'Quota Within Quota': Understanding Caste Dynamics of Women's Reservation Bill

The Women's Reservation Bill is being criticised for excluding OBC women and diluting SC/ST quota.

3 min read

Camera: Ribhu Chatterjee

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma

The Narendra Modi government on Tuesday, 19 September tabled the 128th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2023, to bring in 33 percent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and all state Legislative Assemblies.

The Bill seeks to reserve "one-third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) for women belonging to the SC and ST categories" and "one-third (including number of seats reserved for women belonging to SC and ST categories) of the total number of seats for women."

Introducing the Bill in the Lok Sabha, Union Minister of Law and Justice Arjun Ram Meghwal said that once passed, it will take the number of women MPs in the House, as per its present strength of 543, to 181.

At present there are 82 women MPs in the Lok Sabha.

The Women's Reservation Bill is being criticised for excluding OBC women and diluting SC/ST quota.

Who Gets How Much? The Caste Arithmetic 

The Lower House of the Indian Parliament has 545 seats of which elections are held on 543 seats whereas two are reserved for Anglo-Indians.

At present 84 of these 543 seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes, 47 seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes, and 412 seats are unreserved.

If the Women's Reservation Bill is passed, one-third of seats reserved for SCs and STs will be reserved for women belonging to these categories.

This means 28 out of 84 seats reserved for SCs will be reserved for SC women. And 16 out of 47 seats reserved for STs will be reserved for ST women.

Remaining 137 seats will be reserved for women, whereas 275 seats will be unreserved.

The Women's Reservation Bill is being criticised for excluding OBC women and diluting SC/ST quota.

'Incomplete', 'Ignores OBC Women': Why The Bill Is Being Criticised

Before the Bill was tabled, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the government was introducing the Constitutional Amendment Bill to increase the representation of women in legislatures, naming it ‘Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam'.

The Congress, while extending its support for the Bill, claimed that it is just an election 'jumla' introduced by the BJP.

"The reservation for women will come into effect only following the first decadal Census conducted after the Women’s Reservation Bill has become an Act. When will this Census take place? The Bill also says the reservation come into effect only after the publication of the next Census and the subsequent delimitation exercise thereafter. Will the Census and delimitation be done before the 2024 elections?" party General Secretary Jairam Ramesh wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

Members of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and Prakash Ambedkar's Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) opposed the Bill claiming that it discriminates against women belonging to Dalit, minority, Adivasi categories.

"The Women's Reservation Bill" which excludes women belonging to the OBC/EBC category will be passed after delimitation. Delimitation will happen after census. Under pressure to conduct a caste census, the Modi government has delayed the decadal census. This Bill is just noise and no substance," former Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati in a press release stated that women from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes should get reservation in the Women’s Reservation Bill being presented in Parliament. The former chief minister, however, clarified that her party would support the Bill in Parliament even if these demands are not met.

Interestingly, parties such as the SP, RJD and BSP had opposed the Bill the late 1990s. These parties have been together in demanding ‘quota within quota’ for marginalised women.

As the bill was passed in Rajya Sabha on March 9 2010, then RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav said, “We will not oppose reservation. We will stick to our old stand of reservation within the reservation. The Bill must include reservations for Muslim women, women from backward classes and Dalits."

Mayawati had previously opposed the Bill stating that Women's Reservation should not impact the SC and ST reservations.

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