In a nation where gender equality has been a long cry for years, India’s Women’s Reservation Act stands as a landmark legislation aimed at empowering women and promoting their active participation in the political and social arena.
Women being the epitome of strength, resilience, and perseverance have always embodied the essence of empowerment and equality. They are being continuously seen as a catalyst for change, breaking barriers and defying social norms. Their multifaced roles as mothers, leaders and innovators inspire generations to strive for greatness. But despite women being the epitome of power from the archaic times, political rights were always a cry for women across the globe. The one hundred and twenty-eighth amendment(that is nari shakti vandan abhiniyam) bill seeks to increase the count of women from 82 to 181in Lok Sabha. Also, it seeks to increase the number of women MLAs from the strength of 740 to 2000 in state legislative assemblies. The support received in both Houses of Parliament for the Bill, which seeks to reserve 33% of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, underscores the potential impact of the Bill on improving women’s lives and their participation in public life. However, this is not the first attempt to empower women through such legislation, rather such bills have been proposed earlier too back in 1996,1998,1999 and 2008 but were unable to triumph in all these attempts.
Journey of women’s participation in India:-
Women’s political engagement in India has undergone an astounding transformation. From the early days of the women’s suffrage movement to the present, there has been a significant paradigm shift in empowering women to engage in politics. Constitutional amendments and legislative measures have been enacted to promote gender equality. Women’s participation however is not new to society, it’s disheartening to see even after so many years of independence women are still struggling for their political rights because tracing back to the ancient times if talk or when we talk about the Indian national movement, women played a pivotal and indomitable role. Their contributions were multifaced, ranging from leading non-violent movements to organizing protests. Women have remarkably displayed unwavering determination, resilience, and fortitude in the face of adversity.
The bill was first introduced in 1996 by the United Front government by then law minister Ramakant D Khalap. The attempts have been made several times to pass the bill between 1998 and 2004, by the BJP-led government. Vajpayee government tried to push the bill three times afterwards in 2000,2002, and 2003 but couldn’t succeed despite support from Congress.PM Manmohan Singh who took office in 2004, took the task to introduce legislation for one-third reservation for women in Vidhan Sabha. The breakthrough came when the bill was passed in Rajya Sabha in 2010. However, the bill was never taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha and eventually lapsed in 2014 with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
Examining the act and implications and critical analysis:-
Even after the bill was passed with a remarkable majority, people are condemning the act on various grounds. However, it must be noted that there are both good and bad sides to it. To understand the bigger picture of the women’s reservation bill both negatives and positives are to be taken into consideration.
1. When will the women’s reservation bill be implemented?
As per the current scenario, this reservation will not apply to the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha election. This could only be effectuated after the delimitation exercise, redrawing the constituencies of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Amit Shah in the same concern confirmed it would not be implemented not at least before 2029. But there were questions in the parliament for it not being implemented at the earliest.
2. Bill lacking OBC quota
Despite the bill having reservations for the SC/ST community, questions were posed as to why it lacked an OBC quota. The question here might seem difficult to understand and governments were being condemned, earlier Congress and now BJP for not including OBCs here, but speaking constitutionally, the constitution as it states; doesn’t provide reservation to other backward classes in the Lok Sabha or the state assemblies. The case with OBCs is unlike the political reservation of 15% and 7.5% being given to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes respectively. This is because of the inefficiency of determining at the central level which caste should be considered backward and which shouldn’t.
Talking right and wrong about the women’s reservation bill, let us go back to when this issue was being put forward in the constituent assembly. Back in 1946, prominent ladies like Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Sucheta Kriplani, Ammu Swaminathan and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, to our surprise opposed the bill because women of modern India don’t need special consideration. Back in 1946; Hansa Mehta wrote to the constituent assembly about reserved seats never been asked for women, but what women sought was social, economic and political justice. Even people who oppose the bill are of the view that the bill would imply that women can’t survive the competition without special provisions. Instead of endorsing reservation, political parties must incorporate the bottom-up approach of inducting more women into their parties to increase representation. Another argument being circulated was that the bill would eventually end up disproportionally privileging the upper caste urban women.
Another issue with the bill is that even though the female strength of Rajya Sabha is as low as almost 11% the current bill doesn’t provide women reservation in Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils. The government needs to rethink on this paucity can be bridged. The major conclusion drawn from these debates is that the reservation might still not reduce political violence to women and another concern is that the women would merely be the nominal leaders. The same incident could be traced back to UP, where Hathi Singh had been trying to become village head for the last 10 years, 2015 he just lost by 57 votes, and the next time the seat was reserved for women which he couldn’t contest from his place. For the sake of power, he then married a 25-year-old girl and got her name filled in as a candidate. The no. of such cases is not just limited to one but many.
Besides just pointing out loopholes, let us try to think of some alternative methods that might solve the problem up to a certain extent. A method might be having dual member constituencies, where a single constituency could have two members; one being a woman. Even if we look back in history India used to have a multi-member constituencies system which used to include SC/ST members. The 1961 act converted all the constituencies into a single-member constituency. However, this method has its pros and cons. The fact that it would give more choice to voters is a boon and also as pointed out by many experts, it won’t discriminate against the male candidates. But the fact can’t be ignored that it has several disadvantages too. First, there would be no assurance that women would be elected. Second, they must be assigned constituencies where they are weak. Third, this might lead to resentment if a woman is accommodated to the advantage of a stronger candidate.
A representative democracy involves people from all walks of life. Every opinion counts as long as long as it’s just. We must look for inclusiveness and focus on the betterment of everyone. The reservation system, while assisting vulnerable communities, also raises a moral question. In essence, we face a dilemma where empowering some may seem to limit the potential of others based solely on their affiliation. Critics are of the view that goes against the merit-based nomination. Reservation might not solve the actual problem of representation because women might not have actual power and would merely represent someone on their behalf. But here we are in the quest to find an alternative to women’s reservation is the idea of ensuring reservation within the political parties. Countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden Norway etc, reserve seats for women inside their political parties but do not have quotas for women in Parliament.
But despite all the criticism of the bill, it needs to be noticed that India still lags in women’s representation. India still ranks 127th out of 146th countries in the world gender gap report. The reservation of women might not be the only solution, but it is one of the affirmative actions in the direction of achieving equality. Because in 2023 when we here as a prominent country, celebrating AMRIT KAAL, women are still struggling with their basic rights. Even so many years after “VISHAKHA VS STATE OF RAJ.”, women are still facing difficulties in the workplace. Even today, women struggle for equal pay. Representation might look political; but in some way or the other, it is somehow a political solution to a social problem.