Summary: For years, the Indian
government has been delaying action on a bill to reserve seats for
women in parliament and state assemblies.
Women Demand Quota, Police Arrest Them
June 22, 2003
DELHI - ON June 16, Delhi Police
arrested a number of women in different places near Parliament House
as they attempted the meet the Lok Sabha speaker and present him a
memorandum regarding the passage of the bill for reservation of
seats for women in parliament and state assemblies. The protest
coincided with the all-party meeting on the issue, attended by floor
leaders of all parties represented in parliament.
It will be noted
that the bill is hanging fire for several years for want of
political will on part of the government. The bill has been
introduced at the fag end of a parliament session several times and,
following some noises made by interested quarters, postponed for the
In fact, the government has been so far playing a
cunning game of letting or making some particular parties fight
against the bill, so that the main ruling party --- the BJP --- is
not blamed for the non-passage of the bill. And now the government
has come out with the announcement that it would re-introduce the
bill only if there is a consensus on it among various parties.
Despite the obstacles put up by the police on June 16, however, the
women managed to reach their memorandum to the speaker, reiterating
their stand in support of the women reservation bill asking for 33
per cent reservation for women in parliament and state assemblies.
The memorandum said the onus is on the NDA government to utilise
the two-thirds support of several parties, both from the opposition
and from the ruling alliance, to put the bill to vote in the
forthcoming session of parliament.
Extracts from the memorandum
’ÄúThe women’Äôs reservation bill has been pending since 1996.
This is in spite of the fact that there is an existing consensus in
support of the bill that, in terms of numbers of votes, is
sufficient for the adoption of a constitutional amendment. We would
like to emphasise this point since an impression has gained ground
that the bill will not be put to vote unless there is unanimity on
it. In the past, unanimity has never been a consideration for the
adoption of a constitutional amendment; so why should this be made a
condition in the case of the women’Äôs reservation bill?
studied some of the alternative proposals that have been made.
According to presss reports, the proposal of the former chief
election commissioner has been approved by some parties, namely,
that instead of reservation of one third of seats, all political
parties should reserve one third in their party lists of candidates
for women. The basic flaw in this proposal is that the aim is not
the guarantee of a minimum number of women in the elected decision
making bodies. The number of women in party lists will go up but not
the required numbers in parliament or state assemblies. Elsewhere in
the world, in the 25 or so countries where there are quotas for
women in party lists, the system is one of proportional
representation. In a proportional representation system, there is a
reasonable possibility that one-third of all seats won by any party
will be reserved for women through placing women in every third
position in the party lists. In any other system, as in India, it is
more than likely that unwanted, unwinnable seats would be farmed out
to women. This will be so even if the unit for calculation is the
state as far as parliament elections are concerned and the district
for the assembly elections. After all, India does not have a
two-party system and the strength of political parties is uneven
across states and districts; thus women can still be given
unwinnable seats just to meet the quota requirement. The compulsions
of coalition politics and seat adjustments also make the proposal of
state and district as the unit completely impractical.
also like to stress that if a seat is reserved for women, the party
concerned will decide the caste/community of the woman candidate.
Thus it is most unlikely that the present caste composition of
parliament with other backward castes (OBCs) as the single largest
group will undergo any change. The only difference will be that of
gender, not of caste. Parties will surely field women from the
backward castes if seats presently represented by them are reserved
for women. We assert that the present bill will help women of all
castes and communities and more particularly women from the backward
’ÄúYou are aware that the state assembly elections are to be
held shortly. Thus there is an immediate urgency for the passage of
the bill to ensure an increase in the present low numbers of women
in these assemblies.
’ÄúWomen all over India eagerly await the
decision of your meeting today. We therefore appeal to you to take a
decision to put the bill to vote in the first week of the
forthcoming session of parliament. This we believe is the only