On The Road To Equality

Women Reservation Bill needs to be passed to protect and promote the rights of women in the country. This article discusses and dismisses baseless objections being made against this Bill.  A welcome demonstratable step in favour of Gender equity and a chink in the arrogant male Chauvinism has been struck by the passing of woman Reservation Bill by Rajya Sabha. Though it is justly being celebrated by women and all right thinking men as a step towards ending the commonly accepted version in India of a woman being just either as mother, daughter or wife but not as an individual with her own personality, notwithstanding the commendable achievements of a woman being the President of India, Speaker of Lok Sabha leader of House, leader of opposition and a lady as the Chief Minister of the biggest State in the country – the bill is only the beginning of the fight for gender justice.

The passing of Bill has generated extraordinary confidence amongst women in the country. That enthusiasm should not be allowed to be frittered away by what one is fearing of political expediency by not passing this Bill in the present session of Lok Sabha, but waiting for the next session which will be months away.

Some weak kneed persons in Ruling party may trot out the excuse of danger of passing the Budget or risk in weakening of outside party support. There seems hardly any justification for this gloomy view – A last minute corrective action by the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi, (notwithstanding the shaky advice of their advisers) in insisting on passing the Bill in Rajya Sabha was the real knockout blow against the opponents of the Bill. Of course this was made much easier by the open and correct support given by both the BJP and the Left parties. That support is still available. Notwithstanding the bullying buster by Mulayam, Lallu, Sharad, these die hard obscurantists can not muster any strength nor make a cleavage in the support given by BJP/Left on this issue. May I respectfully remind Yadav Trio to freshen up their Lohia readings – the mentor had clearly opined that reservation for women was an instrument in social engineering – he never suggested splitting the strength of woman quota by further splitting them in sub-quotas.

Another fear put forward is that a non confidence move by Yadavs might tempt BJP/Left to make use of this opportunity. I do not see any such possibility. Notwithstanding the cleavage in their political formulations, women electorate as such will never forgive a political party, which sought in any way to trifle the numbers and endanger the passing of Bill in the present session.

Surely some kind of via media can be worked out. I know the hike in fuel price is one of the most contentious – each party can projects its own stand, but that cannot and should not result in any danger to the stability of government. Could not the fuel price hike differences be sorted out by these three parties by following Lenin’s slogan of “two steps forward and one step backward” , say by suspending fuel hike price in the present and taking up this issue in the next session. It may look a little anomalous and frustrating but the overall compulsion of passing the Women Reservation Bill in Lok Sabha in this very session is of such overwhelming importance that some kind of adjustment is necessary between Congress, BJP and Left parties.

Let us not forget that half the State Assemblies are still to approve the Bill before it can become law. If the enthusiasm generated is not made use of in this very session I am afraid it may run out to become empty rhetoric and the danger of the bill being caught up in mutual mud slinging with uncertain prospects and might give a near fatal blow to the passing of bill as in the past.

The opponents of the Bill are projecting false fears. The argument that the women’s quota will be monopolized by urban women is a red herring.

There are about 200 OBCs in the Lok Sabha. It is a stark reality that it is not their public service, but merely the caste configuration that has preferred them. Similar results will follow even after reservation for women. The only difference will be a big chink in the male bastion. That is the real reason for opposition by a section of male legislators.

Crimes against urban women are no less heinous than those against rural women. Women as a class cannot be bifurcated in the matter of injustice. The creation of artificial sub-quotas within this suppressed section is a conspiracy of male chauvinism to perpetuate its dominance.

 In my view, provision of a sub-quota for OBC women runs the risk of being held as unconstitutional.

Reservation of seats is guaranteed only for SC/STs in Article 330. The framers of the Constitution did not intend further fragmentation of the legislatures on caste lines.

The latest Asia pacific Human Development Report, estimates that the under representation of women in the workforce costs the region about $89 billion each year – roughly equivalent to the GDP of Vietnam.

In South Asia, on critical issues such as health, adult literacy, and economic participation, the gaps between men and women are very large by world standards, and almost half the adult women in South Asia are illiterate, a higher proportion than in any other region in the world. Women  in South Asia can expect to live five  years fewer than the world average of 70.9 years.

Opponents of the Bill refuse to treat women as equals. It is this mindset that is sought to be destroyed by the Bill, which selfish politicians are resisting while pretending to fight for social justice.

Women are not asking for grace and charity. Their contribution to the cause of nation-building exceeds that of men. An International Labour Organisation study shows that “while women represent 50 per cent of the world adult population and a third of the official labour force, they perform nearly two-thirds of all working hours, receive a tenth of world income and own less than 1 per cent of world property.” Therefore, reservation for women is not a bounty but only an honest recognition of their contribution to social development.

Reservation for women would check the muddy polities that their menfolk have brought about. It would bring social consciousness to political life. It will also help in breaking the criminal-politician nexus – the real danger to our democracy. In my view, the working of this law will unleash a powerful agent of social change, gender respect and social reforms.

JUSTICE SACHAR