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Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Women’s Reservation Bill

The Women’s reservation bill calls for every party to reserve 30% of its seats for women. The idea of reservation of seats for women seems quite noble but also shows the lack of women representation in the parliament. The Bill certainly depicts a desperate attempt by the ruling party to increase women representation in the parliament. Looking at the reservation in a short term perspective brings out the practicality involved in the reservation. The male domination in our country has spread its wings into the parliament causing a deficit in female representation. Some MPs stress on the fact that parties have been negligent in choosing women to represent their party and feel more comfortable in having male representation. These reasons have made it difficult and in some cases quite impossible for women to enter the political field and represent a party in the parliament. The current scenario some may say demands the bill to be passed in order to allow women to have their say in the country’s decision making. The reservation would cause an instant influx of women in the parliament and would give a quick and permanent solution to the women representation issue.
The picture for the long term however doesn’t seem to be so rosy. The bill might give a quick solution but if it is the right way to go doesn’t seem to be quite certain. The idea of reservation straight away hints at India moving in the backward direction rather than advancing. The reservation would not empower women but would simply outcast them as a minority group in this country. In a way the reservation outlines the fact that women don’t enjoy equal rights yet. The reservation ensures that each party would allot 30% of its seats to a woman regardless of the fact that there may be a man who deserves it more. The fact of the matter here is that women will not contest for the seats of the party with men but only amongst themselves and only for that 30%. The fundamental right of equality on basis of sex is being defeated in this bill since men and women aren’t getting an equal opportunity to compete with each other. The bill might result in the best human being not being chosen for the job. There already exists reservations which were supposed to be abolished years back and these reservations have already shown how they don’t contribute to the advancement of the country in the long run. The women’s reservation bill in the same sense might not be the best way to deal with the current issue as it might lead to a bigger problem of equality in the future.
In my view the political parties have to take another look at the idea of the reservation bill and think of a better and more effective solution. A reservation is not the best way to go about dealing with such an issue. I am not being anti-women here all i am trying to say is that women should get more. More in the sense that they should have their right to contest for 100% of the seats and not just 30. Women should be allowed to contest with men for the same seats so that the party would have the best human being for the job rather than someone based on a reservation. The reason we don’t have the best politicians in our country is because there is so much restriction on entering the political field and we certainly don’t need another one. I understand that this situation seams quite ideal and the best human being might not be chosen on the basis of their sex, however this is exactly the problem with the reservation too. Hence the parties will have to come up with a solution that provides for equal rights of both sexes rather than a bias. If the bill is passed then there must be a cancelation period wherein few years down the line when there is adequate representation of women in the parliament the bill will be considered void and women and men will contest for the same seats. I am for women empowerment and i honestly believe that a reservation doesn’t empower them but merely outcasts them and in this case hinders the progress of the nation.

After fourteen years of women’s struggle, Rajya Sabha passed a women’s Reservation Bill last week with two-third majority for constitutional amendment. The OBC satraps did their best to forestall the Bill but did not succeed. Their argument that the bill will benefit only upper caste Hindu women at the cost of OBCs and minority women is only superficial and would hardly bears scrutiny. Truth is more complex and has to be examined with all its complexity.
In fact Dalits and OBCs have already been given reservation and that reservation is fully justified. But by giving them reservation within reservation can make them even more dependants on reservation. Also, when OBC men can fight elections and all of them are not highly educated, in fact many men are not literate beyond reading or writing their names why can’t women, even if not highly literate, can go to state assembly or parliament. And this is also not true that all OBC women are illiterate and all upper caste women are highly literate. Many upper caste women are also not highly literate.
Today female education is spreading fast and let alone OBC women even dalit women are also getting better educated than their mothers. Truth is much more complex. OBC men are not willing to allow their women folk to go to state assemblies or parliament. They do not want to part with their share of power. If women start representing in assemblies and parliament they will become dominant and assertive of their power. It hurts their male ego.
Also, if they are really concerned about their women getting reservation why can’t they give 33% reservation to their women in party nomination. Why do they want quota within quota? They want extra reservation so that they do not want to cut down their own representation in parliament or assembly. And again who can say that the benefit will not go only to creamy layer among OBC. So far all the benefits of reservation have gone to creamy layers among OBCs and dalits. There is no reason to believe that political reservation will benefit at all. The dalits and OBCs as a whole have remained extremely poor and illiterate.
But the OBC satraps due to their numbers in Parliament are able to dictate terms and especially for passing the Finance Bill and without their cooperation Finance Bill can be stalled. That is the Government changed its strategy and postponed presenting Women’s Reservation Bill in Lok Sabha until May so that it can seek cooperation of OBC satraps in passing the Finance Bill.
But even in May these OBC leaders in Lok Sabha can succeed in stalling the Women’s Reservation Bill and Mulayam Singh Yadav is talking of compromising by conceding twenty per cent seats for women in parliament and state assemblies. And government also may compromise to ensure smooth passage of Bill. This would certainly be at the cost of justice to women. But in politics of vote bank who cares for justice. And it seems Government may accept 20% reservation for women. The Bill could have been passed 14 years ago with these amendments. Why then Government waited for 14 long years if it had to accept such a compromise. I wish the government does not give in to such pressures. It will be gross injustice to cause of women. And that too those OBC leaders who are crying foul for non representation of OBC women did not hesitate to make their wives even chief minister of the state. Laloo Prasad’s wife Rabri Devi was made Chief Minister of Bihar who did not have any experience in politics, much less administering a huge state like Bihar. Similarly, BJP’s Uma Bharti, another OBC woman, Chief Minister of another big state like Madhya Pradesh. She too had hardly any experience except being mass agitator and a demagogue.
Reservation for Muslim Women
Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav also are saying, to strengthen their position that a sub-quota be given to Muslim women. This has no iota of sincerity. Had they been sincere, they would have given tickets to Muslim women of their respective parties either for parliamentary elections or to say the least, assembly elections. As far as we know, these leaders did not give tickets even to Muslim men, in proportion to their population, let alone to Muslim women. Now to demand sub-quota for Muslim women is nothing more than politicking for winning support of Muslims. It is nothing more than mere politicking. It is this kind of politicking which denies justice to minorities and others. And as pointed out above, this is not even doing justice to OBC but only to creamy layer.
Much greater irony is Muslim community does not speak in one voice even for its own benefit. While political minded Muslims are demanding sub-quota for Muslims the conservative Ulema are banning Muslim women from the arena of representational politics. Few years ago when women were given 33% and in some states even 50% representation in panchayats, zilla parishad and municipal elections, a Muslim woman from Deoband filed her nomination for Municipal board election. A fatwa was issued by muftis of Deoband that it is haram for Muslim women to fight elections and campaign among men. However, the Muslim woman showed determination and refused to withdraw her nomination. The muftis then relaxed and asked her to wear hijab for campaigning among men. The woman again refused to bow down to wishes of muftis and campaigned and even won the election. Now we have news from Nadwatul Ulema, Lucknow that women should sit at home and perform her domestic chores rather than enter into public arena.
Our Ulema from India do not even know that Pakistan, the so called Islamic State has already given 22% reservation to women in National Assembly. Either this news has not reached Indian Ulema or they consider reservation for women in Pakistan “un Islamic”. The Indian Ulema unfortunately are totally cut off from the modern world. They are still living the medieval Islam which they study in the books written by Islamic jurists and scholars of medieval era. It appears they consider medieval Islam as the only Islam they know. For them women have been created to serve their husbands and any other role for women as “un-Islamic”. They even refuse to take cognizance of what is going on in other Islamic countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Indonesia and Malaysia. In Saudi Arabia, which is considered strictest regime for women, King Abdullah has nominated a woman as a cabinet minister. In Iran women freely contest parliamentary elections and have become achievers in various fields of life. In Kuwait women fought their case up to Supreme Court to go to parliament without wearing hijab. In Malaysia, women have been appointed to naval ships and in Indonesia a Muslim woman Megawati Sukarnoputri became president of the country. And of course in Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was elected as Prime Minister. In Bangladesh power rotates between Khaleda Zia and Haseena Wajed.
In our opinion it is government’s duty to ensure justice to women of all castes and communities and to refuse to slash 33% quota under pressure and there should not be sub-quotas for castes and communities. The democratic ideal requires that justice be done to women as a whole and all women to whatever castes and communities they belong to should have fair representation without taking resort to quota and suppose quota is agreed to how long will it last? Will it not become a permanent feature of Indian politics? Justice requires that only creamy layers and close relatives of regional satraps like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav and other OBC leaders could not be the only beneficiaries of reservations.

Dr. Vishwanath Bite

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