The reservation for women in Indian Parliament is an attempt to acknowledge the internal complexities within the category of women by recognising their respective deprivation points derived from social inequalities. The 17th Lok Sabha that has been elected in 2019 has witnessed the highest number of women ever in the Parliament with 78 women MPs (Member of Parliament) elected from all over the country. Women’s representation in the Lok Sabha has increased from 11.3 per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent in 2019, coming across as a positive development.
Background to Women Reservation Bill
Women’s Reservation Bill was first presented in 2008 by the UPA Government as the 108th Constitutional Amendment Bill. The Bill was passed in Rajya Sabha in 2010. However, the introduction was also attempted previously in 1996 but it failed to see the light of day in any house. In the last two decades, various efforts have been put by the different governments. But the effort, to our dismay, has met a dead end.
Reservation for any group is an ‘affirmative action’ by the state to promote or empower or emancipate the group. As in almost every case, these groups have faced subjugation in the past due to systematic or social discrimination. In this context, when the 73rd Constitutional Amendment was passed in India, providing for grassroot democracy at the Panchayat level, 33% seats were reserved for women. This provision has substantially changed the face of villages in our country. Women getting elected as a leader, have become an agent of change and have contributed towards the well being of other women too.
Provisions of the Women Reservation Bill
In the Indian Parliament, Women’s Reservation Bill (108th Amendment) was introduced with the aim to provide 33% réservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies. The Bill also has a provision where one third seats will be reserved for women from the seats reserved for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe in Parliament and State Assembly. Reservation of seats in the constituency will be allotted by rotation in Parliament and State Assembly. An authority will be appointed by Parliament which will determine the allocation of reserved seats. Also the Bill highlights that the provision will cease to exist after 15 years from the commencement of the Act. The Bill was passed in the State Assembly in 2010 but remained pending in Lok Sabha due to which it has finally lapsed in Parliament.
Why Women Should Get Reservation?
India was ranked low at 112th position out of 153 countries in Global Gender Gap Index 2020. Apart from this, there is widening of its gender gaps in political empowerment as well as in life expectancy and basic literacy. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women released a world ranking of the number of women parliamentarians, in which India is ranked 148th among 193 countries. Looking at the data released, IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong backed up the call for reservation of women in governing bodies which could speed up the process for achieving gender equality.
Another reason why women should be given reservations in Parliament and State Assembly is because the female parliamentarians and State Legislators will be more sensitive to the issues plaguing the lives of women. Indian society is mostly a patriarchal society. Crime against women in the form of rape, dowry, domestic violence, systematic marginalisation, female foeticide etc. are rampant across the length and breadth of the country. Therefore, to attain gender parity and reduce crimes against women, women themselves have to act as an agent of change.
Positive Impact of the Bill
When women representation increases in the Parliament, it will indirectly or directly also facilitate the other related goals. It will create environment for positive social and economic policies for realisation of full potential of women. It will lead to de-jure and de-facto enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedom. It will facilitate equal access of females to health, education, employment, social security, etc. It will change the societal attitude and community practices which block freedom and empowerment of women.
Criticism for Women Reservation Bill
There is furious opposition against the Bill. Some consider it as a step backward and a move in the wrong direction. They suggest that there will be pseudo representation. It has been observed at the Panchayat level that the seats which get reserved for women, are filled by a candidate who is either wife or a female relative of the male representative. In reality, when these female candidates are elected, their male counterparts run a puppet show. Therefore, there is no actual empowerment. Also it is argued that reservation will stifle choice for voters, leaving the meritorious candidates behind. As a result, it will create a wider chasm and gender inequality will further perpetuate. Resentment will flow among male candidates and as a result of this, women will be further marginalised. Political commentators are of the view that the provision may not guarantee a tickle down effect where its benefit reaches the lowest strata of the society. The politically, and socially affluent women will grab the seats thereby bringing no change and maintaining status quo.
Women Reservation Bill has been pending for a very long period of time. But before the Bill get passed by the Parliament, groundwork needs to be done for real result. Otherwise, it will meet fate where marginalised will remain marginalised power will accrue in the affluent. Thus, it is concluded that the Women’s Reservation Bill will indeed be a milestone towards achieving the goal of a true and enlightened democracy and must be enacted at the earliest possible opportunity.
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