The Voice of Our Women : My Take on Women’s Reservation in Parliament
Reservation for women in India’s legislative bodies is, by no means, a new idea. The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 — the brainchild of the Rajiv Gandhi administration — stipulated that one third of all seats in panchayats across India would be reserved for women, and a further one-third of SC/ST seats be reserved for SC/ST women. A move that heralded a revolution from the ‘bottom-up’, as opposed to the ‘top-down’, the Act increased representation of women in village areas dramatically, leading to the adoption of more inclusive policies at the ‘grassroot’ level of government. Yet, such a practice remains elusive in the corridors of power on Sansad Marg.
The Women’s Reservation Bill, which sought to correct this mismatch, was proposed by the UPA government in 2008, but lapsed due to a lack of support from some of INC’s allies as well as the Opposition. It is truly shameful that the current government, which enjoys a full majority in both Houses, has not made a single effort to pass this Bill, despite repeated reminders and assurances of unconditional support from Smt. Sonia Gandhi and Sh. Rahul Gandhi.
The sitting Lok Sabha has only 66 women members out of a total of 543, which is only 12.15%; a figure that falls to a measly 11.48% for the Rajya Sabha. This is in almost embarrassing in contrast to other developing countries, like Rwanda and Bolivia, which lead the world in the representation of women in Legislatures with 64% and 53%, respectively.
To understand the crucial contribution of women to the nation-building process, we need only turn to our history. The Indian Independence movement is as unique as it is significant in the history of democratic uprisings, owing primarily to the pivotal role played by women at all levels. The roles played by freedom fighters like Sarojini Naidu and Sucheta Kripalani at the helm of our revolutions (before taking up their roles as Governor of United Provinces and CM of Uttar Pradesh, respectively), and of unsung women heroes who rallied rural populations into protest in large numbers, can and must never be forgotten by India’s political consciousness. This essential role continues into modern India as well: Smt. Indira Gandhi, a dynamic, and hitherto, the only lady Prime Minister, led sweeping reforms; while Smt. Pratibha Patil, the first woman President, went above and beyond her largely ceremonial role on many occasions. They serve as but two examples of the feats that our women achieve.
Today, as crimes against women rise across the nation, our Parliament is in dire need of strong women’s voices. It is high time that the Women’s Reservation Bill made its way through both Houses of Parliament, and into India’s political consciousness.