The Women’s Reservation Bill: Fallacy or Fulfilling?

The Women’s Bill being hotly contested in the Lok Sabha is perceived by politicians as either a breakthrough in raising the status of women in India, or as  a distraction to draw attention away to ‘more serious’ issues such as recession. Is it a beacon of hope or a pretentious show of India’s development?

The Bill provides 33% reservation to women in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies. Apart from this women can also contest for general seats. After much chaos in the Rajya Sabha and the unruly behaviour of  MPs which have become a constant feature in Parliament, the Bill passed. Then it met opposition in the Lok Sabha and now the issue has been moved to the backburner in the wake of the Finance Bill.

The Bill may be heralded as a new page in the chapter of Indian politics, but only if the power given to women candidates is not abused.  How would the Bill ensure a stream of meritorious candidates rather than mere figureheads following the whims of the party bosses behind them? Which impartial, incorruptible body would place quality candidates in Parliament? There are questions that remain unanswered and as a citizen of India, and a woman, I would like to know whether my vote for a woman would count towards making the Parliament stronger, or place a puppet in a seat which could have gone to someone better. Gender equality is important but meritorious candidates are more important- male or female.

Women need a voice, and the Bill is guaranteed to give them one, in the field of politics. I cannot help thinking though, what about the millions of women in India without a voice? Those who put up with abuse from their own family, at their workplace, who juggle a hundred things, but have no voice to complain?

The criticism the Bill faced from educated people against this reservation is so strong, that what will happen to future endeavours to empower women? Lalu Prasad Yadav, an educated and seasoned politician said that the society is patriarchal and a women will not vote against their husband’s wishes. If the opposition to the Bill shares this sexist view, politics in these parties will not be any easier for women even if the Bill is passed. To complicate matters, the communal card was thrown in. The opposition wants a quota within a quota for OBCs and Muslim women. Most issues in Indian history only got more tangled when this card was played, pitching communities against each other. Womankind should not be divided on these lines.

The Election Commission will allocate constituencies among women candidates to prevent them representing weak constituencies. In India, constituencies are strongholds of a particular candidate whose family has possibly represented it for generations. No candidate will be willing to give up this power in favour of a woman. Rivalry in politics is enough to contend with, without inter-party friction as well.

India has had her first woman Prime Minister and President. Yet, Pratibha Patil does not seem to be a dynamic leader and has poor visibility. We need strong characters in the Government and the Bill will hopefully ensure that those of best calibre make it to the top.

However, even once this Bill is passed, it will be difficult to say at which stage women will be empowered, because how do you measure empowerment anyway? Is taking into account the 181 seats that will be allotted to women in the Lok Sabha , a sign of empowerment? Or is mentioning that every sixth infant death in India is due to gender discrimination a sign of how far India has to go in this field?

The Bill will be a step in the right direction for women in India, but measures to raise the lot of those at grass-root level must not be ignored. We need care and education for the girl child for that is where the future of India-and this Bill – lies.

Vrinda Manocha

[Image courtesy:]