If you are one of those people who is ecstatically celebrating the Women’s Reservation Bill, introduced by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, and passed in both houses of the Parliament, it’s important that you remind yourself of the basics of feminism or gender equality.
It is the savarna feminist movement that does not understand that this country is diverse with different ethnicities, race, religious identities, and gender spectrums – but the beautiful core of this nation is corrupt with caste and religious bigotry.
As an intersectional feminist, I've unlearned a lot of things in the past decade – and let me tell you that the feminist movement should not be thought of in just binaries.
Unlike what the Indian dominant caste, financially privileged class, cis het women-led feminist movement will encourage you to think, when it comes to gender and oppression.
Many Drawbacks in The Bill, With Us Stuck In Between
The passing of the 128th Constitution Amendment Bill – or the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam – last week sent the nationalistic BJP supporters into a tizzy.
On the other side was the Congress, whose brain child this Women’s Reservation Bill is, busy not opposing the bill (public sentiments taken into account) but retaliating about the strong flaws the bill carried.
You see, they want to bring the law after delimitation and the population census, rolling it around 2029, they say.
I am amused at the confidence of the BJP that they are foreseeing the political and social scenario of the country to that extent, which is nothing but a bait to make people vote for them in the 2029 elections.
There's more. The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, as the name suggests, being in Hindi/Sanskrit – which half of the nation doesn’t understand – is targeted at the Hindi-speaking states or the Hindi belt.
A lot of the states in the south, especially Tamil Nadu, are fighting against it as the population control of the south has been quite successful in comparison to the Hindi belt. For example, Kerala and Tamil Nadu will lose a few of its existing constituencies, while Bihar and Uttar Pradesh will gain seats .This will determine how muc political power the south will lose in choosing the political power in the Centre.
But the time frame could also be expected to extend beyond 2029 as the whole process will take a lot of time. The census of 2021 itself has not been done yet. So imagine when will the Women’s Reservation Bill be made into a law.
In the midst of this is us. The in-between-ers.
In-between-ers doesn’t mean that we support both or are neutral.
In fact, we are a majority of the population who none of them care for when it comes rightful representation – oppressed class OBC women, Dalit and Adivasi women, Dalit Christians and Pasmanda Muslim women, trans women (Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi), trans binary, trans non-binary, intersex, and more.
"We are like the donkey from Damascus that is being beaten by a stick and also teased with a carrot. We are in pain as well as desperation."
We are all a big part of this wonderful nation who contribute to its development by contributing to the GDP, but still remain neglected and oppressed, who nobody cares for – except for the Dalit-Bahujan leaders who still try to strike a balance in the political game for the benefit of the oppressed masses.
A case in point being: Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Sharad Yadav were a few leaders who were called out by the savarna feminists as “divisive” forces in 1996 when they demanded reservation for OBC, Dalit, and Adivasi women.
Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi Women At The Forefront Of This Movement
“We women are all one," they had cried.
It’s their feminism which enables them to oppress other women who are caste, class, and gender-marginalised in the name of equality. These are the same people who do not understand the concept of equity.
Most of them are the same ones who are still opposing caste-based reservation in the country and welcoming the Women’s Reservation Bill. The irony is jarring.
In fact, the Dalit-Bahujan leaders were the ones who first wanted this bill. So, it was the Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi women who have sowed the seeds for women’s reservation in India.
But unfortunately, they most probably will not be the ones decorating the seats of the Parliament even when the bill is made a law. They will not be represented adequately in the Lok Sabha.
When the universal adult franchise or the voting rights were proposed in India by the British in the early 20th century with a clause that anyone who has an educational degree or owned a land could vote, a lot of the leaders were happy about the voting rights – and never thought otherwise.
But as Dr BR Ambedkar, who appeared before the Montagu-Chelmsford Committee, asked:
“The only people who have land rights and degree are upper caste men in this country. Women and oppressed caste men will not be eligible for the right. How can this be universal adult franchise?”
Thanks to Babasaheb that the clause was revoked – and India got its voting rights. Now I am applying the same to the Women’s Reservation Bill.
What does it take to become an MP in the Lok Sabha? Strength? Will power? Hard work? No. It's money and power.
Who has money? The political heirs or people with land who hail from the feudal dominant caste.
So naturally by means of power, money, and caste, the Women’s Reservation Bill will only enable more dominant caste, feudal class, cis het women to be represented in a majority in the Lok Sabha.
Just look at the list of people who were invited to the Parliament on the day when the bill was tabled. All of the same category that I mentioned above.
Who was neglected? The Constitutional Head of India, the first tribal women president of this country.
This is a stark example of how it would be after the bill becomes a law. It will be filled with Bollywood actresses like Kangana Ranaut and the wives or daughters of male politicians and rich dominant caste women.
They are truly not the set of people who represent the core essence of this great nation. They will not be able to talk, question, and bring policy changes that are crucial to saving the nation.
They are not aware of any problems other than gender binary disparity. The women’s representation should be “intersectional,” and not “tokenised," or existing just in name.
That’s why we need “quota within the quota.” We need to have reservation within the Women’s Reservation Bill for OBC, Dalit, and Adivasi women, along with horizontal reservation for the gender marginalised like trans women, trans binary, trans-non binary, and intersex people.
This is the ideal set up. This would be truly democratically aligned. This would be the true face of India. True 'Nari Shakti', as they call it.
I agree that all women are equal but I strongly know that all women are not the same. We are different based on our social identities.
We are not equal based on caste capital and privileges.
When I say this, I expect the Congress to talk about the quota for OBC, Dalit, and Adivasi women with horizontal reservation for trans persons, too.
OBC leaders, like Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, are talking about the OBC quota within the Women’s Reservation Bill but they are ignoring the SC/ST part.
Increase Percentage Of Reservation
It is also important that the government raises the quota to 50 percent, according to the population of women in the country. If delimitation is happening based on the population, this must also be done.
Tamil Nadu has 50 percent reservation for women in the local bodies and 25 percent for Dalits. When the Panchayat Raj Act was rolled out, most general category 'reserved-for-women' constituencies saw the daughters, wives, or even mothers of male politicians contesting the elections as proxies. They then played puppets in the hands of the husbands who were quasi-panchayat leaders.
But in the Dalit women reserved constituencies, most of them were self-made women who were contesting in the elections on their own with no political back up and were self-driven.
This is what is expected in the Women’s Reservation Bill, too.
“Let’s reserve for the deserved.“
(Shalin Maria Lawrence is a writer, social activist and columnist based in Chennai. She is an intersectional feminist and anti-caste activist. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)