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.


Jil Jil Ramamani said...

Isn't discrimination the point here. Positive discrimination. The idea is to bring everybody to the same footing and then let them contest. Look at it like it is a raised platform - there are those who are already on the platform and there are those who need steps to climb onto the platform.

Lets look at reservation in education. The idea that everyone should get access to education is a good one. The idea of reservation here also seems to be a good one. Except, when implementing it, you need to look at who are you building stairs for, to climb the stairs to the platform. If you are building the stairs for somebody who is already on the platform, there is no point to the entire exercise. The ones below remain below. Hence, the proposal of an economic criteria instead of an SC/ST/OBC criteria in reservation in education.

Similarly, what is the need of the hour is to come up with an alternative proposal to plug the loophole in women's reservation to avoid string puppets like in Laloo-Rabri scenario. While the idea of reservation here again, as positive discrimination, is a feasible one, it's implementation to fulfil it's objectives is impeded by such loopholes.

Then again, even without such reservation, we have string puppet scenarios like in the case of CM Paneerselvam being the face behind which Jayalalitha operated in TN. When J's appointment as CM was quashed by the SC, O.Paneerselvam became her proxy heading the puppet government which was micro managed by J. Can anything really be done about it?

Karthik Shetty said...

Sorry, this concept of +ve discrimination isn't going too well... it's like the concept of good Taliban and bad Taliban. The parameters used to distinguish aren't very clear. And as far as reservation in education, I all for introducing more seats for the under-privileged, but not at the cost of reducing seats for the deserving. I still don't see how someone without a sound elementary school education will be able to to cope up with higher education. SO the elementary schooling needs to be strengthened.

I still don't see how women aren't on the same footing. It's all in the hands of the political parties. Winnability matters the most to the parties, and if a woman candidate proves herself worthy and proves that to the party bosses, she gets a ticket. Maybe we need to bring in laws to do it at the party level, rather than at the constituency/parliamentary-seat level. And my last sentence hasn't been refuted.
Provided by site.