The Women’s Reservation Bill has been a political raw nerve for nearly a decade now. It has always triggered heated debates in Parliament and outside.
Its advocates say the Bill is essential for active political participation of women.
Opponents argue that reservation would only help women of elitist groups gain political power, aggravating the plight of the poor and deprived sections.
If you are wondering just what the Women’s Reservation Bill is and why it is so controversial, read on.
How did the Women’s Reservation Bill originate?
The proposed legislation to reserve 33.3 percent seats in Parliament and state legislatures for women was drafted first by the H D Deve Gowda-led United Front government. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996. Though it has been introduced in Parliament several times since then, the Bill could not be passed because of lack of political consensus.
What does the Bill provide?
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.
What is the argument in favour of the Bill?
Its proponents say it would lead to gender equality in Parliament, resulting in the empowerment of women as a whole. Historically, the Bill’s supporters say, women are deprived in India [ Images ]. Increased political participation of women will help them fight the abuse, discrimination, and inequality they suffer from.
Does reservation for women exist in panchayat elections?
Yes, 33.3 per cent seats in panchayat elections have been reserved for women already. The experience of women’s reservation at the panchayat level has been very encouraging. A million women are being elected to the panchayats in the country every five years. This is the largest mobilisation of women in public life in the world.
Then why is there opposition to the Bill?
Various political parties have staunchly opposed it because they fear many of their male leaders would not get a chance to fight elections if 33.3 percent seats are reserved for women. The Bill has also been opposed by politicians from the socially and economically backward classes. They argue 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. Who are the main political opponents of the Bill?
From day one, Lalu Prasad Yadav [ Images ] of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mulayam Singh Yadav [ Images ] of the Samajwadi Party have been the main political forces opposed to the Bill.
The SP and RJD are opposed to the bill in its present form and want a quota within quota for women from backward classes.
Lalu says the Bill ‘would deny adequate representation to other sections of society.’ He favours 10 to 15 percent reservation for women. ‘My party is
not opposed to women’s reservation, but the case of Dalits, backward classes, Muslims and other religious minorities should not be overlooked,’ is his argument.
“I want to see women like Kalawati and Bhagwati Devi to be included in the quota. There should be reservation within reservation,” said Lalu.
Mulayam favours making it mandatory for political parties to give 10 percent of election tickets to women.
His argument is that if inadequacy of representation is the issue, why not reservation for Muslim women (there are only two in the present Lok Sabha)?
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. This would not be fair to other sections of the population, he says. Those who oppose the bill are saying that by asking for reservation women are perpetuating unequal status for themselves. But, then supporters 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. Most members opposing say that it is better to create reservation of women in political parties than in Parliament. The provision of rotation of reserved states is also debated. It can reduce the incentive of the elected MPs to spend energy because he or she may not be able to re-seek the mandate from the same constituency. What is the status of the Bill now?
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 central government cleared the Bill on February 25, 2010. For such a bill to pass, the Constitution has laid out an elaborate procedure. So, even if the Rajya Sabha passes the bill its real impact will be felt only when it passes through the Lok Sabha. On March 8, it’s difficult to say how the government
will manage order in the Upper House so that members favouring the bill can vote without disruption or chaos created by opposing members. Political pundits, sociologists, political scientists, feminists and historians and almost everybody has said that if the bill becomes an act then it will be the biggest socio-political news since independence.
The 18 year-journey of the Women’s Reservation Bill was marked by high drama and hit roadblocks in each of its outings in Parliament before the historic measure cleared the first legislative hurdle in 2010. Sadly enough, a number of male parliamentarians over the years have opposed the passing of the Bill, leaving it in its current state.
|1||The battle for greater representation to women in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies was routinely punctuated by frayed tempers and war of words which sometimes got physical, as different governments since 1996 tried to get the Women’s Reservation Bill passed in Parliament without success. The Bill also lapsed each time the House was dissolved and was re-introduced by the Government of the day. |
|2||The path-breaking Bill greenlighted by the Rajya Sabha after some hiccups to create legislative history was first introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Deve Gowda government on September 12, 1996. Snatching of Papers from presiding officers and Ministers and scuffles became a familiar scene each time the Bill made its way to Parliament before it was aborted. |
|3||Once, Union minister Renuka Chowdhury pushed a Samajwadi member away when a Samajwadi member tried to snatch a copy of the Bill from her Ministerial colleague H. R. Bhardwaj in the UPA government’s first term when it was being introduced. Mr. Bharadwaj also took his seat between two women ministers and was guarded by some women MPs to ward off any attack on him by some opposition members. |
|4||And the opposition to the Constitution Amendment Bill to reserve one-third of seats in the Legislatures hit a nadir on Monday when some opposition members tried to attack Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari and disrupted tabling of the Bill. |
|5||The opposition to the Bill had its own share of lows when JD(U) veteran Sharad Yadav, a critic of the legislation, asked in June 1997, “Do you think these women with short hair can speak for women, for our women...” |
|6||In the Bill’s previous foray on May 6, 2008, a resolute government introduced the legislation in the Rajya Sabha yet another time amid high drama and scuffles between members. With Congress Parliamentarians providing protective cover, Law Minister H. R. Bhardwaj introduced the Bill in the midst of Samajwadi Party members trying to snatch its copies from the hands of the Minister. |
|7||Samajwadi members stormed the well soon after the House resumed at noon in an apparent attempt to stall introduction of the Bill, which they have been opposing along with JD(U). However, the disruptions could not dissuade the government from going ahead and introducing the Bill. |
|8||As agitated SP member Abu Asim Azmi and his party colleagues tried to snatch the Bill copy from Mr. Bhardwaj, Congress members intervened and Renuka Chaudhary, then the Women and Child Development Minister, repulsed the attempts by pushing Mr. Azmi away. Expecting trouble, Mr. Bharadwaj was seated in the middle row of the treasury benches flanked by two women ministers — Kumari Selja and Ambika Soni. On top of it, Congress women Parliamentarians Jayanti Natarajan and Alka Balram Kshatriya guarded Mr. Bharadwaj from SP members who had taken the position for the go. Top leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition Jaswant Singh, were witness to the high drama. Several Lok Sabha lawmakers were also seated in the gallery. |
|9||“Take back the Women’s Reservation Bill” was among the slogans raised by the SP members from the well of the Rajya Sabha. After the Bill introduced by the Deve Gowda government on September 12, 1996 failed to get approval in Lok Sabha, it was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee chaired by Geeta Mukherjee, which presented its report to the Lok Sabha on December 9, 1996. |
|10||Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government re-introduced the bill in the 12th Lok Sabha in 1998. When Law minister M. Thambidurai rose to introduce the bill on July 13, 1998 RJD MP Surendra Prasad Yadav went to the well of the House, snatched it from Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi and tore it to bits. |
|11||The NDA government re-introduced the bill in the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999. It moved the Bill again amid pandemonium in 2002 and Left parties and the Congress gave assurances to support the bill if it is taken up. |
|12||The Bill was introduced twice in Parliament in 2003 and after an all-party meeting, BJP spokesperson Vijay Malhotra said, “We want the Bill passed in this session itself, with or without consensus.” |
|13||In May that year, at an all-party meeting, Speaker Manohar Joshi announced deferring of the Bill. Protesting MPs rush to the well of the House during Question Hour, saying they would never allow the Bill to be passed in the present form. |
|14||Just before the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, Vajpayee blamed Congress for stalling the Bill and said BJP and its allies would pass the legislation after getting a decisive mandate in 2004 elections. |
|15||In 2004, the UPA government included it in the Common Minimum Programme, which said: “The UPA government will take the lead to introduce legislation for one-third reservations for women in Vidhan Sabhas and in the Lok Sabha.” In 2005, BJP announced complete support for the bill. |
|16||Subsequently, it yields to the objections of Uma Bharati and several others within the party, who stress on quota within quota for women on caste basis. In 2008, the government tabled the bill in the Rajya Sabha so that the legislation does not lapse. |
|17||The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, and Personnel recommended passage of the Bill in Dec 2009. The Bill was cleared by the Union Cabinet on February 25, 2010. |
|18||Till date, the Lok Sabha has not voted on the Bill. If the Bill were to be approved by the Lok Sabha It would then have to be passed by half of India’s state legislatures and signed by the President. |
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