Women’s quota: English editorials hail ‘historic beginning’, but point to ‘smoke and mirrors’

There have been mixed reactions to the law which has been cleared in the Lok Sabha almost three decades after it was first tabled.

WrittenBy:NL Team
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There have been mixed reactions to the women’s reservation bill, which has been cleared in the Lok Sabha almost three decades after it was first tabled in Parliament. While some have hailed it as a victory for the campaign for more women representation, others have termed it tokenism.

The implementation is unclear, considering that the reservation could only be effective after the delimitation and census exercises, and several opposition leaders say it has only been passed with an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Editorials in prominent English dailies also outlined as much, praising the quota but also urging the Narendra Modi government to implement it immediately.

The Hindu said the bill is a welcome move that “can finally shatter a political glass ceiling”. “Considering the fraught history of the struggle for women’s reservation, and several false starts despite the Rajya Sabha passing it in 2010, it is laudatory that the first Bill to be introduced in the new Sansad Bhavan has been passed in the Lok Sabha”. 

“But its implementation will be delayed as it has been tied to two factors, delimitation and the Census, and therein lies the rub. It is unfortunate that implementation is being linked to delimitation, for the principle of having a third of seats reserved for women has nothing to do with the territorial limits of constituencies or the number of Assembly or Lok Sabha constituencies in each State. Women will thus not have access to 33 percent reservation in the 2024 general election.”

The editorial also noted that the opposition is demanding an internal quota for OBC women, “but this should not be used as a ruse to delay implementation”. 

Hindustan Times said a quota is welcome “but not a panacea”.

“Less than 15 percent of the Lok Sabha MPs are women, the figures aren’t any better in state assemblies. The global average for women legislators is 26.2 percent. The 1992 Panchayati Raj legislation took up the challenge of representation and reserved one-third of the seats in local bodies for women. Today, 50 percent of seats in local bodies in 20 out of 28 states are reserved for women. After a period when mostly proxies were fielded, this has facilitated the emergence of a new generation of confident and capable women leaders.” 

“However, parties rarely field them in assembly polls or the general election. The Constitution (128th amendment), 2023 Bill seeks to reserve up to one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha, all legislative assemblies and the legislative assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and up to one-third of seats reserved for SC/STs in all these legislatures for women, in an attempt to correct this anomaly.”

 In an editorial headlined “vague hope”, The Telegraph, meanwhile, noted that it is “shameful that no government could implement it; overt resistance and a complicit forgetfulness always managed to lay the proposal to rest. This continued failure reflected the deep gender bias that afflicts Indian society, of which the Lok Sabhas were obviously not free”. 

“The bill under the United Progressive Alliance II was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010, although it was not exactly what has now been proposed by the Narendra Modi-led government in the Constitution (128th amendment) bill. It does propose 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, and the same quota for women in seats already reserved for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. But the reserved seats would be rotational, removing the possibility of re-election from the same constituency and hence, critics feel, discouraging work for long-term projects. The quota will be discontinued 15 years after the passage of the law.”

It said that it would have been “heartening if the law could be implemented by a government under which violence against women is rampant”. “But there are other conditions. The law will be implemented only when delimitation has been carried out; that will not take place before the census. The 2021 census was postponed because of the pandemic, yet it has not been announced since. So the entire exercise of reserving seats for women is dependent on two forthcoming but still undated events. But once the law is passed, the clock will start ticking on the 15-year limit. The government is, then, merely making a promise with no date for its fulfilment.”

It said the “government is once again playing a game of smoke-and-mirrors, only this time it is with the disturbing issue of gender parity. If its intentions are to open up spaces for women, then the act should be implemented immediately.”

An Indian Express editorial called it a “historic beginning made in the first session held in the new Parliament building”. “The preface was political, and perhaps, so also the timing – ahead of the general election in 2024 – even though women’s reservation, linked to the next census and delimitation, is likely to come into effect only after that.” 

“But whatever the immediate reason or circumstance, the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam is a watershed in the nation’s journey as a democracy and enormously welcome. The Bill which promises to increase the representation of women in Parliament and state legislative assemblies to 33 per cent is finally on the brink of becoming law because, unlike in its previous outings, it is now backed by a government armed with a decisive majority. For the nation, for its women and also its men, this is a moment to applaud and to look forward to.”

“A law for women’s reservation in legislatures is needed. The rest, be it the design of the reservation system or the mechanisms to implement it, or the crucial issue of how to ensure that the quota isn’t dominated by the dominant, will need to be worked out.”

Days before the bill was passed, The Times of India had also carried an editorial amid speculation that the legislation could be tabled in Parliament.

“The country and its women have come a long way since the passage of such a legislation was first attempted in 1996. The vociferous opposition that every government attempting this has faced so far, has also muted. Brutish scenes of male MPs tearing up women’s reservation bills in the past, are now unlikely to be repeated. The socio-economic argument for this reservation was strong even three decades ago. What the passage of time has done is shifted the politics to the same page.”

“BJP committed to a constitutional amendment towards this reservation in both its 2014 and 2019 manifestos. Individually many male politicians must still be offering resistance within the party. But today’s BJP can tame rebels. And the party has a chance to tell voters it has delivered the boldest reform for women since the Constitution delivered universal adult franchise. Of course, Congress will remind voters how it spearheaded the transformative one-third reservation for women in panchayati raj institutions. Plus, how Sonia Gandhi’s staunch leadership ensured a women’s reservation bill through the Rajya Sabha in 2010, in a much more hostile time. But almost certainly, the governing party will bag the bigger bragging rights. As for reasons the politics on women’s reservation has shifted so much since 2010, look at the 2019 Lok Sabha elections voting data: women’s turnout beat men’s for the first time – a trend also being seen in many assembly polls.”

Also see
article imageConsti-tuition – Episode 10: Reservation


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