Despite India's reputation as the world's largest democracy, gender disparity continues to loom large within its political landscape. Recent data has unveiled a disheartening reality: women constitute less than 15 percent of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India's Parliament, while several state assemblies have even less, falling below the 10 percent mark.
These alarming statistics come amidst renewed efforts to pass the long-pending Women's Reservation Bill, which has languished for nearly three decades. The Women's Reservation Bill stands as a symbol of India's struggle for gender equality within its political sphere, and as the debate continued, its fate remained uncertain. In a historic decision, the bill, now called Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam is all set to be presented in the New Parliament.
Tracking The History Of Bill
1. Highlighting the urgency of this issue, the last concrete development occurred in 2010 when the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, passed the bill amid a tumultuous session.
2. However, the bill eventually lapsed as it failed to secure the necessary approval from the Lok Sabha, where it encountered vehement opposition. The proposed legislation aimed to reserve 33 percent of seats for women in both Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
3. While major political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress, have consistently backed the bill, opposition from other political factions and debates over sub-reservations within the women's quota have hindered its progress.
4. In a recent display of bipartisan support, several political parties rallied for the revival and passage of the Women's Reservation Bill during a five-day Parliament session. However, the government's response remains cautious, stating that an "appropriate decision will be taken at the appropriate time."
The current Lok Sabha consists of only 78 women members, accounting for less than 15 percent of its total strength of 543. This underrepresentation extends to the Rajya Sabha, where women occupy approximately 14 percent of the seats, according to government data shared with Parliament in December.
5. The disparity is starker in many state assemblies.
States such as Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Odisha, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, and Puducherry all have less than 10 percent women representation.
6. Meanwhile, Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi hover in the 10-12 percent range. Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, and Jharkhand are notable exceptions with 14.44 percent, 13.7 percent, and 12.35 percent women MLAs, respectively.
The journey towards gender parity in Indian politics has faced numerous obstacles.
7. The 2008 Bill, which made significant progress before lapsing, proposed reserving one-third of all seats in Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies for women.
8. It also introduced sub-reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Anglo-Indians, with seats to be rotated after every general election. This reservation was set to be operational for 15 years. However, prior attempts at addressing this issue date back to 1996, with subsequent bills in 1998 and 1999.
9. A Joint Parliamentary Committee examined the 1996 Bill and made seven recommendations, five of which were incorporated into the 2008 Bill. The challenge remains in garnering consensus, as exemplified by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice's struggle to finalise recommendations.
10. While the government must secure two-thirds support in each house of Parliament for the bill's consideration and passage, debates persist over how to address reservations in the Rajya Sabha and the practicality of the existing election system.
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