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WHY WOMEN’S RESERVATION BILL IS NOT TENABLE

The Constitution of India provides for the Fundamental Right to Equality, without discrimination on the grounds of sex, caste, creed or religion. If 33% reservation for women is added to the existing 22.5 % for scheduled castes and tribes, more than 55 per cent of seats in Parliament and State legislatures would be reserved. This would not be fair to other sections of the population. It would dwarf the popularly elected political leadership. The bill would bring forth more relatives (wives and daughters) of current politicians into public space and hence further erode democracy.

The very concept of quota is morally wrong and stigmatizes those from the reserved category. Women in modern India do not need reservation. Reservation should be at the level of distributing tickets by the political parties. The reservation is a mockery of democracy as it deprives the electorate from the right to choose their representatives. And it also strips the fundamental right of contesting an election. Instead of outright reservation, political parties should be encouraged to nominate more female candidates. This will at least not destroy the country’s democratic makeup. We are all aware who calls the shots when we have ‘democratically elected’ women’s representatives.

The Women’s Reservation Bill in its current form is undemocratic and against the fundamental principle of free and fair elections. This bill attempts to deny over 110 million Indian men the right to contest elections. As the halls of the Parliament House currently echo with the words ‘Madam Speaker’, India reached a new threshold in writing its own history. Of course, we should be proud that Meira Kumar, daughter of former Deputy Prime Minister and Dalit icon Babu Jagjivan Ram, left her job as a diplomat 24 years ago to join politics. Today she stands tall as the first woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

We should be also proud because she was unanimously elected by the Lok Sabha as someone who would be respected and would live up to the standards set by Mr. Somnath Chatterjee (and maybe even surpass them). She devoted 24 precious years of her life working for India and the most backward people living in it. She was a well-deserving and well-qualified candidate for the prestigious post being five-time Member of Parliament, former career diplomat, former minister and someone with a sound legal training. She is a woman and we should be proud that she has the capability and stature to become an inspiration for many more across the nation. But we cannot be proud when this woman whom we look up to, talks about the Women’s Reservation Bill.

The Women’s Reservation Bill, which will reserve 33% seats for women in the Parliament and Legislative Assemblies, is being promoted by none other than our female political icons -Sonia Gandhi, Meira Kumar, Sushma Swaraj and the likes. They claim the bill will be a step towards women emancipation, wherein women will have the ‘opportunity’ to participate in politics and decision making in the country. Instead, it will take the country backwards.

However, our Constitution guarantees equal rights to both men and women to participate in the decision making of our country. The problem is not in creating a level playing field, but in the fact that majority in our country are not aware of this right and perhaps do not even wish to exercise it even if they know. It is appalling at how plagued we have become by a sheer sense of illogicality. Reservations have never served the purpose for which they were intended.

Women’s emancipation means that women are treated at par with the other gender, that of men. For a society which on one hand has been worshipping female goddesses for centuries and on the other hand inflicting evils upon women in the form of sati, dowry, rape and female infanticide, the task of women emancipation is not an easy one. At times, it seems that women themselves are confused. On one hand they want equality and on the other hand they want reservation, which by its very genesis is a favour. Equality doesn’t brook favours.

Some believe that once a woman comes into power, she will leave no stone unturned to empower other women. To this, let me quote what Delhi Chief  Minister Sheila Dixit had to say on the murder of journalist Soumya Vishwanathan – ‘one should not be adventurous’. Lack of safety for women, increased incidents of rape and other crimes in urban India are, in fact, other areas of concern for women empowerment. Of course, Sheila Dixit may have had her reasons for saying what she did, however, her statement represented a deeply etched belief that women are still not enjoying the same freedom as men.

When Vasundhara Raje was in power as Chief Minister in Rajasthan, the priorities of her government were clearly infrastructure, tourism and reservation for the Meena caste. Not to say that she didn’t do anything for the women in Rajasthan, but clearly enough, her priorities were different. But even some men in our political system aren’t so bad that they wouldn’t work for the cause of women. In fact, men at times feel more strongly for the cause than women themselves. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is an example at hand. He has done for the cause of women what Rabri Devi as Chief Minister failed to do.

The problems with the female sex in our country are abundant. In spite of the laws in place for dowry, female infanticide, child marriage and sati, these problems are rampant, especially in states like Rajasthan, Haryana, Orissa, West Bengal etc. Widows if allowed to live are suppressed and live a life worse than death. Worst of it all is that females are sold at a tender age just so that the families living in abject poverty can feed themselves. These are the problems relating to women empowerment. Can the Women’s reservation bill do anything to resolve these issues? Probably not.

The major problem with our political and social system today is a problem-solution mismatch, wherein even though policies target the correct area, the policy itself is flawed. The target i.e., Women emancipation is right, however, reservation is not the answer. What is required are basics of proper law and order along with implementation of laws so that the women feel secure. There is need of strong women empowerment campaigns so that women can be made aware about their rights and a change in their mindset. The aim will be achieved only when women feel proud of their existence and their life. Women need to be strengthened not by doling out any reservations or keeping niches for them, so that they could live separate from the masses, but to integrate with the populace.

Let us not make a mistake by reserving 33% seats for women in Parliament. Let all women come together and understand that this is not what they truly want. Let Sonia Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Sheila Dixit, Meira Kumar, Mayawati, and others show the women of our country the light to rise from slumber just like they have. Let the women be inspired to want to be treated at par with men. In fact, eventually women should feel proud that they fought for their rights and are what they are because of their own efforts.

The Women’s reservation bill takes away the democratic right of the electorate to elect their representatives. The state has no right to limit the pool of representatives available to the public to choose from. This is against all democratic principles of free choice. This takes away the democratic right of men to contest in elections, thus imparting a severe blow to the health of democracy in India. This is against the fundamental rights of men. It violates the right to equality guaranteed in the constitution. It will lead to significant upheavals and instability in Indian polity.

The Women’s reservation bill provisions are no measures to make sure that the benefits are received by the socially backward and underprivileged women, who really need them. There are no objective criteria to prevent the elite class or “creamy layer” of women from taking undue and unfair advantage of this legislation. This Bill sacrifices merit and experience of seasoned law makers and will further divide the country on gender lines. This bill suggests a rotation system which would be determined by draw of lots, in such a manner that a seat would be reserved only once in a block of three general elections. This is a serious flaw, in so far as it mechanically provides for entry of women members to fill one-third of vacancies in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies. This subverts the democratic process which is all about free choice. 

India is a vast country and is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and with several groups, castes, sub-castes etc. The Women’ s reservation bill would lead to more demands from various groups and sections of society for similar representation and it would be an open invitation for politicization of the representative form of Indian democracy. It will be a death blow to representation through constituencies.

The concept of reservation is an insult to women and their capability. This law perpetuates gender discrimination. Rather than taking a judicious and considered approach towards the issue, which is normally expected during the legislative process, the current Bill builds on gender stereotypes and makes several deeply flawed assumptions. Forcing more women in the parliament and legislative assemblies through undemocratic means will only serve to undermine the legitimacy and efficacy of the elected women representatives.

A misconceived gross generalization is made that all women are under-privileged, deprived and discriminated. A gross generalization is also made that men are all privileged and have a natural advantage over women. Assumption is made that women have no natural advantages over men. That society discriminates only women and not men. It does not recognize the natural and societal advantages that women have got in terms of moral superiority, greater faith and sympathy.

The bill does not recognize the fact that there have been many women who made it to high public offices and that there have been many women Chief Ministers and a Prime Minister. India also had a woman President and the Lok Sabha has currently a lady Speaker. They all assumed office through their own efforts and without any reservation. The bill is based on the false assumption that women need reservation to enter high public offices.

On 15th August it will be 67 years that India got its freedom from the British Dominance. Have we become truly independent? Is there reason to celebrate? There is much to ponder about as we continue the struggle to be really free. The golden rule is to aim to get the best person for every job – irrespective of sex, caste, creed or religion.

I would conclude with those great  words of Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

-By Aires Rodrigues

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