Women's Reservation Bill - Not yet a dead letter "again"

Saturday, March 7, 2009

There is a significant section of citizen and lawmakers having "mental reservations against reservation of seats for women in the Parliament and state Assemblies." Some are of the opinion that, "Women's reservation bill itself is a bias towards women" and they would be happier "if women could stand up for their rights on the basis of merit, and not on the basis of reservations." There are others who see this bill as a history in making. If the bill is passed, it would complete the "U turn" (of women's status) beginning with equal status in the ancient times to the oppressed state of women in medieval India and finally marching towards equality of woman in the modern democracy. And there are some political opportunists who demand for "quota with the quota".

Those who oppose the bill must understand that the equality of opportunity must be seen in historical and constitutional context. There was a time when women expected nothing but oppression and discrimination in the society. Today, there is a need for "positive discrimination" for attaining gender equality. On the other hand, those who demand for urgent passage of the bill must understand the constitutional context of the bill. The proposed women's reservation bill requires a constitutional amendment and it must be ratified by 50% of state legislatures. More over, 14th Lok Sabha's parliamentary sessions are already over. This does not mean that, the proposed reservation bill has reached the dead end. There is still some hope and this is a good omen.

Earlier, 3 unsuccessful attempts were made by introducing women's Reservation Bill "in Lok Sabha".
  1. Women's Reservation Bill [Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, 1996] was first introduced in the parliament on 12th September, 1996 by H.D. Deve Gowda's government. The bill did not get pass the hurdles of parliament. Mr. Gowda's government reduced to minority and subsequently 11th lok sabha was dissolved and hence the bill lapsed.
  2. In 1998, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government made another attempt by introducing the Women's Bill [Constitution (84th Amendment) Bill, 1998]. Ironically, this time too, the bill was lapsed because 12th loka sabha had to be dissolved prematurely; Vajpayee's government reduced to minority!
  3. Yet another attempt was made on December 23, 1999 with the introduction of the Bill in the Lower House. But this bill also could not be pursued due to lack of political consensus[source].
4th attempt, a tactical move
Again, on May 6th, 2008, UPA government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh introduced the fresh bill "in Rajaya Sabha". This was the tactical move by UPA, that even if 14the Lok Sabha is dissolved before the passage of bill, it will not be a dead letter. Because, according to Article 107(4) of the constitution, the bill pending in Council of States (i.e. Rajya Sabha) which has not been passed by the House of the People (i.e. Lok Sabha) shall not lapse on a dissolution of the House of the People. Thus, Women's Reservation bill pending in Rajya Sabha will not lapse even if UPA government's term end after the general elections. The new Lok Sabha constituted after elections can still pass the same bill if it is passed by Rajya Sabha.

More over, the Parliamentary conventions in India demand that, the constitutional amendment bill must be thouroughly scrutinized by Parliamentary Standing Committees, so that, any discrepancies in the bill can be resolved and cooperation of the state legislatures can be sought. Thus the committe headed by MP Shri E M Sudarshana Natchiappan was constituted to study the proposed bill and make recommendations. The committe got three extensions to submit it's reports, the latest one was granted on March 5th, 2009.  It has to report before the constitution of the 15th Lok Sabha after the general elections. Once the report is out, the new government can take a decision on the bill and it will have 5 years to pass the bill. 

Clear possibilities
Whoever come to power after general elections, I think, there won't be any significant hurdles to the passage of the bill. Three cases possible.
  1. If UPA come to power again: UPA would be happy to resolve the conflicts/concerns regarding bill and it would make all the efforts to see that bill is passed, after all it was introduced by UPA government.
  2. If NDA come to power: BJP is alread raising the voice to support 33% reservation for women, in fact BJP were the first to demand reservation for women at Baroda convention in the late 1980s. More over it's allies (not all though) are also speaking for the reservation. The opposition then, the Congress led UPA, would not oppose the bill too. 
  3. If the Third Front come to power: The architect of the proposed third front, Mannina Maga (Son of the soil), Mr. HD Deve Gowda would be happy to facilitate the passage of bill, after all it was he who floated the idea of women reservation bill in parliament way back in 1996. Good news is that most of the third front allies are inclined towards the bill.
So, no matter who rules the country after general election, the women reservation bill will not become a dead letter unless there is widespread political and public apathy. That won't happen because political parties will make this an election issue and citizen/pro-women activists will be more than active to keep the discussion alive.

Quota within quota issue & the solution
Despite such positive hopes, there is one road block to the bill, "Quota within quota" issue i.e. reservation within reservation for Dalit women. Few parties want quota within the quota for Dalit women proportionate to their population. BJP is of the view that, "asking for quotas within quotas, as some are doing, will kill the bill since it may amount to rewriting the Constitution." It is most likely that, the issue can be solved under the light of Article 243-D(3) added by 73rd constitutional amendment. It states that, "Not less than one-third (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes) of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Panchayat shall be reserved for women and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a Panchayat." Thus, solution to this problem (quota within quota) is already there in the constitution itself. It is just a matter of when Article 243-D(3) draws the attention of those who are demanding quota within quota!

Thus, it is too ealry to think that Women's reservation bill is a dead letter due to the dissolution of 14th Lok Sabha in the near future. If the next government takes interest in ensuring the safe passage of the bill, it will be one of most remarkable milestone in the history of democracy. After all, "The real test of democracy is the creation of equality of opportunity for the hitherto deprived sections of society .... Democracy in kitchen and bedroom goes hand in hand with democracy in Parliament and Panchayat. It has to become a way of life; it has to be adopted in literary vocabulary and in political discourse alike [Aysha Sumbul]." 

Wishing you all a wonderful Women's Day! 

Read More:
  1. Women's Reservation Bill - The end of U turn? - Posted on 6th May, 2008.
  2. Gender-less democracies - The Hindu, 07th March 2009.
  3. Women’s Reservation Bill - A critique by Aysha Sumbul.
  4. BJP's views on Women Reservation Bill.
  5. Women in India on wikipedia.
  6. Echoes Of Women’s Reservation Bill Outside Parliament.
  7. Creamy Layer issue on wikipedia.


Abhishek said...

sir, i graduated from IIT delhi and i am preparing for IAS. I follow your blog often (i have a time crunch & i lack net access).
I want to become like you in the general awareness. Could you please give me some detailed suggestions - which newspaper, magazine to be as updated as you.

PS- I dont have internet, and my optional is Physics so you can guess I dont have a very good english.

please suggest what is easy language(sadly, i dont understand much in The Hindu).

please help me, i'll be waiting your response//

thanks :)
--abhishek singh

Manjunath Singe said...

Hey, unfortunately there is no shortcut. But, it's not difficult to keep yourself updated with current events. Just keep reading news papers like Hindu, TOI, subscribe to Frontline, Yojana, Kurukshetra, Keep writing on your blog. It's just a matter of time, you might just write better articles that me. :) Your preparation for civil services will teach you all, don't worry, and "Yes you can!"
All the very best.

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