In our times, change almost always demands a revolution; to the extent that the terms can be used interchangeably. And when a change is twirled around women, society more often than not spews salvos dug out from archetypical, often archaic, stereotypes before reluctantly being nudged into compromise. The Women’s Reservation Bill has it in its fate to attract the fangs of politicos cutting across party lines even as we see it stringing together those even of diverse ideologies, united by the one real division — that of gender.
Some call it blatant feminism; some call it a devious plan to thaw the traditionally male bastion of politics (albeit in hush-hush tones), some call it a diversion to split the variously-hued Opposition garnering steam over the more pressing problems of inflation and internal security; some call it an unnecessary addition to the overflowing list of quotas athwart the country. So it came as no big surprise when a senior male member of my family said, “This reservation, IF it comes through, will fail to create a bang because the society is at large antithetic to the idea of women in politics. A quota will only alienate them further. More female faces in the Lok Sabha can only be sired out of societal attitude change.” I couldn’t agree more. But then my mind wafts away, to the period of land reforms which saw the Right to Property relegated to the position of a civil right, when Zamindari was abolished; the original reservations for SC?STs etc. Had we waited for society to undergo a sweeping change and become more inclusive of under-represented classes, maybe Begar would still be practiced right under our noses; Dalits and tribals perhaps would never have had a chance to set their foot into educational institutions, their abstention from which guaranteed their ignorant absence from other social “institutions” that they had a Constitutional Right to etc.
Daggers out to cut the argument already? I am in no way side-lining or making light of the repercussions of some of these quotas. Neither do I claim that these reservations have ensured equity to the aggrieved sections and their integration with the mainstream on a war footing. But at the same time one cannot deny the fact that, these have, to a large extent mitigated the deplorable conditions of the aforementioned groups. And the effect has in many cases trickled down to other members in the same group. The mismanagement and disparity we see today between members of the “creamy layer” and the less fortunate is a situation compounded by a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, because of these reforms, disparity is not rampant today to the extent that it used to be at the time of independence, at least in terms of education if not affluence. These were not enacted to fructify a fast-paced instant revolution. But over the course of years they have been fodder for significant change.
Why is social reform of the said kind being compared to the Women’s Reservation Bill? Because like the former, it has the potential to solidify into the bedrock of what our future society could be made of. We might not see an Indira Gandhi thrown into the mainstream from the lower echelons of society along as soon as the Bill is ushered into Act-hood. But undoubtedly a girl child born today, by the time she gets her first Voter’s ID Card, will have an assurance that the path to politics is not all that strewn with thorns. The situation will not be as bleak as it looks like today with women candidates vying for tickets only to be shot down in favour of male candidates. This Bill may very well act as a catalyst for future dreams which are like an evasive bubble to young aspiring politicos with a “handicap” of gender.
An interesting yet amusing line of reasoning I had the luck of hearing is that having a sizeable number of women in the Lok Sabha might lead to a flurry of Bills unduly favourable to women turning into Acts. Cut to the current scene with a lean population of women in the Lok Sabha as against the robust one of men and one would think anti-women Bills are all the rage in the Legislature. Keeping one gender at decimated levels in the Lower House is no way to keep in check what a patriarchal parochial society would like to call “vamp-politics”. This when the flip side of the coin is tired vying for our attention, the picturesque side of Women’s welfare measures becoming a part of serious legislation.
“Inclusive” politics has always been the key card of our governments in their bid to keep satiated the diverse masses. “Someone to represent us in the Parliament!” the very thought has a calming, soothing effect on the masses without exceptions. Why would it be any different with the Indian womenfolk, especially when it comes with a “safety in numbers” clause!
Points and counterpoints can empty umpteen bottles of ink and blunt the tips of a hundred quills; especially if one were to train one’s guns on the Opposition’s arguments. That calls for another write-up. But for now, it is time to lay back and revel in the Bill making it past the first hurdle!