Quota is back on the political platter albeit with a bad twist. Amidst ED raids and questioning of BRS’s Telengana Chief Minister Chandrashekhar Rao’s daughter Kavitha in the Delhi liquor case, she launched a hunger strike in Delhi demanding introduction of Women Reservation Bill in Parliament’s on-going Budget session. Ironically, supported by SP and RJD who had sabotaged the Bill since its inception 2008.
It was obvious that in the garb of female empowerment her motive was to deflect attention from ED’s action against her, else why would anyone rake up an issue put in thanda baksa? Certainly it is not to detract attention from the imperative need to reintroduce the Bill that provides for 33% seats for women in Parliament and State Assemblies, a tentative step towards equality.
Pertinently, Supreme Court too dubbed it “important” on a PIL seeking its reintroduction November. Notwithstanding, gender politics could lead to a ferocious brand of political Puritanism. See how our chauvinistic netagan see ‘red’ when it comes to sharing space with the fair sex under the political sun.
Remember, ‘her’ story was made when the historic Bill was passed in Rajya Sabha March 2010, due to Congress’s Sonia “walking-her-talk-on-the-Bill. However, it lapsed with the 15th Lok Sabha, thanks to male MPs playing spoil sport by ensuring it bit dust. Shockingly, women account for less than 10 % of both Houses of Parliament today.
In fact, women participation in electoral politics has remained stagnant in successive Lok Sabhas. It ranges between 19 and 59 MPs: The present Lok Sabha has the highest number of women MPs 59 out of 543, a sheer 14.58%! Way below 24% global average. States like Tripura, Nagaland, Arunachal, Himachal and ex-J&K don’t have a single women MP in Lok Sabha.
Think. If in 1950 women formed 5% of Parliament, today a mere 9% increase in the last 73 years serves a sobering reminder of how slow progress has been. Shamefully, India record of sending women to Parliament is among the world’s worst. Of 193 countries, India stands at 145th position, faring poorer than Bangladesh, Afghanistan (27.7%), Pakistan (20.6%) Saudi Arabia (19.9%) and Rwanda’s 62% highest globally.
Pathetic is the scenario in States. Nagaland has just got its first female MLA! In Himachal out of 412 candidates only 24 were women despite more women voting than men, in Gujarat there were a paltry 14 female candidates of 160 out of 182 constituencies in last year’s Assembly polls.
Ditto in four States and one Union Territory 2021 women who make-up nearly half voters only comprised one in 10 candidates: 9% in Kerala, 7.8 % in Assam and 11% in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and West Bengal. In 13 Assembly elections earlier of 807 elected MLAs there were a mere 38 women. Since 1977, only 197 women have contested against 3845 men.
Scandalously, six States have no female Ministers, including Sikkim and Manipur. No State even has one-third women Ministers — the highest is Tamil Nadu with 13% while 68% States have less than 10% female representation in leadership roles. Yet, there is no dearth of women workers in Parties who are regularly sidelined and denied Party tickets to contest elections. Despite, 65.63%, women turnout compared to 67.09% men during 2014 Parliamentary elections and more women voting than men in 16 of 29 States.
In fact Mamata made reservation of tickets for women a talking point in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with her TMC fielding 17 of 42 candidates. Of its 22 elected Lok Sabha MPs, 9 are women. In Odisha, Patnaik’s BJD gave 7 (33%) of 21 Lok Sabha tickets to women, of whom five won.
Further, there are only a handful of women leaders today: Sonia Gandhi, Mamata and Mayawati. So unlike the strong female contingent who fought alongside other freedom fighters, Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kripalani, Aruna Asaf Ali, Durgabai Deshmukh and Savitri Phule, who not only defied the notorious patriarchal norms but also blazed a trail of women’s empowerment. Unfortunately, post-Independence women slipped to a secondary status where not just leaders, women continue to remain ‘unwanted’ and neglected sex.
Questionably, why are we failing our women so miserably? Why isn’t there reservation for women yet? Specially as women leaders are doing India proud. Indira Gandhi, a hardnosed Prime Minister earned the acronym ‘only man in the Cabinet!’. Today, her daughter-in-law Sonia, Mamata, Mayawati, late Jayalalitha and President Droupadi Murmu are examples of women’s empowerment.
Look at the sweet irony. The torch bearers of more and more reservation for OBCs and minorities, our “made in India” Parties: Samajwadi, RJD and BSP which lead the anti-women brigade and revel in their crudest best to oppose reservation for them —- “Do you think these women with fancy hair can speak for our women,” —- till such time as their vote banks — OBCs and minorities — are given a quota within this quota.
No matter, that their track record of women representation within the existing SC/ST quotas is zilch. And never mind that they are among the worst in gender indicators – maternal mortality, women’s literacy, etc in Bihar and UP.
Undeniably, one-third women reservation in panchayats and urban local bodies has led to a spurt in female political participation and leadership, yet there are also instances of women being used as proxies by men to win elections in various states from Maharashtra to Bihar.
However, in a milieu whereby India boasts of a distorted female-male sex ratio of 914 girls for 1,000 boys, of 4000 girls being killed daily, neglect of a 12 million girls born, one million not seeing their first birthdays, Odisha has become a torch bearer for women empowerment by unanimously passing a resolution seeking 33% reservation for women in Legislative Assemblies and Parliament 2018.
Certainly, 33% women quota will not wipe out the low female-male ratio or preference for boys in fertility decision and gender gaps in literacy etc which has lead to deficit of women in a male-dominated society. Also, experience shows that no amount of legislation has ended gender discrimination.
In a country that ranks 114th among 134 in gender disparities, our leaders need to recognize that inequalities exist and should be rectified. It is imperative they create a level-playing field as good governance is not caste or gender-specific. If we want to use our finest resource, we have to start taking our Stree Shakti seriously and treating them like worthwhile investments.
Time our leaders help women break the glass ceilings and give them their rightful place in the sun. The Constitution has given women equal rights. Reservations will go a long way in facilitating them to shatter this. A revolutionary change is needed. Merely mouthing platitudes will no longer work.
The crucial need is to undergo catharsis — a course in emotive cleansing and giving a push to women empowerment in cementing a cohesive society. It is a good idea to have more women than less. In the final crunch: Give women equal opportunity and follow a ‘womb to tomb’ policy of keeping our Stree Dhan happy! —- INFA