By Avdhash Kaushal
Clearly, even after 72 years of independence, India has been unable to achieve equal gender representation in politics. In the South Asian region, India ranks fifth, in women’s representation in Parliament, out of the eight countries. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal have more women representation than India in the Parliament. Countries with better women’s representation have ensured to create constitutionally mandated quotas or reservation for women. Most of the top 20 countries with high female representation in Parliament have around 30 per cent reservation for women. Among the BRICS nations, India ranks fourth out of the five countries. Globally, too, India is far behind with a ranking of 103 out of 190 countries in women’s representation in the lower house of the Parliament.
Women’s Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, is a pending bill in the Parliament of India which propose 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 in accordance with the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments which reserved the same percentage of seats for women in rural and urban local bodies respectively.
It is one of the longest pending Bills in the Indian Parliament. The Bill has been introduced in the Indian Parliament several times since its initial launch in 1996, but however the status of the bill remains undecided primarily due to lack of political consensus.
After a long battle, the Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Indian Parliament) on 9th March 2010 amidst stiff resistance from some political parties. It is yet to be tabled in the Lok Sabha or the House of the People.
A similar Bill was introduced in 1996, 1998 and 1999 – all of which lapsed after the dissolution of the respective Lok Sabhas.
The reason why the Modi Government’s intention is suspected is because granting 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliament and state assemblies was promised in the BJP’s manifesto for 2014 Lok Sabha election. Secondly, the BJP-led NDA has a brute majority in the Lok Sabha. Besides the NDA, several opposition parties, such as, the Left, NCP, AIADMK and DMK also back it and have already pledged support to the bill.
Moreover, the government introduced the triple talaq bill, officially known as the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, on December 27 and got it passed.
And, finally, it is one of the easiest tasks for the Modi government to see the easy passage of the women’s reservation bill as the Rajya Sabha had approved it on March 9, 2010.
The possible reason for not passing the bill could be that in India’s current political scenario the reservation of 33 percent of seats in governance bodies for women would result in almost 33 percent of male leaders losing their seats, their jobs and their influence in destiny making. As such, for male leaders, the promotion of women’s political empowerment is often directly counter to their personal and professional interests, which can go a long way in accounting for the lack of political will for addressing women’s political marginalisation.
Nothing happens by celebrating women’s day until they are given their rights. It’s high time now that the government has been testing the patience of the women of our country. The government must pass the bill as soon as possible before it gets too late.
(The author is Chairperson Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra