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The Women’s Reservation Bill: A Decades-Long Struggle for Gender Equality

In a historic move during a special 5-day session of the Parliament, the call to pass the Women's Reservation Bill has gained significant momentum

Edited By : Saurav Gupta | Updated: Sep 18, 2023 22:59 IST
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Women's Reservation Bill
Women's Reservation Bill

In a historic move during a special 5-day session of the Parliament, the call to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill has gained significant momentum. This bill, pending for nearly 27 years, seeks to address the glaring gender imbalance in Indian politics by reserving 33 percent of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. While the bill has received support from major political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, it has also faced vehement opposition from others and a variety of demands for sub-quotas within the women’s reservation.

As the Parliament session unfolds, it’s essential to understand the long and arduous journey of the Women’s Reservation Bill and the complex dynamics that have shaped its fate.

The Genesis of the Bill

The idea of women’s reservation in legislatures was first introduced in the early 1990s. A similar bill was introduced in 1996, 1998, and 1999, but none of these attempts yielded success. The proposed legislation faced numerous challenges, including fierce opposition from several political parties.

Read More: Big Breaking! Cabinet Approves Women Reservation Bill Pending For 27 Years

The 2008 Bill: A Promising Attempt

In 2008, a more comprehensive Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced. This bill proposed reserving one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies in each state for women. It aimed to provide women with substantial representation in the decision-making bodies of the nation. Additionally, the bill proposed a quota-within-quota for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Anglo-Indians. Reserved seats were meant to rotate after every general election, ensuring broader participation.

The reservation was set to be operational for 15 years, after which its impact would be reviewed. The 2008 Bill was indeed a significant step toward achieving gender equality in Indian politics.

The Twists and Turns of Indian Politics

However, even a bill with such noble intentions faced substantial roadblocks. The political landscape in India is incredibly diverse and fragmented. While some parties have always supported the bill, others have been skeptical or have demanded sub-quotas for various groups within the women’s reservation.

The Role of Sub-Quotas

One significant sticking point in the Women’s Reservation Bill has been the demand for sub-quotas within the overall reservation. Some groups have argued for separate quotas for backward classes of women within the women’s reservation, citing the need to address intersectional inequalities.

Opposition from Some Key Players

The bill faced vehement opposition from certain political parties. The Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) were among the prominent opponents of the bill. These parties had their reservations, and their dissent played a pivotal role in the bill’s fate.

Failed Attempts and a Lapsed Bill

In 2010, the Rajya Sabha managed to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill amid a tense atmosphere. During the proceedings, some MPs opposed the move to reserve 33 percent of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. Despite its passage in the Rajya Sabha, the bill faced an uncertain future as it awaited consideration by the Lok Sabha.

The bill eventually lapsed without being passed in the Lok Sabha. The dream of reserving seats for women in legislatures was put on hold once again.

Renewed Calls for Change

In recent weeks, there has been a groundswell of support to revive the Women’s Reservation Bill. Several political parties, including the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), have demanded its reintroduction. The Indian National Congress also passed a resolution in favor of the bill at its Hyderabad Congress Working Committee meeting.

A Glimmer of Hope

While it remains uncertain what percentage of reservation might be proposed in a new bill, the need for women’s representation in Indian politics is undeniable. The Women’s Reservation Bill is a crucial step toward achieving gender equality in political decision-making. It is not just about numbers but about providing a platform for women’s voices to be heard and heeded.

The Way Forward

The government’s role in passing the Women’s Reservation Bill is pivotal. It will require significant political will and consensus-building to make this long-pending dream a reality. The bill’s fate hinges on securing two-thirds support in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

Challenges in Reserving Seats in the Rajya Sabha

One of the significant challenges in implementing reservations is the current system of elections to the Rajya Sabha. Members of state assemblies elect Rajya Sabha MPs through a single transferable vote, which allocates votes to the most preferred candidates. This system does not accommodate the principle of reserving a certain number of seats for a particular group. As a result, Rajya Sabha currently lacks reservations for SCs and STs.

The Need for Constitutional Amendments

To introduce reservations in the Rajya Sabha, the Constitution would need to be amended, which requires a complex and lengthy process. It would involve modifying the existing system of elections, which is deeply ingrained in India’s parliamentary democracy.

A Matter of Gender Equality

In summary, the Women’s Reservation Bill represents a crucial step toward gender equality in India’s political landscape. While it has faced numerous challenges and opposition, its revival and eventual passage would be a landmark achievement for Indian democracy. It would provide women with a more significant role in shaping the nation’s policies and future, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive and representative democracy. As the special Parliament session unfolds, all eyes are on whether this bill can overcome its historical hurdles and become a reality.

First published on: Sep 18, 2023 10:41 PM IST

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