Women Reservation Bill: 25 Years On And Still Pending, Why?

25 Years Of Women Reservation Bill, INLD 33 percent Women Reservation Haryana
The Constitution (108th Amendment Bill) proposes to reserve one-third of total seats in Parliament as well as state legislatures for women. However, since its inception in 1996, the bill has not seen the light of the day and is stuck in countless debates, pass over to the committees in Parliament and what not. The year 2021 marks 25 years of the women reservation bill being proposed but not being passed. So, why has the bill not become a reality for millions of Indian women?

The scenes of female MPs across the parties like Sushma Swaraj and Najma Heptullah from BJP, Brinda Karat from CPI and many more glowing with joy and hugging each other outside the house after the bill was passed from the Rajya Sabha are still remembered.

The Parliament has over years seen many heated debates with pros and cons of the bill, few parliamentarians involved in physical fights within the premises of the house over the introduction of the bill, and many objectionable comments about women being passed from the elected authorities. “Do you think these women with short hair can speak for women, for our women…” Sharad Yadav a former MP said in 1997.

25 Years Of Women Reservation Bill

Provisions Of The Bill:
  • Reservation of one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies.
  • Reservation of one-third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies.
  • Allocation of reserved seats by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory.
  • Cessation of the reservation bill after 15 years of its commencement.

As per the Indian Census 2011 data, women constitutes 586.4 million of the total population of 1210.2 million. There are a total of 105 women parliamentarians in India out of 781 seats from both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

As per data provided by IPU Parline (platform providing global data on national parliaments), India ranks 147 out of 193 countries in terms of women elected in national parliaments.

Out of the maximum 552 seats in Lok Sabha mandated by the Constitution, only 78 women are a part of it. This makes women representation in Lok Sabha as 14.1% -lowest among countries that lag behind India in many parameters. In 2019, Pakistan had around 20.9%, Saudi Arabia had 19.9% and Afghanistan had 27.7% women in law-making bodies.

Need For The Bill
  • To reduce the prevailing gender inequality in leadership and law-making forces.
  • Elimination of the structural biases from the system which is dominated by male leaders since the independence of the country.
  • Financial independence and greater employment for women can be generated if more women representative gets elected to power.
  • Increase in female labour force participation rate in the country (16.1% in 2020 as per data from Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation.)
  • Accommodation of female-specific needs in the country and changes as per the world dynamics are implemented from time to time.
Original Bill

The original bill for Women Reservation was introduced on September 12, 1996 under the leadership of Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda. The bill lapsed soon after the house dissolved. However, the United Progressive Alliance(UPA) government led by Congress brought the bill again in 2008 which was passed by Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010.

The Bills were introduced three times in the House in 1998, 1999, 2008, but all of them lapsed with the dissolution of the respective governments. Currently, the bill is pending the approval of the Lok Sabha.

Since the National Democratic Alliance(NDA) government led by Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) was formed during the 17th Lok Sabha enjoys a majority in the Lok Sabha, it was anticipated that the bill might get passed in its 25th year. The BJP manifesto prepared for the general election in 2014 and 2019 promised its commitment to pass the legislation of women reservation. However, it did not.

The symbolism of having 11 women as Ministers cannot curtail the fact that the bill was not passed even after 25 years of its introduction in Parliament.

Suggested Reading:

Ordinary Indian Girls Who Achieved Extraordinary Feats In 2021

Criticism Of The Bill
  • Quotas available for women in local self-government institutions are not considered on merit and not much has been changed in policymaking on the ground.
  • “Quota within the Quota” belief- Many regional parties like Lalu Prasad Yadav led Rashtriya Janta Dal(RJD) and Mulayam Singh Yadav led Samajwadi Party(SP) put the hypothesis of quota within quota in their opposition to the bill in the original form. Though they said their intention was not against the reservation but to provide for an opportunity to reservation for Muslim women, OBC and Dalit women. This was a bone of contention with other parties opposing it.
  • The Bill, as many leaders believed, would only help the upliftment of the upper class of women, and leave behind the marginalised section far behind.
  • Many regional parties in the states by fielding more women representatives as candidates, field workers etc. have performed well. This includes parties like Trinamool Congress(TMC), Biju Janta Dal(BJD), YSR-Congress. However, the same model is not replicated by major national parties.
  • The fundamental issue of lower female participation in politics includes lower voter turnout and illiteracy levels in many parts of India where women do not get access to basic education. This will help more women know the rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution. Even today in many rural and pockets of urban areas, the women and girls of the house ask for the permission of their guardians (father/husband) to cast vote. In such scenarios, they could not exercise their own rights of deciding whom to vote and are told beforehand to act collectively and not as a single agency.
Women Representatives in Local Self Government-

Article 243D of the Indian Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 and the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 provides for the following reservation in all the units of the democratic system, Gram Sabhas (villages) and Ward Committees (Municipalities). The following provisions have been made:

  • One-third of the total number of seats to be reserved for women.
  • One-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs are also reserved for women.
  • One-third of offices of chairpersons at all levels are reserved for women.

As per the information available with the Ministry, 20 States have made provisions of 50% reservation for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions in their respective State Panchayati Raj Acts.

J K Women Reservation

33% Reservation for Women in Jammu And Kashmir 2nd Level Panchayat

Problem of Proxy Representation

The concept of “panchayat-pati” or “proxy representation” remains a major hurdle in the implementation of the law especially in rural India, where the husbands or male counterparts of the elected women leaders work on their behalf. Even the vote cast by the people of the village is done in the name of a male member. This prevents elected leaders from looking more into depriving the state of women and their needs from women lens. The similar state of apathy that was in place before the enactment of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Bill continues.

Way Out

There are many sectors within the domestic arena that needs more sensitisation regarding women-friendly laws and policies. For example, the women teams in sports are mostly underfunded due to the absence of greater women bureaucrats and leaders in the committees. The taxation of sanitary napkins in 12% tax brackets as declared by the GST Council in 2017 took everyone by surprise as it constitutes a major component of female health and hygiene. Even in the current GST Council comprising of 33 members, there are only two female members. In such a scenario, we cannot expect many gender-neutral laws and the lack of concern for the women comprising 48% of India’s total population continues.

The first cabinet appointed by Justin Trudeau in Canada in 2015 was composed of an equal number of men and women who received attention around the world. When journalists asked him the reason for the gender-equal cabinet, he replied: “Because it’s 2015”.

The opponents of the reservation bill believe that reservation may not provide a trickle-down effect as it will not remove the dominant patriarchal system from its root. India is a country based on caste and class-based politics and not gender-based politics. Separate movements, like those on the lines of the Anti Price Rise Movement, Gulaabi Gang Movement(2006) needs to be taken up for gender representation and reignition of the general minds for separate reservation. “It took 73 years to get 50 more women in Parliament since 1952. How many years will it take to provide one-third reservation,” Brinda Karat a former Rajya Sabha MP and First Woman Member of CPI Politburo had said.

The views expressed are the author’s own.