Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So we passed the Women's Bill... So what??

So, we passed the bill for Women's reservation in the upper house of parliament. Yay!! Ok, now that the rejoicing is done, let's look at the story. Rediff had a good piece giving the gist of this whole hullabaloo. Why people are against it and why it is a good step. Our PM says that the passage of the bill shows that in India democracy is still alive.

But let's look at it this way. It took 14 years to see daylight. Why? Because ruling coalitions were afraid to push the bill for fear of hurting dissenters who incidentally were on the ruling coalition. And back then, most of our time in Parliament was spent in no-confidence motions! So, every time a government tried to push for the bill, it faced dissent from within and it had to scuttle the bill for fear of scuttling the government! The usual process is - introduce the bill in the Lower house - the Lok Sabha, get approval and then go to the Rajya Sabha and then back to the Lok Sabha. Having faced obstacles at each and every step while trying the Lok Sabha, this time, the Government got smart and introduced it first in the Rajya Sabha. The dramas in the lower house are still to come.

We need to note that the RS is still an elitist house, since members are not elected, but rather appointed. So, passage here, actually does not mean much! Yes, the elite part of society sees the benefits of reservation for women. They are educated and so may be expected to stay away from the sways of political groupthink! May.. I am not sure, but this is my guess, based on the membership of the house. The Lok Sabha, in comparison, is larger in number, it has a greater proportion of dissenting members, and in the past, the dramas in the Lok Sabha have been LEGENDARY! So, I feel, that the crux is yet to be reached. Yes, it is a step in the right direction, and something at least, which has not been achieved this far has been achieved.

Yet the question remains, why the dissent? The model has worked as we've seen at the Panchayat and local self-government levels. I am traditionally not someone who supports reservations, but when situations are so lopsided, as to not allow a certain faction of society to find its true calling, reservations are necessary. Just like how, beyond a threshold, affirmative action was necessary to make life livable for African Americans! Just like how, after years of condemnation, reservation managed to bring some glimmer of hope for Dalits in India. Although that part has been grossly exploited politically of late. So, reserving seats for women, would certainly empower women at large. They have an empathetic ear to voice their concerns to.

But on the other hand, you can have a man and a woman from a certain area contesting for 2 seats. Think Laloo and Rabri contesting for 2 different seats in Bihar. Both win. No prizes for guessing the direction of policies in that scenario. Unless the bill is made water-tight, preventing any form of exploitation, the process could fall flat. Women in households in North India, are already suppressed. It wouldn't be hard to imagine a time when despite reservation, a woman MP is a dummy thumb-printing a personal agenda of her husband's in Parliament. Yes, that is a gory thought, and one needs to factor all of these into law making.

But Indian democracy is young, and we learn every step of the way. Till the bill gets passed in the Lok Sabha and gets ratified by the states, the job is as well as unfinished. Even after passing the bill, we need to proactively guard against exploitation and the media certainly has a responsible role to play in the same. But till then - a good start and a strong hope for the future defines the state as of now.

No comments: