Women’s Reservation Bill—A Critique
Zaffer Husain Dar
B.A. LLB (6th Semester)
Vitasta School of Law & Humanities
The real test of democracy is the creation of equality of opportunity for the hitherto deprived sections of society, it requires both a favourable social atmosphere and an individual attitude, social atmosphere is a sort of reversible equation: one influences the other, in both directions. In practical terms it means that efforts have to be made at various levels of society simultaneously. Every attempt, in every direction, is bound to affect adversely some vested interests.
In the context of the present discussion it amounts to shedding of all mental reservations against reservation of seats for women in the parliament and in the State Assemblies. The idea of making a legal provision for reserving seats for women in the parliament and state assemblies came into being during Rajeev Gandhi’s tenure as the Prime Minister of India when the Panchayati Raj Act, 1992 (73rd and 74th constitutional amendment) came into effect granting not less than 33% reservation to women in the Panchayat Raj institutions or local bodies. Later Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda made the actual promise for reservation of seats for women in Parliament and State Assemblies in 1996. It was for Mr. I.K. Gujaral propose the present form and shape of the Bill during his tenure as the Prime Minister of India. The Bill in its current form envisages reserving 181 seats in the parliament for women. It practically prevents 181 male members of parliament from contesting elections. Also, there is to be a rotation of seats, i.e, a male member of parliament can not represent the same constituency for more than two consecutive terms. Here lies the rub.
These two very provisions are seemingly the cause of the consensus arrived at by various political parties to dump the bill. 181 seats in parliament is too great a number to be sacrificed for the mere idea of women’s empowerment or adequate political representation. The very idea makes the male politicians panicky. The clause of the rotation of seats is seen by the opponents of bill to “Strike at the very heart of democracy and democratic values” as, according to their logic, the representative will not get a chance to nurture his constituency nor the electorate will get a chance to reward or punish their representative as a coronary to it hardly any ties would be established between the two.
Securing of 33% reservation for women would open the doors of opportunity for political empowerment to almost 50% of our population. It will not only serve the cause of democracy as the Panchayati Raj institutions are doing at the grassroots level but will also go a long way in ensuring political equality through active participation of women from both urban and rural areas. Also if social equality through political empowerment is to be achieved, the bill should include clauses, which guarantee quota within quota to women belonging to scheduled tribes, scheduled castes, other backward castes and minority communities so that they get an equitable representation in matters of importance for them.
It is also argued that the Bill in its present form would end up ensuring seats in parliament for the female relatives of those who are already in power. To counter this situation provisions can be added in the Bill, which should provides for no reservations to women who have close relatives in active politics. These women can contest from general seats. There had been suggestions in the past in the form of alternatives to the bill. One is to compel political parties to nominate women for one-third of their seats or lose recognition. This according to Rajinder Sachar, former chief Justice of Delhi High court is flawed as it would violate constitution of India, which guarantees its citizen the right to form association under Article 19(1)(c) as a fundamental right. Another alternative is to increase the number of seats in the Lok Sabha, which is currently based on the figures of the census of India, 1971, when the population of India was 54 crore. The number of seats were limited to 530 till further amendments. Now the delimitation commission had been asked to take the 2001 census as the basic for delimiting constituencies. According to 2001 census, the population of India has risen to 102 crore, the number of seats are bound to increase in the next general election, which would pave the way for women to be given due representation in legislature without disturbing the present strength of the male members therein.