Lavanya Selvaraj's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Lok Sabha

Having proved to be a sensitive issue for nearly a decade now, the Women’s Reservation Bill 2010 has been instrumental in instigating heated arguments in Parliament and outside. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the historic women’s reservation bill as a “giant step” towards the empowerment of women and a “celebration of our womanhood.”

The supporters of the Bill say that it is a vital requirement for active political participation of women. It is expected to lead to gender equality in Parliament, thereby empowering women as a whole. This would help them fight the abuse, discrimination, and inequality they suffer from.
But others disagree. One of the main arguments about women’s reservation in India has been that it would only help women of elitist groups gain political power, with the fate of the poor and deprived sections remaining the same. The Bill has been opposed by political parties from economically backward classes. Also it is being perceived by some as a discrimination against men.

Discrimination of Women

What exactly is this Bill which has caused uproar in the country in the last few days? Why is this Bill so controversial? For this, understanding the role of women for the past few centuries is imminent.

Women have always been subject to stricter sexual laws and moral standards. Subjugation of women does not cater to religious barriers with each religion being guilty of rules for looking down on women. As far as the Ten Commandments are concerned, a wife is one among a man’s possessions. The holy texts of almost every religion enshrine the subjugation of women.

Christianity does not allow a woman to become a priest. They were also expected to remain subservient to men at home. Biological differences between men and women are used to condone the act of forcing them into different social roles which limit and shape their attitudes and behaviour. Every religion has its own rationale to justify their actions. From religious dogmas to sophisticated pseudo-scientific theories, each religion has put forward its own reasons for subjugation of women. Today’s woman should be allowed to break the barriers surrounding her gender and emerge victorious with full respect for her personality, creativity and dignity.

History of the Women’s Reservation Bill

The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996. The legislation proposed to reserve 33.3 percent seats in Parliament and state legislatures for women. This bill was first initiated by the H D Deve Gowda-led United Front government. Since then, the Parliament has witnessed this issue being raised several times but lack of political consensus failed to take the bill further.
The Bill proposes reservation for women at each level of legislative decision-making, starting with the Lok Sabha, down to state and local legislatures. If the Bill is passed, one-third of the total available seats would be reserved for women in national, state, or local governments.
In continuation of the existing provisions already mandating reservations for scheduled caste and scheduled tribes, one-third of such SC and ST candidates must be women.

Already panchayat elections have allowed a reservation of 33.3 % seats for women. A million women are being elected to the panchayats in the country, every five years. This is the largest mobilization of women in public life in the world.

Right from the beginning Lalu Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party have been the main political forces opposed to the Bill in its present form and want a quota within quota for women from backward classes.

The former says the Bill ‘would deny adequate representation to other sections of society.’ He encourages 10 to 15 percent reservation for women. Lalu’s contention is that his party is not opposed to women’s reservation, but that the case of Dalits, backward classes, Muslims and other religious minorities should not be overlooked.

Mulayam favours making it mandatory for political parties to give 10 percent of election tickets to women. He believes that if inadequacy of representation is the issue, then reservation should be given for Muslim women too considering the fact that there are only two in the present Lok Sabha. His contention is that if 33.3 per cent reservation for women is added to the already existing 22.5 percent for scheduled castes and tribes, more than 55 per cent of seats in Parliament would be reserved. He believes that this would not be fair to other sections of the population.

Antagonists of the bill believe that through reservation women are perpetuating unequal status for themselves. But protagonists of the Bill argue that provision of reservation for women is only for 15 years. The idea of reservation is to create a level playing field so that women can raise their share in politics and society and then, look for equal status.

The Bill had been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, and Personnel, which gave its report in December 2009. It recommended passage of the Bill in its present form and suggested that the issue should not be left to the discretion of political parties.

The Bill was cleared by the central government on February 25, 2010. This involved an elaborate procedure by the Constitution. Thus, even if the Rajya Sabha passed the bill its real impact will be felt only when it passes through the Lok Sabha.

On 8th March 2010, the Rajya Sabha passed the historic Women’s Reservation Bill by the Congress, BJP, Left and many other parties which had joined hands in furthering this issue. Leaders of all political parties, including Arun Jaitley, Jayanthi Natarajan, Sitaram Yechury, Brinda Karat and others made a statement on the bill and extended their support to the bill.

The Women’s Reservation Bill will have to be tabled in Lok Sabha. Once approved by both houses, it will be sent for Presidential consent and then become a law, giving 33% reservation to women in Parliament and State Assemblies. The reservation will remain in place for 15 years and then be extended, if necessary.

For now the government seems to have decided not to table the Constitution amendment bill, in the Lok Sabha till the last week of the Budget session ending on May 7. No date has been worked out to bring the bill to the Lok Sabha.

But political parties have started preparing themselves for the eventuality of having more women in the decision-making positions. The Congress which took a lead role in passing of the bill in the Rajya Sabha, has decided to strengthen the State Mahila Congress to groom more leaders from its ranks. The women wing of the party has been asked to take part in more programmes and organise agitations in rural areas on issues affecting the common people.

The BJP has also decided to promote its women leaders in a more effective manner. Alternative women leaders in assembly constituencies having women voters will be promoted so that they can be made candidates in the next elections. Besides, women are likely to be given appointments in state-owned corporations to give them experience in administration.

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