Thursday, March 24, 2011

Saluting Women Reservation Bill- A Step towards Women Empowerment


 "O Lord Why have you not given woman the right to conquer her destiny?
Why does she have to wait head bowed,
By the roadside, Waiting with tired patience,
Hoping for a miracle in the morrow?"[1]
                                                                     ---------        Rabindranath Tagore

All the way through history women have been placed in an inferior status than men in various societies throughout the world. Even though there are differences of opinion regarding the status of women in ancient India, many scholars believed that women used to enjoy equal status with men in all fields of life in those days. It is to be inferred from ancient Indian literary works that suggests that women were educated in early vedic period. Approximately about 500 BC, with the coming of Dharmasathra tradition of Hinduism and the incursion of Babur and the mughal dynasty and later on Christianity had paved way for the decline of woman’s status in India.

Status of women in India was further deteriorated during the medieval period evidenced by sathi, child marriages and forbiddance of widow remarriages within the society. This period is considered to be the “dark age” for women in India. One of the major reasons for such deterioration was foreign invasion. These invasions brought with them their culture which is still reflected in our society. The Muslim evasion in India had brought the purdah system among women in the country.

Although these conditions prevailed in those periods there still existed some women who excelled in their fields of politics, education, religion etc. In spite of the fact that modern era prohibits traditions like sathi, jauhar[2], child marriages etc., in some parts of remote India these practices are still in existence. Pardah has become even more prevalent in recent period. Issues related to women’s identity and status has become much more complex due to civilization and today’s modern technology.

Some of the major issues faced by Indian women in today include Malnutrition, poor health, maternal mortality, lack of education, mistreatment, overwork, lack of power, marriage, dowry, female infanticide and divorce. Considering these aspects the issue of identity and status to women in India has to be considered in a broad spectrum.    

In India during the period of British rule, women were enfranchised on the same terms as men under the Government of India Act of 1935; following independence, the Indian Constitution, adopted in 1949 and inaugurated in 1950, established adult suffrage.[3] Sarojini Naidu headed a deputation of the Women's India Association, which met with the British viceroy to demand the vote in 1919. The Indian National Congress supported woman suffrage. In 1950, soon after Indian independence, women were granted the vote.[4]

Today Indian women are struggling their way to find a space in all fields of the society along with men. Women politicians were rarely seen in the past as compared to women in today’s legislative processes. As the parliamentary method of legislation is the basis of democracy in India, the parliament has to be legitimate machinery that helps to enhance the country’s progress. Therefore, the citizens of the country shall not be divided on the basis of gender.

As a realization to the above thought the draft proposal for 33.3 % of women’s reservation in parliament and state legislatures was first put forth by the United Front Government under the leadership of H. D. Deve Gowda. The bill was first introduced in Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996.[5] From then onwards the bill has been introduced several times in parliament but was not able to pass due to lack of political support and the male chauvinistic attitude of the existing members.

Each individual is distinct in his/her own way regardless of the gender. Some people may be more efficient than the other due to different factors surrounding their upbringing. But some may argue about the need for women’s reservation as this alone cannot bring a change in society’s attitude towards women. Even though reservation or division of power between men and women is not a sole tool for changing women’s status in India, this can certainly be considered as a stepping stone towards women’s empowerment.

One aspect is certainly worth appreciable as this women’s reservation bill was passed with a striking majority. The Bill’s rotational method of reservation will make two-thirds of parliament, about 360 members, one-term MPs. 181 women’s seats will get reserved in a general election, and 181 other general seats will be reserved for women in the following election.[6]

Granting space in the legislative process may not be sufficient to change the status of women in the country. Today hundreds of women in India are still left to face the atrocities of the society. Women may be in a better position to understand her problems in relation with the existing social and political environment prevalent in the county. There are sufficient women in the country who are capable of running the legislative process and they shall be given an opportunity to exercise their rights. It is now evident that for the social and economic development of the country participation of people beyond any gender barrier is highly essential. Even though the percentage of women in our parliament shall not be a deciding factor in changing present attitude of the society towards women, it surely can bring up a positive change in the mind of people.

India has the history of great women leaders who proved to be capable of distinct administrative capacity. In the year 1966 India Gandhi caught the news headlines by becoming the female head of the State. In the recent years there has been an increase in the rate of women leaders in India and around the world.  Many political parties like NCP had favoured passage of the women's reservation bill by the Lok Sabha in order to provide political empowerment to the fair gender. India has passed laws that make it mandatory for local governments to include women. [These laws do not apply to state and national level legislatures.] One third of the seats in local bodies—gram or village panchayats, municipalities, city corporations and district bodies—are "reserved" for women.[7]

Elections to zilla and taluk panchayats will see 50% reservation for women.
Governor H R Bhardwaj has approved the Panchayat Raj Act (Amendment) Bill, 2010, paving the way for enhancing women's reservation from the existing 33% to 50%, and use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in elections to panchayat raj institutions.[8] The Panchayat is a system of village-level (Gram Panchayat), block-level (Panchayat Samiti), and district-level (Zilla Parishad) councils, members of which are elected by the people, and are responsible for the administration of local public goods. Each Gram Panchayat (GP) encompasses 10,000 people in several villages (between 5 and 15).[9]

The Left Front government in Tripura has decided to enforce 50 per cent reservation for women in the elections to the Agartala Municipal Council and the 15 nagar panchayats.[10] The amendment bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha of Jharkhand and in the Jharkhand Panchayat Election 2010 there will be a reservation of 50% for the women. Bihar, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have already implemented the policy of providing 50% reservation for women at the local level. Enhanced reservation will be applicable to the total number of seats to be filled by direct elections, offices of chairpersons, and seats and offices of chairpersons reserved for scheduled castes and tribes. At the national level, of the total elected representatives of panchayats (28.1 lakh approx), 36.87% are women. With the proposed constitutional amendment, the number of elected women representatives is expected to touch more than 14 lakh.[11]

Even though women will be faced with substantial difficulties in politics considering her other responsibilities than men, the participation of efficient women with great developmental plans is what our country need today.

 Submitted by Vinitha Prasannan

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[1] Words of Rabindranath Tagore quote from http://www.mapsofindia.com/culture/indian-women.html
[2] Jauhar and Saka refer to the honorary self killings of men and women of the Rajput clan in order to avoid capture and dishonour at the hands of their enemies
[3] http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/suffrage/history.htm
[4]  Women's suffrage in Asia
[5] http://news.rediff.com/special/2010/mar/08/whats-the-womens-reservation-bill-all-about.htm
[6] India’s Women’s Reservation Bill - Rakesh Mani
[7] Women in Panchayati Raj: Grassroots Democracy in India Experience from Malgudi by Poornima and Vinod Vyasulu¨
[8] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bangalore/Woman-power-in-panchayat-elections/articleshow/6423954.cms
[9] The Impact of Reservation in the Panchayati Raj: Evidence from a Nationwide Randomized Experiment
by Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo
[10] http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100828/jsp/northeast/story_12856931.jsp
[11] Ibid

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