A Plea for Justice – Women Reservation in Parliament and State Legislatures

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Friday 29 September, 2017

By Rajindar Sachar

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A Plea for Justice – Women Reservation in Parliament and State Legislatures

Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has written to Prime Minister Modi to get the women Reservation Bill passed in the parliament and is reported to have promised full support. This has led to war of words between Congress and BJP as to whose fault is it that this Bill has not been passed inspite of both parties professing their support for it. One is reminded of a picture in newspaper in March 2010 flashed in all newspapers where, one saw fiercest political opponents Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mrs. Sushma Swaraj in a happy embrace in the precincts of the Parliament. What was the occasion for this un-precedent spectacle and close bonhomie.

Though introduced by former Prime Minister Mr. Deve Gowda for the first time on 12 September 1996 in the Lok Sabha, no concrete action was taken by various governments to effectuate the legislation on Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament and the state legislatures. Everyone expected the legislation to be passed immediately. In fact, Prime Minister I.K. Gujral promised his earliest priority in passing this Bill but nothing concrete happened.

When the UPA government came to power in 2004, it announced that the Act would be its first priority. But instead one had total silence on the Bill in the President’s speech on the opening day of the Parliamentary session. This was an open and clear notice to the women activists that the Bill, which had been so proudly projected as a commitment to gender equality, has been quietly buried, and is not likely to be revived in conceivable future.

Thereafter the Women Reservation Bill was referred to Parliamentary Standing Committee but nothing happened till 2010, when women reservation bill or the constitution (108 th Amendment Bill 2008) which was proposed to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lower House of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all State Legislative Assemblies for women.

The Rajya Sabha passed the Bill on 9 March 2010. It was this event that made Sushma Swaraj and Sonia Gandhi embrace each other so emotionally. However, the Lok Sabha never voted on the Bill. The Bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.

Every time from 1998 to 2014, whenever Parliament met, women representatives were assured in all solemnity by each major political party that it hoped to pass the Bill in that very session. In reality, this was a tongue-in- cheek operation, because no further progress was made in the matter of women reservation.

The reality is that male chauvinism will never reserve seats for women because it will take away 1/3 of the present strength of parliament for women. I therefore feel that way out can only be by increasing the strength of Lok Sabha to 750 and making 1/3 of seats to double member constituencies with one seat therein to be reserved for women. Of course the women will be eligible to contest from other than reserved seats and may therefore increase their number beyond 1/3 of the total parliament seats.

Thus, Lok Sabha membership can be easily increased to 750, with a provision that one woman candidate will mandatorily be elected from those double-member constituencies, and, depending upon the votes received, it may be that even both elected candidate could be women. This law was laid down by the Supreme Court decades ago in former President V.V. Giri’s case. The same principle will apply in the case of elections to the state legislatures.

Space in Parliament is not a problem. Shivraj Patil, once Union Home Minister, is on record in admitting that space is not a problem if Parliament decides to increase the number of seats.

The alternative of double member constituencies can be done by amending Article 81(2) of the Constitution by increasing the present strength, which can be easily done if political parties are genuine in their commitment to the Bill.

I know the Delimitation Commission has already marked the constituencies on the basis of single member seats. But I do not think it is necessary to redraw the constituencies to make it double.

By a rule of thumb the top one third of the constituencies having the maximum voters in each state could be declared double-member. If the legislators are sincerely genuine they could even submit an agreed list.
At present, of course, a fresh process has again to be initiated in Parliament, because the previous Reservation Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the previous Lok Sabha in 2014.

In the just finished election propaganda in Uttar Pradesh, not one party, including the so-called seculars, with the exception of the Socialist Party (India), included the item of reservation for women in their election manifestoes. Can such male chauvinism be allowed to exist in our country?

With the 2019 Parliamentary elections coming, is it not time for the women leadership in both the Congress and BJP, through Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj to jointly clench their fists and warn all the parties that they will no longer tolerate this injustice and neglect to continue? They may legitimately continue their differences on other subjects in the light of their own respective programmes.

Now that Sonia Gandhi has promised full support to the Bill, Modi who claims to stand for Swatch Bharat (which is a programme to enhance the dignity of the women in the country) cannot have any objection. His request to Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati should invoke immediate positive response from those leaders.

Any suggestion by opponents of the bill by creating hurdle by suggesting that women quota be further sub divided by reserving proportionate number of seats for OBC and SC women. Dalits separately is cheap trick to deny women a real share in power.

Let me point out that biggest supporter of Dalits and backward castes Dr. Lohia had opined that reservation for women was an instrument of social engineering – he could never have suggested splitting the strength of women’s quota by further splitting them in sub quotas.

At present there are only 61 Women Members in Lok Sabha. The shame of discrimination against women and the masochist attitude of men can only be corrected by providing reservation for women’s share in the legislatures – both in Parliament and State Assemblies.

Rajindar Sachar

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