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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, March 13, 2010

No reservations

It will only create a political ghetto for women

If all goes according to plan, the Women's Reservation Bill may well be passed by Parliament soon. And more’s the pity.

Yes, that’s right. Call me a contrarian but I don’t agree with the militant sisterhood on this one either. While I am all for increased female participation in the political process, and for more women in Parliament, I really don’t see how reservation is the best way to achieve these goals.

In fact, in my view, the Women Reservation Bill is probably the worst way ever.

Let’s just pause for a moment and see how the Bill would actually work. To achieve 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament, a proportionate number of constituencies all over the country would be reserved for women on a rolling lottery basis. So, even if a male MP had nurtured his constituency for years on end, if it ended up on the reserved list he would be summarily turfed out to make way for the ladies.

Even if we ignore this how unfair this is to men who may lose out for no fault of theirs, there is a real danger that this measure would actually push women into a kind of sexist space where they could only compete against other women. (Do you believe for a second that many women would be awarded seats in the general category over and above the 33 per cent sanctioned to them? No, I didn’t think so either.)

So, what we would see is a ghettoisation of women in Indian politics, the equivalent of asking the women folk to cram into the ladies compartment while the men took over the rest of the train.

Is this really what we want 60-odd years of Indian parliamentary democracy to come down to: the creation of modern-day zenanas for women, a protected space, where men are kept out by law? Is it really a good idea to introduce another purdah system, no matter how metaphorical, to keep women in their place?

And how exactly does it benefit women to be pushed out of the vast political space they might occupy and sent off to live on the reservation?

All this, to achieve what exactly? To ensure that exactly 33 per cent of Parliament comprises women?

If that is our goal, surely there are easier ways of achieving it than by subverting the essential tenets of our liberal democracy and by amending the Constitution of India. If all political parties are agreed – as they say they are – that women are under-represented in Parliament and that these numbers need to increase then what prevents them from amending their own party constitutions to institute a 33 per cent reservation for women candidates at all levels?

That’s right. Nothing. Every political party could implement this without any trouble at all. And it would be a darn sight easier than bringing through an amendment to the Constitution of India. And yet, no political party – not the Congress, not the BJP, not the Left, not the assorted regional outfits – is even willing to discuss such a commonsensical measure, let alone implement it. Doesn’t it make you wonder about their commitment to female empowerment?

With a certain dreary inevitability, at every election, women candidates are denied seats by political parties across the spectrum, on the pretext of their alleged ‘unwinnability’. And instead of trying to develop a line of more credible female candidates the next time round, all of them fall back on harking for the Women Reservation Bill, which is presented as a panacea for every injustice ever wrought on women.

So is this just a way for the patriarchal political system to tell women in the nicest possible way: “Hey, you couldn’t possibly compete with us boys, so why don’t you go off and play on your own.”

Frankly, it beggars belief that women are falling for this, no actually begging for this to become a reality, especially when I suspect that most of these seats will be reserved for female relatives of powerful male politicians.

Can’t you just see how this will play out? Male politician’s seat comes under the reservation quota. He promptly produces his mother/wife/daughter/daughter-in-law and suggests that the ticket be given to her instead. After all, the family has long ties with the constituency, there is widespread support for his clan in the area, and she can draw on his support base as well. Surely, this makes her the ideal candidate – and at election time, it’s all about ‘winnability’, right?

So across the country, we will see the unedifying spectacle of women from powerful political families entering the system on the basis of this dubious measure. And soon all political power will be concentrated in a few hundred families who control the system on the basis of sheer numbers. The boys will get dynasty. The girls will get reservation.

How can this be anything but disastrous for our parliamentary democracy?

And as for those who insist that it doesn’t matter which women enter the system, because the entry of more women will only benefit the female of the species. I have just two words to say to them: Mayawati; Jayalalitha.

I really don’t think I need say any more.


Mumble Bee said...

I found Aditya Sinha's Mar 13th rebuttal of tweetarari consensus(nays hav it..nays hav it) on WR Bill awesome! Eagerly awaitin ur counter-rebuttals..
ps: plz let moderated anonymous posts..(with self given names)..it is such a pain to sign in and sign out every time..

Lokadhikar said...

good article. thought provoking.

it won't make any difference to madame though, who just needs credit for herself.

india-awake said...

it is important to realise that this is sheer publicity stuff, to take the attention of the people away from governance and focus it on sonia.

she wanted to have a feather - even if crow's -in her cap while completing 12 years as chief of her party.

Seema Goswami said...

@ Mumblee Bee Sorry have not seen Aditya's piece as yet. Will have a look.
Thanks for the suggestion. Have changed the comments module. It should be easier to post comments now.
Hope to hear more from you!

Anonymous said...

Well written piece. The women-groups demand reservation because of inadequate representation. So are the Muslims who demand quotas on the same ground. We're on a slippery slope of competitive victimhood here which will benefit some at the expense of many.

- Nikhil

Anonymous said...

Ma'am, I am a first year Political Science student at DU, and I ardently follow your column on Sunday Brunch. I eagerly open "spectator" first thing on Sunday's during brunch. I hope to be a journalist someday and I draw a lot of inspiration from you. I'm also a fan because your views are very similar to mine (though mine are hardly as weighty as yours). I agree in full totality with your views on this topic, and some of my fellow-mates see me as a traitor to my sex for having such opinions. Yet, being the proud human being that I am - proud being a girl - I think that reservations are only demeaning to the social position of women in India today. I think that even if the process is slow and long drawn-out, women should rather be given the time and the space to self-actualise and list their achievements as totally their own, rather than having to share the credit with the policy of reservation.