Thursday, April 1, 2010

Women Reservation Bill

The women reservation bill recently approved by the Rajya Sabha has more to it than meets the eye. There is apprehension among political parties like SP, RJD, BSP, TCM, AIUDF, and MIM that the 33% reservation provided in the bill, in its current form, will actually benefit in reality only the upper caste women while other women due to educational backwardness will be deprived of it.

For the bill to become an act it is a long and tough process of being approved by the Lok Sabha and at least 50% state assemblies. However, the probability in this regard is getting stronger than ever as the three main political parties, the Congress, the BJP and the Left parties are supporting it.

Interestingly, these parties who are supporting the bill have not given anywhere close to 33% tickets to female candidates either in LS or state assembly elections earlier. The few tickets given to women candidates are allegedly to be the ones from where there is a little chance of a victory!

Women have always been victims of under representation even in the countries where there is no gender discrimination. In the developed countries of Germany and the Netherlands the percentage of women in politics is just 5%.

It will be a giant step in the right direction by the Indian parliament if it succeeds in giving equal opportunities to its female population representing every caste, community and religion. This should be the reason to support the bill. Any other political advantage should not be considered to support this bill.

In the present Indian society it does seem to be too ambitious to claim that that the bill will really benefit ‘all women’. There is valid fear that only the females from upper castes will be the beneficiaries as it is they who are educated, have political awareness and venture in this field.

As for women from the Dalit community, other lower castes or educationally and socially backward Muslims, their women do not have basic education let alone political awareness. The situation has much to be attributed to our traditionally upper castes controlled society and anti-minority approach of the governments.

The Schedule Castes and the Schedule Tribes were the marginalized sections of the Indian society when the long awaited dream of freedom was fulfilled. Special privileges and reservations were constitutionally sanctioned for their social uplift. But even after all this reservation for the STs and SCs the desired change in living conditions of these people has not happened.

Muslims, the largest minority of India, also are no better. In proportion to their population, which is at least 14%, even their males are underrepresented. In the 15th Lok Sabha general elections merely 29 Muslims were elected which is less than 6 per cent of the total. It is often seen that a Muslim-dominated constituency is declared reserved for SC or ST blocking the way for an easy victory for Muslims. It is a reality which justice Sachar has pointed out in his report depicting the plight of Muslims.

The leaders from the community fear that once this women reservation bill is passed more Muslim dominated constituencies will be declared reserved for women. Consequently, any upper class woman will bag that seat. With the exception of a few, Muslim women are not active in politics.

To ensure that dalit and Muslim women actively participate in politics they, in the current situation, need reservation. There must be a quota for them within the 33%. This will be the ideal way of giving representation from every section of the society.
If the goal is to empower women then all such matters need to be included in the bill. If the bill also includes quota for Dalits, Muslims and backward class women within the 33% reservation then the bill would achieve its purpose. The dream of true representation of all sections of society in parliament will become a reality. Only then can India truly call itself the largest democracy in the world.

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