The Women’s Reservation Bill(The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008) had traversed a journey of almost two decades before it saw passing in Rajya Sabha, just to unsurprisingly be lapsed in the Lok Sabha thereafter. It sought to secure one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies for women. Given that currently only 11.3% women occupy the Lok Sabha seats and that similar small ratios exist elsewhere in Legislature to represent half of the country’s population; it was a proposal to even out representation. Additionally, the Bill proposed allocation to different constituencies on a rotational basis, and its withdrawal post 15 years of commencement. Lacking political will and often on the receiving end of pandemonium in the Parliament, this Bill struggles to see the light.
Contenders of the Bill are skeptical for the given reasons: 1) Due to the ambiguous nature of the eligibility criteria for representatives, nepotism might heavily influence parliamentary representation, while women from underprivileged sections might not benefit. 2) This sort of representation goes against the principles of equality laid out in the Constitution. 3) Women cannot be considered as a single homogeneous group, since they represent different economic and social sections of the society. 4) Threat to national integration. 5) Entrenched patriarchy.
Our deplorable condition is evident from the fact that India ranks 148 in the world for the number of women in Parliament, according to a report by Inter-Parliamentary Union and United Nations Women. Reservation has been triumphant on many occasions, like in Rwanda, which has 30% reservation for women and subsequently 63.8% women in its Parliament. Even back home, the 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts, which reserved 33% seats in all Panchayats and local governing bodies for women, elect nearly a million women to Panchayats each year.
It seems ironic that while we refuse to set an educational qualification as a requirement to select our representatives, attempting to ensure representation of all, we deny almost 50% of the population a proportionate representation. It challenges the ethos of a representative democracy.
Despite competing with the world, our progress is hampered by our paltry affirmative action for half our population. It’s a cycle which continues until an external stimulus is added to it. The current figures show a glaring gap between Constitutional equality and reality. The sound foundation of our Constitution is used to create an illusion of equality which is frequently used as an argument to resist special protective measures for women to achieve their just position in society, obstructing not just the interests of women, but society as a whole.
The current structure proposed by the Bill is not absolute. This can be further debated and altered, but this is viable only if a mannerly discussion is permitted on the floor of the House. Our laggard system has multiple considerations to make before realizing fair representation for women, but our complex political matrix requires excessive time and effort. We need to make an educated attempt to improve representation to foster the interests of women, who tend to be marginalized and discriminated against in our democracy.