“If… [They] think that the women would vote independent… then they are mistaken… If I asked Rabri Devi to vote a certain way, do you think she would do otherwise?” – This was the comment Lalu Prasad Yadav, RJD president, gave to the media persons when asked about his stand on the women’s reservation bill. Even though we usually ignore Lalu Prasad’s comments as in jest, this one does have some truth in it.
In a country where majority of the women, especially in rural areas are illiterate and suppressed, servility to their lords and husbands is the central rule of their lives. Remaining devoted and obedient to their man, whatever the case might be, is something that is infused in them since the time they are little girls. At a period like this when men still hold the reins of politics, whether reserving 33% of seats in the legislature for women at one go is feasible or not should be given a second thought.
If we look at the statistics, there are 543 seats in the parliament, 122 are reserved for the scheduled castes and tribes. With 33% now going exclusively for women the number of seats open for ‘open’ male candidates is just a meager 282. In such a situation it is more or less predictable that the women candidates fielded by the political parties as just going to be puppets of the male leaders. To add to it all, the bill forbids a woman from contesting consecutively from the same constituency successively. This too clearly points out the flaw that the law doesn’t allow the women to continue any good work they might have started during their tenure but would like them to hop around the country trying their hands at various locations and making a mess out of it all.
The women leaders who participated in our freedom struggle were not mere shadows of their husbands or fathers but were by themselves strong and dedicated leaders. Rani Lakshmibhai, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant, Indira Gandhi and others proved their mettle in their respective battlefields and came out champions. They came out of their four walls on their own and built a new world and carved a niche for themselves. They didn’t find the need for any special seats to be reserved for them nor did they need any red carpet invitation to shoulder the responsibility of fighting for their nation.
Even today there are ambitious, strong willed women who come out on their own will and excel in many fields including engineering, health care, administration and defence services. More than reserving seats for them what they need is incentive, security and an assurance of fair and just treatment in offices and elsewhere. A woman willingly works doubly hard and with triple sincerity to prove herself but still often finds herself neglected for promotions and meted out a step motherly treatment when compared to her male counterparts. There are many cases of harassment in work places and sexual assault and rape, some of which are reported and countless others that go unnoticed. This mental and physical torture of always being considered second is what the modern progressive woman would want abolished because she knows that she is as good as any man or even better and wouldn’t need anyone’s recommendations. After all ‘She’ contains a ‘he’ in herself.
The women’s reservation bill passed in the Rajya Sabha a day after the International Women’s Day has its own merits too. The bill, first raised nearly 14 years ago, has seen a lot of obstacles before it could finally see the light of the day. It has given hope to all those women who wanted to actively be a part of Indian politics but couldn’t because of the male dominion.
But let us hope that merit remains the criteria for selection of candidates, women or men, and that the women’s reservation bill doesn’t become like the caste reservation bill, that the majority, especially the youth look upon as something that hampers the chances of meritorious students in competitive exams and other openings.
With the passing of the women’s reservation bill, let us be proud that the hand that rocks the cradle and moulds the future generations will now play a part in the nation building process too.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.