Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Woman's reservation bill

Hmm, finally, the Woman's Reservation Bill gets passed in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha), although the day before it got passed (Woman's Day) saw some extremely unruly scenes (which we've gotten used to now actually). I was discussing with my mom about the merits and demerits of this bill, and I suddenly realised I didn't actually have a stand on this issue. - Shetty actually didn't have a take on this! I immediately remembered that when I was in school, or in college, this issue had first cropped up, and back then, the only thing that I kept saying was that "Do women actually need a reservation to get elected? Aren't they good enough to win anyway?". The underlying point was that since we (liberals and progressive citizens) consider women equal to men, should we have a provision that treats them as a 'lesser' being.

So last evening I brought this up with my mother, and we got into a discussion. My younger brother chipped in with one point: "they're trying to eliminate one form of discrimination, by bringing in a legislation that actually IS a form of discrimination!" Good point. And then my mind went back to a little over a year, when the reservation topic was in the air. Reservations in IITs and IIMs and other institutes of higher education. How different was this bill from what was being proposed there? Are the women (and people in general) who were opposed to reservations in education also against the reservation in parliament? Aren't the two the same in principle? Isn't this a fair comparison?

The principle in both cases are the same: give a section of society a foothold because there was a lot of injustice meted out to them in the past - maybe we should ask the British to pay us compensation now because when they were our colonial masters, they meted out a lot of injustice to us!

The discussion between my mother and me went like this:
Mom: It isn't quite the same, as in Parliament, the reservations are only for who can contest for some particular seats, but eventually the candidates have to face the elections, and if they lose, they're out.
Me: True, but so is the case with the education thingy. The candidates have to write the exams, there's no getting around that, and certain seats are earmarked for the 'weaker' sections.
Mom: True, but to take the exams, there is an eligibility criteria - you need to have certain minimum marks, you need to have studied in some recognised university, etc. What criteria do we have to contest elections? You can't say "if you're corrupt, don't stand for elections... we can see how well that's going on currently!"
Me: Yes, but it's not fair to say there's no criteria. They have to be Indian citizens, they have to be above 18, and they shouldn't have any criminal case pending in the courts (allegations and FIRs aren't considered; only open cases). So there is a minimum criteria. So what if the criteria isn't more specific - in fact if it were more specific, it would be unfair for elections in a democracy.

By then, dinner was over and mom had to prepare stuff for the next day and so she left, but it got me thinking. Wouldn't blocking a seat in a constituency, from where, let's say a very good candidate was contesting (who happened to be a man), for women only now, cause a problem? And is this legislation only to give 'women' a foothold in politics, or is this to give 'poor, oppressed women' a foothold in politics? What's to say that a Laloo-Rabri situation won't arise? What's to prevent the men from exercising remote-control politics? I don't buy the arguments the other opponents of the bill had - giving a quota for minorities within this bill itself, so let's get that out of the way. My brother asked me why Laloo Yadav and Mulayam singh Yadav were against the bill, and I said " (1) They're Yadavs, (2) they come from a part of the country where men think women belong in the kitchen, (3) and they're stupid".

Just because we have more women in power, would that directly translate to more women's issues being raised and discussed? Contrary to popular opinion, research has shown that this isn't the case. There's absolutely no evidence to suggest that women MPs would dive into the plethora of women's issues that plagues out country today with the intention of solving them. Once they get elected, they serve their party and the agenda of the party. In fact, an analogy to the "if more women, then more women related issue can be solved" would be that since all our MPs our Indian nationals, they'd work for the betterment of the country and put country above party. We've seen in what direction this idea has gone!

The fears exhibited by many men in politics is because they'd have to vacate the large bungalows they get once they're elected as MPs, since if their seats are converted into a woman's special seat. To lose that would indeed be tragic, I can see that (somehow the sarcasm just didn't come through on this one). By a twist of fate, I wish the process to demarcate the first 33% of seats happen to be those seats regularly contested by Laloo, Mulayam, Deve Gowda et al. Wouldn't that be a sight then, to watch these clowns wailing in desperation and frustration.

So is it a good thing to empower women in politics and make sure that we have more women in politics so that other women feel they actually have representation? Yes, absolutely. Is the method we're using to achieve this noble goal the right one? I wouldn't say yes straight away. And I'm sure those who can objectively decide would also agree. I'm not willing to buy the argument that just because we can't come up with a better and completely fair solution, we adopt one that is blatantly discriminatory.
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