Recently, more than 10 political parties participated in a protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi seeking early passage of the long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill.


History of political reservation for women

  • The issue of reservation for women in politics can be traced back to the Indian national movement.
  • In 1931, leaders Begum Shah Nawaz and Sarojini Naidu wrote, “To seek any form of preferential treatment would be to violate the integrity of the universal demand of Indian women for absolute equality of political status.” This was written in their letter to the British Prime Minister, on the status of women in the new Constitution by three women’s bodies.
  • The issue of women’s reservation came up in Constituent Assembly debates as well, but it was rejected as being unnecessary. It was assumed that a democracy would accord representation to all groups.
  • However, in the following decades, it became clear that this was not to be the case. As a consequence, women’s reservation became a recurrent theme in policy debates.


Reservation for women in local bodies

  • The National Perspective Plan for Women recommended in 1988 that reservation be provided to women right from the level of the panchayat to that of Parliament.
  • These recommendations paved the way for the historic enactment of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution which mandate all State governments to reserve –
      • One-third of the seats for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions and
      • One-third of the offices of the chairperson at all levels of the Panchayati Raj Institutions, and in urban local bodies.
      • Within these seats, one-third are reserved for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe women.
  • Many States such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Kerala have made legal provisions to ensure 50% reservation for women in local bodies.


What is the Women’s Reservation Bill?

  • The Women’s Reservation Bill proposes to reserve 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for women.
  • It was first introduced in the Lok Sabha as the 81st Amendment Bill in September 1996.
  • The Bill failed to get the approval of the House and lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
  • The Bill was reintroduced in 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003 and 200. However, the Bill failed to receive majority votes.


How many women are there in Indian Parliament?

  • Only about 14% of the members in Indian Parliament are women, the highest so far.
  • According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, India has a fewer percentage of women in the lower House than its neighbors such as Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — a dismal record.


Arguments in favour of the Bill

  • Proponents of the Bill argue that affirmative action is imperative to better the condition of women since political parties are inherently patriarchal.
  • Second, despite the hopes of the leaders of the national movement, women are still under-represented in the Parliament. Reservations, proponents believe, will ensure that women form a strong lobby in Parliament to fight for issues that are often ignored.
  • There is now evidence that women as panchayat leaders have —
    • Shattered social myths,
    • Been more accessible than men,
    • Controlled the stranglehold of liquor,
    • Invested substantially in public goods such as drinking water,
    • Helped other women express themselves better,
    • Reduced corruption,
    • Prioritised nutrition outcomes, and
    • Changed the development agenda at the grassroots level.


Arguments against the Bill

  • Opponents of reservation for women argue that the idea runs counter to the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution. They say that women will not be competing on merit if there is reservation, which could lower their status in society.
  • Second, women are unlike, say, a caste group, which means that they are not a homogenous community. Therefore, the same arguments made for caste-based reservation cannot be made for women.
  • Third, women’s interests cannot be isolated from other social, economic and political strata.
  • Fourth, some argue that reservation of seats in Parliament would restrict the choice of voters to women candidates. This has led to suggestions of alternate methods including reservation for women in political parties and dual member constituencies (where constituencies will have two MPs, one of them being a woman).
  • Fifth, as men hold primary power as well as key positions in politics, some have even argued that bringing women into politics could destroy the “ideal family”.


SourceThe Hindu


QUESTION – Should there be mandatory reservation of seats for women in Indian politics, and to what extent should it be implemented? Discuss.