a Constitutional form through this (Women's Reservation) Bill.”, Smriti Irani, the minister for Women and Child Development, said after the Women’s Reservation Bill passed after 27 long years. 28th Sept. 2023, was a historic date for women in India as a long pending bill passed by both houses of Parliament, promising to empower women in politics. Women's Reservation Bill proposes to reserve one-third or 33% of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women. The Bill was the subject of much debate and discussion in Indian politics for several years before becoming law.
The roots of the women’s reservation act lie within the 73rd and 74th amendment in 1971, under which the Panchayati raj system was established on the local levels, giving 1/3rd of reservation for women to represent the day-to-day challenges they faced in rural areas. It also promoted the inclusion of women, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes in PRIs and integrated gender parity policies into locally focused measures, promoting gender equity. Several panchayat polls reveal that despite initial opposition to women leaders sharing authority, communities eventually accepted women's independent responsibilities and activities.
The bill proposing one-third reservation of seats for women in the parliament and state assemblies was first introduced by Deve Gowda’s government in 1996 under the 81st Amendment bill. Then between 1998-2004, the BJP tried to pass it on three occasions but was unsuccessful. During Manmohan Singh's UPA-1 government, the bill gathered momentum again. It was included in the government's Common Minimum Programme in 2004, and it was ultimately introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2008 to prevent it from lapsing again in the Upper House. On March 9, 2010, the Rajya Sabha passed the Bill. The Bill, however, was never brought up for debate in the Lok Sabha and subsequently died with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. However, the Bill was never taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha and eventually lapsed in 2014 with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.
Key Features and Analysis:
Gender disparities in politics continue to be a national concern, and progress toward more gender equality in political representation requires a collaborative effort from stakeholders, including governments, political parties, civil society, and people. According to the Union government's data, Women made up only 4% of the Lok Sabha in 1952, and this figure has barely increased to 14.94% in the Lok Sabha and 14.05% in the Rajya Sabha. Many state legislatures have fewer than 10% female members. According to the gender disparity gap report 2023, India ranked 127 out of 146 in terms of gender parity, with countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh being ahead of it. Bridging this gap will take at least 162 years if the report’s rate of progress is followed. Since independence, India only has had one female Prime Minister and two female presidents. Even today, out of 28 states, only West Bengal has a female Chief Minister. It shows the lack of representation of women in national politics.
Gender stereotypes and prejudices can influence how men and women are perceived in politics. Women may experience obstacles due to stereotypes that they are less competent, forceful, or capable of making difficult decisions than men. In politics, discrimination and sexism can emerge in a variety of ways, including uneven access to resources, harassment, and a hostile political atmosphere. Women may be discouraged from entering or remaining in politics because of such discrimination. Today only Trinamool Congress in West Bengal is probably the only political party to give true representation to women in politics. They contested 41% of women candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Apart from political representation, another major aspect of this bill is the socio-economic development of women to solve issues like the high number of crimes against women, the low percentage of female labor force participation, inadequate nutrition, and an unbalanced sex ratio. The bill promises to have an impact on women in leadership positions and has shown the positive effect of reservation on delivering policies, programs, and financing that improve the lives of women and their families, communities, and ultimately their nations. It will empower women to be a part of policy-making decisions, which will have a greater impact on the development of women in India and reduce the gender disparity on the grassroots level.
Despite strong patriarchal standards, the country is witnessing an increase in women's political participation, which coincides with higher levels of education and growing financial independence. Women continue to be underrepresented in parliamentary and state legislative elections. Women's representation has increased when there is a constitutionally mandated reservation of seats for women at the local self-government level. National parties account for around 73% of all elected women MPs, state-based parties for approximately 25%, and local parties for approximately 2.21%.
When compared to other political parties in the country, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) had the largest proportion of women in Lok Sabha at 42 percent as of September 2023. The All-India Trinamool Congress (TMC) came in second with 39%. It is crucial to highlight that women's political representation is a complex problem with many contributing aspects. However, it is encouraging to see women becoming more involved in politics and having their opinions known.
India's path to inclusive political representation has been lengthy, with both gains and setbacks. Women's political participation has been boosted by education, financial independence, and media knowledge. However, institutional impediments and patriarchal norms continue to prevent them from running in parliamentary elections. Implementing legal and policy changes to increase women's representation in Parliament and state legislatures remains critical. As more women enter politics, they can transform governance and policy discourse, bringing India closer to becoming a truly inclusive and representative democracy.
Against the Act:
Led by the honorable Prime Minister, the parliamentarians moved to the new building of the lead law-making body on the 19th of September this year. This marquee event was paired with the long lost "The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill" i.e. "Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam", as termed by our honorable PM. The Women's Reservation Act has been projected as the vehicle to travel the path that takes us from women empowerment to women-led empowerment. However, it might turn out to be the jackal in the lion's skin. Let's look at it from three different angles:
Firstly, does parliamentary reservation have the fangs it claims to have? SC/ST reservations in the Lok Sabha rose from 98 seats in 1951 to 131 in the 17th Lok Sabha. However, apart from the reserved seats, only 7 could force their way to the house i.e., merely 1 percent. Nevertheless, have we empowered those 138 members enough to result in any state-led empowerment? Apart from ‘Tribal Affairs’ and ‘Social Justice & Empowerment’, there are only 3 ministers from the SC/ST community in the current cabinet, which accounts for only 10% of total cabinet ministers. Among the Parliamentary committees (24+3), Only eight of them have SC/ST members in proportion to their presence in the house. Narrowing it down to the ‘big four ministries’ reveals their one-fourth presence only in the external affairs committee.
Only 7.3% of the time were they given chairmanship of the standing committees in the last 12 years (2009-2020). Did the reservation fulfill what it promised?
Secondly, do women require reservations? A mere glance at the numbers strongly favors the ‘women’s reservation bill’, however, there’s a different picture if we look beyond them. People tend to believe that in the conquest for the seat of power, women fall behind men due to a lack of money and muscle power. However, In the most recent general elections, 726 women contested to represent their constituency in the Lok Sabha and 78 among them emerged victorious i.e., a whopping 10.74% against a 6.37% candidate to MP ratio of men. TMC which gave 40% of the ticket share to women in West Bengal, saw 9 of their 17 candidates making it to the Lok Sabha out of its 22 MPs. This was preceded by a similar story in the 16th Lok Sabha elections where it was 9.25% against 5.94%. Women have had similar success stories in elections dating back to 2009 (10.35%), 2004 (13.09%), 1999 (17.58%), and even earlier which directly implies that a ticket to a woman is faring twice the ticket to a man.
A rational person might ponder that this data must also be available to political strategists, so why don’t the political parties give more tickets to women? No one indeed wants to lose out on the top of the podium finish and it's exactly the reason why women lose out on their share of tickets. Even with a 2X winning ratio over others, women don’t top the chart. Contestants with criminal charges against them have even better chances with a 15.5% winnability ratio against a meager 4.7% for those with clean backgrounds. Their better chances of winning have resulted in their steep and steady rise in numbers in the house i.e., from 162(30%) in 2009, 185(34%) in 2014 to 233(43%) in the 17th Lok Sabha. Who knows what their numbers will be after delimitation where we expect the total strength of the house to be around 753? Representation of women in the house has also seen a steady rise with 47 women only in 2004 to 78 in 2019.
However, their rise has been driven at the turtle’s pace. With representatives with criminal charges running at the rabbit’s pace, what’s necessary is making them fall asleep. There are two methods of raising a child; Either handhold him at every step of his life or let him make his path and assist him to cross the hurdles which he can’t cross himself. How have the two methods fared in the Parliament? A closer look at the day-to-day parliamentary activities of the MPs gives us a fair idea to make an inference. While we find women almost on par with men in participating in debates or raising questions i.e., 33:35 debates per MP & 206:213 questions per MP; SC/ST MPs for whom nearly one-fourth of the seats have been reserved were found lagging with their share of questions being around 20% and their participation in debates less than 18% of the whole.
Apart from making their voices heard in the parliament, women have also shown a remarkable presence in the democratic processes of the country. In the 17th Lok Sabha general elections, women of the country outdid their male counterparts in terms of voting turnout by 0.17 percentage points. From trailing by 16.71 percentage points in the 1962 elections to outshining the men of the nation, it has been an inspiring journey. More and more women coming out to vote has meant that their issues are coming to the fore, and it has resulted in women-centric schemes becoming the hot topics of any election. Continued empowerment of women would mean a push to the organic rise in their numbers in the lower house which grew by 25% in the last elections.
The ' Constitution (One Hundred Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill’ that was cleared by the president on 28th of September 2023 aimed to break the male hegemony in the apex law-making institution and make it more accessible to women of the country by reserving nearly one-third of the total seats. Despite that, it was linked to the next delimitation process which ensured that one-third of reserved seats were not at the cost of men, instead, they would be the additional seats that would be a result of the delimitation i.e., availability of 500 seats for the sitting 467 male members apart from an approximated reservation on another 250 constituencies. Delimitation with all its complexities will in all probability cause a stir between various states; Linking the ‘women’s reservation bill’ to it undermines the value the bill holds in its letter & and spirit and makes it ‘Birbal ki Khichdi’ in general referential terms.
Empowerment of women is a given; we need to choose between filtering the impurities and letting them develop or merely raising their numbers via reservation.
चूल्हा मिट्टी का
मिट्टी तालाब की
तालाब ठाकुर का।
भूख रोटी की
रोटी बाजरे की
बाजरा खेत का
खेत ठाकुर का।
बैल ठाकुर का
हल ठाकुर का
हल की मूठ पर हथेली अपनी
फ़सल ठाकुर की।
कुआँ ठाकुर का
पानी ठाकुर का
खेत-खलिहान ठाकुर के
गली-मुहल्ले ठाकुर के
फिर अपना क्या?
Omprakash Valmiki's verse composed in 1981 was read out in the country's apex law-making institution on 26th September 2023. Dr. Ambedkar had envisioned an equal platform for the oppressed section of the nation while framing the Indian constitution via reserved constituencies for Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes. However the reading of "Thakur ka Kuan '' by Manoj Kumar Jha forces us to turn our eyes toward the dividends of the reservation policies and poses before us the stark question i.e. "Did we stand true to the expectations of Babasaheb in empowering those who faced suppression since time immemorial? " Are we empowering the other half of humanity by "The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023" or "Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam"?