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The Women Reservation Bill, 2008

The Women Reservation Bill, 2008
- Rochak Singla, Symbiosis Law School, Pune


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The Women reservation bill, 2008 was first introduced in the year 1996 in Lower House by the then Government led by Deve Gowda and later on in 2008 by the UPA Government, later referred to be the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008. The bill was passed in Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010, aims to reserve 33 per cent of the total seats in the Lok Sabha or the House of the People, as well as in-state legislative Assemblies, for women. It seeks to reserve one-third of the total seats for women of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, in Lok Sabha and State legislatures. However, reservations for women in Other Backward Classes (OBCs) has not been incorporated within the Bill, which could be said to be as a backdrop in it. Unfortunately, the bill despite having passed in Rajya Sabha with a thumping majority was rejected in the Lok Sabha, when tabled and thus was later dropped with the Congress-led UPA government losing power in the 2014 general elections.

The apprehension of women empowerment seems to have lost the strength it enjoyed during the freedom movement under Mahatma Gandhi when he organised more women than men during the freedom struggle. Women who were long considered to be the weaker sex in recent times have made far-reaching achievements in almost all fields of life. Despite having had a woman Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and President; the present scenario does not show any remarkable progress in the political and social empowerment of women.

The 17th Lok Sabha has 78 sitting women members out of 543 members constituting for only 14.36%. The bill is mandatorily required since the current government and their run schemes and policies have done very less to nurture an environment and system that stipulates and ensures a safe & healthy working towards increased female participation, without jeopardising their integrity in almost all the spheres of life. Despite, the Parliament of India has a Committee
for Empowerment of Women, the facts above stated remain. The said committee has restricted powers and limited command and does not go beyond suggesting minor improvements and changes to the existing welfare schemes and programmes. Thus, the crucial and necessitated change required in the functioning for betterment has been looked over again.

The Bill would ensure that specific issues, concerns, and modes of oppression felt by females are expressed out in the general public sphere from a position that is eminent and capable of bringing a change and where everyone is made aware, which otherwise receives very little or no attention at all. This lack of maturity and awareness mostly results due to two major reasons -one, that only a section of the privileged, upper-caste, urban educated women occupy the few spaces available for females, and two, within the existing framework of general reservations, that is the men within these socially deprived groups and communities can find and can grab more opportunities of education, employment and importance than the females.

The proposed Bill would question the policymakers about the intersectional oppression faced within the category of women. However, a lag point to be considered here is the exclusion of OBC women from the proposition. Domestic work, household chores and rearing children are still tasks primarily performed only by females and are considered their duty instead of being a shared responsibility between the family. The huge stigma associated with women who choose to work and even more for the ones who choose to join politics is that they are looked upon as women of questionable integrity and a special dose of blatant misogyny is reserved.

The Bill ensures greater representation of females in the political arena and such an arrangement has shown exorbitant outcomes of women participation in panchayats. It allows for improvement in the association of women in the Parliament where the atrocities and oppression faced primarily by women can be voiced and deliberated over from better improvements. This will ensure that legislations enacted are sensitive and appealing to the women requirements. Since it is an enactment that would be terminated in 15 years it would help inculcate a habit of mutually chosen equitable representation in the Parliament.

The major argument tabled against the bill is that it undermines the democratic principle of elections. It is argued by various philanthropist that it would propagate an unequal status for women since they cannot be perceived to be competing on merits. Further, it is considered that the attention may get diverted from larger electoral reforms needed like that of criminalisation policy and inner-party democracy. The Women’s Reservation Bill has been argued to be flawed and mis-aimed since it has been apprehended that the legislation comes along with the same deficiencies and drawbacks as that of any statute that renders quota for the unprivileged.

Those in opposing the bill are deliberating that its passage will severely cut short the possibilities and chances of other deprived sections of the populace from competing for seats and accomplishing their political agendas by the posts. But it ought to be remembered that primarily females have faced more oppression and confronted injustices than others since independence. In the modern era, there has been an upward jostle in the crime against females and incidences of rape and molestation of females. National bodies formed and working for the safety and empowerment of women’s rights are no longer able to do a good deal for those in need of help due to political glitches prevalent.

It can be evidently reiterated that there has been a drastic improvement in the recognition and importance of women empowerment warranted. Awareness is dawning that females are indeed becoming an indomitable political power, starting from grass root to the international platform. It would be significant to recollect the annotations of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in his book, “India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity”, “Women’s empowerment can
positively influence the lives not only of women themselves but also of men, and of course, those of children”.

Every nation has a despicable history of female oppression and discrimination in its history. Present may be kinder for women but history hasn’t bee. The position and status of the women of modern era has improved quite significantly, however, women atrocities and barbarism still prevail in the different parts of the country. The bill for reservation might not be required if there is a fundamental change in the belief of the society flourishing as a rule of law that equality prevails, with males and females on equal parameters. The oppressed gender need not require reservations for marking its presence in the society. Taking examples from all fields, females have shown that they are no less than males, when got opportunities. But, getting an equated opportunity is where the country has failed and stringent legislations must be enacted in order to gain respect and dignity which is covet.

We also need a fundamental change in our mindsets and outlook to the patriarchal society. We need a new social reform movement for equated representation, for gender equality and empowerment of our women - a movement that changes society\'s attitude towards women. Because in the words of Steve Maraboli, “The empowered woman is powerful beyond measure and beautiful beyond description”.

I’d like to conclude that if the privileged politicians and members are not ready to accept gracefully the just principle of requisite representation within their own parties, what moral right do they have to advocate reserving parliamentary constituencies for women.

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