“Kitne aadmi the?,” asks Gabbar menacingly.
“Sardar, do,” replies his sidekick.
“Aur tum, teen. Suar ke bachon! Fir bhi vapis aa gaye, khaali haath,” Gabbar roars.
The epic scene from ‘Sholay’ mimics the reality of the Women’s Reservation Bill.
It has been ten years since the Bill was drafted and yet, an overwhelmingly male parliament has failed to enact the legislation that aims to boost the number of women in the Lower House.
As a result, of the 543 MPs in the current Lok Sabha, only 62 are women.
But in this age of “feminazis” (eye-roll), how is it that a Bill that promises 33 percent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha – which was a major attraction in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto – has not seen the light of day?
Do We Need Reservation For Women?
Do we need more women in politics? The answer is obvious, unless you’re a total dolt, but here’s a more quantifiable argument for the doubters.
As per the Election Commission of India, 49 percent of the Indian electorate consists of women. Yet, only one in every ten parliamentarians is a woman. Additionally, representation of women has increased only marginally since Independence – from 4.4 percent in 1951 to 11 percent in 2014 – way below the global average of 23.4 percent. At this rate, it would take another 180 years to reach the desired gender balance.
According to an analysis of the last 15 Lok Sabha elections by Factly.in, not only have more women taken the political plunge than men, but the success rate of women has also been higher.
Between 1957 and 2015, the total number of women contestants has increased to 45,668. That is a whopping 15-fold increase in the number of women contesting. In the same period, the number of male contestants increased from 1474 to 7583, which is a five-fold increase.
What this indicates, according to the Factly report, is women’s growing appetite to enter the political fray and their willingness to be part of political decision-making.
Interestingly, these women candidates have consistently had a higher success rate than men.
Success rate is the number of winners against the total contestants in that category. Women have had a greater success rate than men in every single election. In some years, the difference has been quite stark. In 1971, the success rate for men was 18 percent, whereas it was 34 percent for women, which is twice that of men. For the current Lok Sabha, the success rate was 6.4 percent for men and 9.3 percent for women.Factly.in, Data Journalism and Public Information Portal
If one were to go by the available data, not only are more women willing to enter the political sphere, but they are far more likely to win elections than their male counterparts. This, however, does not reflect in the number of women in parliament or other political decision-making bodies, justifying the need for a Women’s Reservation Bill.
What Does the Bill Propose?
More commonly referred to as the Women’s Reservation Bill, the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill 2008 provides for –
1. Reservation of one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.
2. The allocation of these prescribed seats will be done by an authority prescribed by the parliament.
3. From within the seats reserved for women, one-third will be reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
4. Reserved seats will be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the Lok Sabha or the assemblies of the state/union territory.
5. This 33 percent reservation will cease to exist after fifteen years of the commencement of the law.
What Are the Arguments Against the Bill?
It would be easy to brush aside any argument against a Bill that promises reservation for women in politics as sexist. But that’s not to say the proposed legislation is without its flaws.
Empowering women is not the same thing as creating powerful women, writes Co-founder of The Takshashila Institution, Nitin Pai. If India’s biggest problem is its discriminatory attitude towards women, then reserving one-third of the seats in the national and state legislatures may not be the ultimate solution to changing people’s attitudes, he argues.
Worse, writes Nitin Pai, it (reservation) may convey an impression that the problem is being addressed while not amounting to much in reality.
1. Reserving a constituency for women would mean all the men in the constituency lose out on the opportunity to represent it. It would essentially amount to denying someone their democratic right on the basis of gender.
2. It would limit the choice of voters who would rather vote for a male candidate. It would disregard the choice of the voter.
3. Those against the Bill argue that in a representative democracy, where 131 of 543 Lok Sabha seats are already reserved for SC/ST candidates, an additional 33 percent reservation may not be a true reflection of the people’s wishes.
4. The rationale of the Women’s Reservation Bill does not address the root cause of why there are less women in parliament. A more effective way of promoting women’s participation in active politics could be making political parties nominate more women in their internal working committees and fielding more women candidates during elections. This bottom-up approach could also go a long way in removing entry barriers for women who have no political lineage or backing, but want to contribute to public life.
5. The proposed law states that the 33 percent reservation will cease to exist after 15 years of its commencement. But this sunset clause seems implausible, considering our past and present political attitudes – once a reservation has been imposed, no government, yet, has shown the gumption to reduce or remove it.
Who Is For and Against the Bill?
The Women’s Reservation Bill or the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill was introduced by the UPA government in 2008. It was passed by the Rajya Sabha; the Lok Sabha was yet to vote on it, but the Congress-led coalition lost the election in 2014.
At the time, regional parties like Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party had opposed the Bill, the Trinamool Congress had abstained and the Bahujan Samaj Party had walked out.
Ironically, all of them are currently allies of the Congress party. At the time, their objections ranged from being steeped in misogyny to total ignorance about the subject. It also included comments on “women with short hair”, “those who get whistled at” and “unattractive women from rural areas”. Go figure!
Or watch The Quint’s look back at the totally bizarre things that politicians have said about the Women’s Reservation Bill.
Although it has been promised by the BJP in its election manifesto, the Bill has not yet been resurrected. Recent rallies by the All India Mahila Congress brought the legislation back in focus. Ahead of the monsoon session that began on 18 July 2018, Congress President Rahul Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to “demonstrate his commitment to the cause of women” and ensure the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill.
In response, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote back to Rahul Gandhi, urging him and other opposition parties to come together on women’s reservation, Triple Talaq and Nikah Halala. The catch is that the Congress is opposed to the criminality clause in the Triple Talaq Bill as it provides for pecuniary penalties for up to three years for issuing Talaq-e-Biddat through spoken or electronic means, and makes it a “cognizable, non-bailable offence”.
The Congress believes this criminality clause will not be a deterrent and will instead put the woman’s source of livelihood – the husband – behind bars for a period of three years.
Incidentally, right after Rahul Gandhi wrote the letter to the PM, he announced the Congress’ Working Committee. The much-delayed and highly anticipated list has a total of 23 members, 18 permanent invitees and 10 special invitees. Of the 51 members, only seven are women.
Sonia Gandhi, Ambika Sonia and Kumari Selja are part of the main body of the committee. Sheila Dikshit, Rajni Patil and Asha Kumari are permanent invitees and Chief of the Mahila Congress, Sushmita Dev, has been named as a special invitee. In all, the Congress Working Committee has only 15 percent women in it.
Although it has not been listed yet, owing to the pressure mounted by the Opposition, the government could possibly take up the Women’s Reservation Bill in the monsoon session.