Women’s reservation Bill – finally, a House of equality

Last year, during one of my field trips to Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh to identify the role of self-help groups in empowering women in rural and semi-urban settings, I had the opportunity to meet women leaders and politicians.

Among them were sarpanches, block pramukhs, and zila parishad members. Along with them, naturally, I also met several pradhan patis, parishad patis, et al. The first question that came to my mind was: How had reservation for women at the level of the panchayat, block and zila parishad elevated the discourse on women’s rights? How had it helped further women’s representation at the first level of democracy?

The answer I was looking for came not from one, but several such women leaders, and it was unequivocal. Of course, our husbands/ fathers/ brothers attend the meetings, as proxies for us when we hold office. Of course, we would not have had the chance to hold these positions had the seats not been reserved for women. But, they went on to add, holding these positions has ensured that we are now treated with respect in our households and neighbourhoods. Our husbands have stopped beating us, and when one woman holds such a position, others in the household and community are listened to more, and their grievances are met with consideration, not contempt.

These women’s definitions of empowerment might differ from ours. Some of us may view women’s empowerment from an urban-centric lens. However, the lived experiences of these women can go beyond our understanding of empowerment. Being elected to the panchayat, signing formal documents, standing at and speaking through a microphone, taking decisions regarding their daughters’ education and, most importantly, being able to command “izzat” (respect) in their families and from their in-laws are the fruits that the women’s rights movement has borne.

Representation is a complex issue. Much like education, its effects play out over the long term. The Women’s Reservation Bill that has been tabled in Parliament is part of a process of opening up spaces and representation for women. This has a resonance for me. I come from a Dalit family. My forefathers were village guards. Today, education has enabled me to write in a national daily like The Indian Express which is read across the country and world. Women’s representation, too, will open similar opportunities.

As a Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) executive candidate, I have been campaigning for the past month. When I talk to female colleagues, there is a sense of elation and pride in seeing a woman candidate. Many come forward to discuss how better representation will create an ecosystem for women to survive and thrive. As more women occupy space in the public sphere, it will generate greater confidence that they will be heard. It will create an ecosystem for women, who feel assured that they have representatives who will support, hear and protect them and stand for their rights.

The Women’s Reservation Bill, if adopted, will increase the current number of women MPs from 82 to 181. The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam Bill introduced today, which has been supported across party lines, seeks sub-reservation for the SCs, STs and Anglo Indians. The Bill asks for the insertion of a clause in Article 330 A that one-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs in the Lok Sabha be reserved for women within these categories. Another clause asks for one-third of the total seats to be filled by direct election to the Lok Sabha for women.

The Bill seeks the insertion in Clause 2 of Article 239 AA, a subsection which asks for reservation for women in the legislative assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Subsection (bb) further asks that one-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs in the Delhi Assembly be reserved for women. This Bill will stand as one of the most progressive steps by the current government. Representation of women at policy-making levels has been long overdue.

The essence of participatory democracy is inclusion, not exclusion. The aspirations of each and every Indian deserve to be realised. However, despite the best efforts of our parliamentary democracy to provide equal opportunity of representation at all levels of its institutions, several obstacles and exclusionary practices remain. At a deeper level, this is because politics and society are intertwined, and the shortcomings of the latter mar the former.

Most Read

As Indo-Canadian relations sour, anxiety grips Indian students, residents who wish to settle in Canada
Farida Jalal recalls the time when Amitabh Bachchan-Jaya Bachchan were dating: ‘They would pick me up at night, we would go for long drives’

This is particularly so in the case of political parties which, barring a few, are driven by personal ambitions rather than ideological interests. Such parties have neither the requisite inclination nor the will to implement any change in politics, let alone society. With this Bill, women will be guaranteed representation in society, changing the political paradigm and addressing the extant social anomalies. This Bill is not a Bill of reservation but of rightful representation that has been hitherto denied. We have participatory democracy with representation from different castes. With women’s reservation, we will have a democracy that is enlightened.

The mere candidacy of women will ensure that they step out of their households and break through the barriers of entry into politics. This Bill will not only alter the semantics of parliamentary democracy, but its very contours. As the mother of democracy, India will finally pay respect to and give the rightful place to her daughters in the hallowed halls of the new Parliament.

The writer is assistant professor, Department of Sociology, Lakshmibai College, University of Delhi

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *