The controversial yet historic Women’s Reservation Bill, ensuring 33% reservation to women in Parliament and State Legislative bodies, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on 9 March, 2010. Of the votes polled, 186 were in favour of the bill and only one was against. The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill could get through with “unequivocal” support from the BJP and the Left in the Upper House where the ruling UPA coalition is in minority. The 245-member House has an effective strength of 233. 14 years after the first tempt was made in the Lok Sabha and repeated failures subsequently, the Constitution Amendment Bill was adopted in the mandatory division with 186 members voting for it and one voting against. In the 245 member House with an effective strength of 233, the bill required the backing of at least 155 members and the UPA had the clear support of 165 in the run up to the event.
Highlights of the Bill
The Constitution (One Hundred and Eight Amendment) Bill, 2008 seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state Legislative Assemblies. The allocation of reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by Parliament.
- One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assemblies.
- Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory.
- Reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of this Amendment Act.
Purpose of Reservation
- The proponents of the policy of reservation state that although equality of the sexes is enshrined in the Constitution, it is not the reality.
- Therefore, vigorous affirmative action is required to improve the condition of women.
- Also, there is evidence that political reservation has increased redistribution of resources in favour of the groups which benefit from reservation, A study about the effect of reservation for women in Panchayats shows that women elected under the reservation policy invest more in the public goods closely linked to women’s A2008 study, commissioned by the Ministry of Panchayats Raj, reveals that a sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive an enhancement in their self-esteem, confidence and decision-making ability. Some opponents argue that separate constituencies for women would not only narrow their outlook but lead to perpetuation of unequal status because they would be seen as not competing on merit.
- Opponents also contend that reservation would not lead to political empowerment of women because larger issues of electoral reforms such as measures to check criminalization of politics, internal democracy in political parties, influence of black money, etc, have not been addressed and it could lead to election of ‘proxies’ or relatives of male
Alternate Methods of Representation
- Reservation of one-third of seats for women in Parliament restricts the choice of voters in the reserve constituencies.
- Two alternatives have been suggested by some experts: reservation w candidates within political parties and dual member constituencies where some constituencies shall have two candidates, one being a woman.
- Initially, India had multi-member constituencies which included an SC/ST member.
- A 1961 Act converted all constituencies into single member constituencies.
- The reasoning was that the constituencies were too large and SC/ST members felt that they would gain in importance in single-member reserved constituencies.
- The Bill states that reserved seats shall be allotted-by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory.
- Rotation of reserved seats may reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he could be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.
- A study by Ministry of Panchayats Raj recommended that rotation of constituencies should be discontinued at the Panchayats level because almost 85 per cent women were first-timers and only 15 per cent women could get re-elected because the seats they were elected from were de-reserved.
On the other hand, the passing of the Women’ Reservation Bill may cause bias in the democratic process. It may hurt the self-respect of women who have come up on their own ability, and may result in lesser respect for women in the society. It may also bring down the quality of leaders. It may create a new kind of hatred between genders as males may feel deprived of certain privileges, which in turn may create more social issues.
Another issue will be for the political parties, which will be forced to find women whether or not the women identify with the overall party agenda and the rest of the issues concerning all citizens, as opposed to just women’s issues. There are no provisions to prevent discrimination against men because of finding women who are inclined towards women’s issues alone, or, in other words, biased against men. Further, powerful male members of parties will be tempted to find female relatives to ‘reserve’ the seat for themselves. So, it is feared that reservation would only help women of the elitist groups to gain seats, therefore causing further discrimination and under-representation to the poor and backward classes.
Some leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sharad Yadav have vehemently opposed the Bill in its current form. They are demanding a reservation for backward classes’ women with the 33%, i.e., they are asking for a reservation within a reservation.
While, the struggle for women’s empowerment goes on, one must, however, not forget that though numbers and percentages are important, it is ultimately numbers coupled with the correct world-view that can go a long way to strengthen the movement for women’s liberation. Hence, it is finally the struggle of the working class and the toiling women that must benefit from women’s quota. For the women who have made history without portfolios reserved seats, where women would be the contestants would expose better the politics of ‘by women, of women, for women’.
It is to be realized by the Indian politicians that they can no longer ignore the justified demand of reservation for the women in Parliament and State legislature. Till the Parliament is dominated by such MP’s and lack of ‘will’ determination with ruling party and no support from the other parties. The 33% reservation for the women will remain a ‘Forlorn Hope’.