September 25, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Women’s Reservation Bill’s scope is wide enough. We also look at the sports uplift in a Naxal-hit district of Chhattisgarh, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is the Women’s Reservation Bill’s scope wide enough?
There’s a general and just expectation that in a representative democracy, the legislature and governing bodies look like the people they’re representing. More often than not, that’s not the case. In legislative bodies around the world, they’re often male-dominated. It’s a product of history making the system that way. As time goes on, things change slowly but surely.
India has taken a significant step in women’s representation in policy-making at the state and national levels. The Women’s Reservation Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha with near unanimity. It paved the way for the constitution to be amended to allow a one-third reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. While this is certainly a big step, the question needs to be asked – is this legislation all-encompassing?
According to UN Women, as of September 2022, 30 women were serving as heads of state or government in 28 countries. Women’s representation at the national level, especially in a legislative body like the Indian parliament, is a key indicator of gender equality in parliamentary politics. One of the reasons why India’s case study on women’s participation is important is that we have a female population of over 660 million.
Women’s representation is above the global average in Europe, the Americas, and Sub-Saharan Africa. In India, women’s representation in the Lok Sabha has remained slightly below 15%.
The history of women’s political participation in India probably goes back to India’s freedom movement, particularly the Swadeshi in Bengal, where women organised political rallies and occupied positions in those movements. Shortly after independence, there was a proposal to introduce a quota for women along the lines of constitutional provisions for reservation of seats for scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) in Parliament. That proposal was scrapped after opposition from some women’s associations and the ruling Congress.
India’s first Lok Sabha assembly had only 24 women. The sixth assembly had 21. Over the years, that number has grown slowly but steadily.
In 1974, a report by the Committee on the Status of Women in India called for more representation of women in Indian politics. In 1992, with the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution, one-third of the seats in municipal bodies and Panchayat Raj institutions were reserved for women. This was the result of a 14-member committee constituted by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987. Among their over 300 recommendations was a reservation for women in elected bodies.
When the Deve Gowda government introduced the Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, for one-third reservation in parliament and state legislatures, it went down a rocky road. There was opposition from several MPs seeking representation for backward caste women. Following committee and all party meetings, the Bill went nowhere.
Successive governments under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh found no success in forming a consensus. The closest the UPA came was in 2010 when the Bill, this time with one-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs, was passed by the Rajya Sabha. It never made it to the Lok Sabha due to differences within the party and the cabinet.
Now, the Women’s Reservation Bill finally moves forward to reserve 33% of the total number of seats in state legislative Assemblies and Parliament for women. It also includes sub-reservation for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians. The reserved seats will be allotted on rotation to different constituencies in the state or Union Territory.
VIEW: A big step forward
It’s not an understatement to say that the passing of this Bill is a landmark moment in Indian politics, considering its history and how long it has taken to get to this point. It’s a moment where the political glass ceiling can finally be shattered. An important aspect of the Bill is that it also applies to the state level. Women’s issues can’t be addressed if only 15% of state legislatures are women. The Bill will tackle that lack of representation head-on.
With the Bill’s temporal framework, it can be extended after 15 years. While it’s true that the implementation of this legislation will take time, it sets the stage for a future where women’s participation in Indian politics will be substantive and not as a token. There has been some criticism of the Bill, from the opposition, considering a demand for an internal quota for women of OBCs. However, this shouldn’t be used as a delay tactic. Local bodies show that having reservations for women leads to their increased participation.
This Bill also sends a message to the world that often lectures India on human rights. In several substantive areas, India is ahead of several countries. For example, India is the only major democracy with affirmative action for women in local bodies. The passage of the Bill will set an important and fairly loud precedent to have such an affirmative action policy on this scale.
COUNTERVIEW: Hold your horses
While the intent is noble, the devil’s in the details. The gender quota in the Bill is tied to the next census and delimitation. We still don’t have a timeframe for these two processes. That means the Bill won’t take effect for the 2024 elections and will likely only be implemented for the 2029 polls. Considering the sunset clause of 15 years, the Bill states it is to “expire 15 years from commencement”. What does commencement here mean? Does it refer to coming into force or taking effect?
The Bill seems to be a way for the BJP to claim the women’s vote for the 2024 elections. Why not have a straightforward Women’s Reservation Bill? It’s probably because the BJP/RSS base is averse to reservation. It would irritate the party cadre, male leaders and elected representatives. One of the components of the Bill is that reserved seats will be allotted by rotation after every delimitation. This could reduce an MP’s incentive to work for their constituencies since they could be ineligible for re-election from that constituency. A Ministry of Panchayati Raj study stated this rotation practice be discontinued at the panchayat level since 85% of women were first-timers, and only 15% could get re-elected.
One of the most glaring shortcomings of the Bill is its intersectionality problem. OBC representation in the Lok Sabha has declined since the BJP’s rise. The “quota within a quota” comes across as an afterthought with clear political motivations. Without any specific OBC reservations, the likelihood is that the women elected will most likely be from privileged backgrounds. Having predominantly upper-caste women from well-to-do backgrounds will only skew the existing unequal balance of power. Disregarding the struggle of OBC women shows the Bill isn’t as landmark as it’s set out to be.
- Women’s Representation in India’s Parliament: Measuring Progress, Analysing Obstacles – ORF
- 75 Years of Independence: Recording the political representation of women in India – Women for Politics
- All you want to know about Women’s Reservation Bill 2023 – BusinessLine
- Will reservation really help Indian women? – The Indian Express
- Interview: Political reservations for women are the best strategy for long-term change – Scroll
- Legislation Turns Into Campaign: Women’s Reservation Bill Or a Disappearing Act? – The Quint
- Opinion: Women’s Reservation Bill may open Pandora’s box – India Today
- Modi’s Women’s Reservation Bill has an OBC-sized oversight. Undermines inclusivity, fairness – The Print
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Women’s Reservation Bill does have a wide scope.
b) The Women’s Reservation Bill doesn’t have a wide scope.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
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🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Farm fires (Punjab) – As the harvest season for the early and shorter variety of Basmati rice, Pusa 1509, begins in Punjab, the state has recorded a significant decline in the number of field fires. From September 15 to September 21, only seven farm fires were reported, in contrast to 106 incidents during the same period last year. Six of these fires occurred in Amritsar and one in Hoshiarpur.
Why it matters: Despite these positive numbers, experts warn that the real challenge will arise next month during the main harvesting season for Paddy (non-basmati) varieties. The government has an action plan worth ₹350 crore in place to combat stubble-burning incidents this Kharif season.
Railway employees’ agitation (Madhya Pradesh) – Local railway employees in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, continued their serial hunger strike for the 35th day. Seven railway loco pilots and other department employees participated in the strike. The Running Headquarters Bachao Joint Struggle Committee claims that the Railway Board is being misled by senior officials. They argue that the transfer of loco pilots from Ujjain to Indore is not a regular promotion procedure but a scheme to end the Ujjain lobby.
Why it matters: The employees are demanding the cancellation of an order that abolished 125 loco pilot posts in Ujjain and created posts in Indore. The trade union leaders have warned of intensifying their protest if their demands are not met. The potential intensification of the protest could disrupt railway operations and services, affecting commuters and the general public.
Sports uplift in Naxal-hit district (Chhattisgarh) – Bijapur district, known for its insurgency and Naxal-related incidents, is witnessing a significant transformation in sports. Two teenagers from the district have represented India in softball tournaments in Japan and China. Rakesh Kadati and Renuka Tillam, the two international players, were recently felicitated by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel. Kadati, who lost his parents at a young age, was introduced to softball at a child home operated by the Tomorrow Foundation. Renuka Tellam, from the Awapalli area, has participated in eight national events and an international event in China.
Why it matters: The Bijapur Sports Academy, established in 2017, is fostering talent among the children of the Bastar region. The rise of sports talent from an insurgency-hit district like Bijapur is a testament to the resilience and potential of the youth in such areas.
Open schooling for dropouts (Andhra Pradesh) – P Arun Kumar, who dropped out of the formal education system in 2021 during his 11th class, was convinced by Principal Secretary, School Education, Praveen Prakash, to enrol in the 12th class through an open school. The owner of the furniture shop where Arun worked also pledged support for his education.
Why it matters: Praveen Prakash urged business owners and commercial establishments employing young individuals who haven’t completed Classes 10 or 12 to encourage them to join open schools and parallel vocational training at skill centres. The open school system offers education up to the pre-degree level through open and distance learning (ODL) mode for students unable to continue in the formal system.
Aid for the displaced (Mizoram) – The central government has decided to provide material support, including food and medicines, to people displaced by ethnic violence in Manipur. This decision was conveyed to the Mizoram home department by the Union home ministry. The aid is intended for those who have sought refuge in Mizoram due to the violence between the Meitei and Kuki communities in Manipur.
Why it matters: As of September 23, nearly 12,000 people have taken shelter in Mizoram. The state’s home commissioner, H Lalengmawia, mentioned that they have sent a proposal to the ministry detailing the requirements for a six-month supply of essentials.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
4 – India is ranked fourth in the number of startups with over $50 million funding in venture capital, per a report by Startup Genome.