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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 39 September 23, 2023

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Sept 23, 2023

Saturday 23 September 2023


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, September 22, 2023

The 33% Illusion : Despite its Passage Women’s Reservation Bill Remains a Mirage

For decades there has been a desire among the forward-looking sections of India’s political elites to promote greater representation of women in Parliament and State legislative bodies. The main idea was the adoption of a system where 33% of all seats in the legislature would be reserved for women, with the hope that this would tilt the social balance and promote greater equality in society. The Women’s Reservation Bill or 81st Constitution Amendment Bill was first initiated in 1996 under United Front Government but it failed. It was then referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee led by Geeta Mukherjee of CPI, which produced an excellent report making the case for such a law. The Vajpayee-led NDA government of 1998 pushed a Women’s Reservation Bill multiple times with no success. Later on, a United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led government introduced a Women’s Reservation Bill in 2008 and in 2010 it was passed in the Rajya Sabha but went no further. In 2014 and in 2019 the BJP promised 33% Women’s Reservation in Parliament in its election manifestos. But this has not been its priority despite being in power for since 2014. Now at the fag end of its second term and just before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections the Modi government finally moved via a special session of Parliament the ‘Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam’ —Constitution (128th amendment) bill proposing reservation of 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women. The Bill had cross-party support and has been passed in both houses but with some important debate and also sharp criticism. The main reason for criticism is that the law will only be implemented after the completion of the delimitation exercise based on the first census conducted after the passage of the bill. The problem is that there was no census conducted in 2021 due to Covid-19 and there seems little likelihood of it not happening before 2026 and the next general election is not before 2029. As a result, there is no clarity for anyone as to when the Women’s Reservation Bill will be implemented. There are reasons to believe that this sudden move by the Modi government was just a pure propaganda gimmick keeping in mind the constituency of women voters in the 2024 national elections. The opposition kept demanding that the bill be implemented immediately without waiting for the legally required census and the delimitation exercises, but to no avail. Given the long wait ahead for the implementation of this law, there is reason to feel disillusioned but on the other hand, all political parties that support greater representation for women should not wait and grant a greater say for women in their party’s internal decision-making bodies and set aside 33% seats for women candidates in the coming national elections.

23 September 2023 —HK

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