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India has to go miles to give women their place in politics; 9% representation narrates a sad tale

The electoral college that voted on Monday to pick the next President of India had only nine percent of it who were women. That is, from among all the Members of Parliaments in both Houses – Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and all state legislatures — less than one out of ten elected representative was a woman. This statistics should wake up the country to provide proper representation to women who, roughly, constitute half the country’s population.

One of the very few women ministers Smriti Irani. PTI

One of the very few women ministers Smriti Irani. PTI

It could well be called political misogyny in a country where she is said to be worshipped as Shakti, Durga, et al, but keeps them low in the social order by restricting them at most levels, objectifying them. This poor proportion reflects how the country, despite a declaration to provide them at least a third of the seats in Parliament and assemblies, treats them. The fact that half the population has to get only a third representation is also a reflection of it.

That one-third representation has not come about yet, though the idea was mooted over two decades ago. The quota of between a third and half of all panchayat raj seats emerged in 1998 but it has not become a reality for either the Parliament or the legislatures. It is as if there is a concerted bid to scuttle it has succeeded even though a constitutional amendment was adopted by Rajya Sabha. But it has not passed muster with the Lok Sabha.

Before we move to look at India’s history of punctured efforts, it is important to note two recent developments, one in France and another in the United Kingdom where the voters made history. In France, they elected 233 women as MPs when the total strength of their parliament is 577. That is a tad above 40 percent in a country where for funding, women are required to be nominated, not a share assigned in seats in the law-making body.

In the United Kingdom where the recent elections clipped Theresa May’s wings, the parliament has more than 200 women MPs, which is higher than their previous strength of 196. Interestingly, according to published accounts of statistics from the House of Commons Library, all of them are from the Conservative Party. This one party’s dominance in the share of women MPs is unique so far. The party was led by May, a woman.

According to a review of representations till 2015, out of 67 law-making bodies, more than 30 percent are women. Tanzania rubbed shoulders with Switzerland with over a third of its membership in parliaments being women, and for the first time, Ethiopia, Trinidad and Tobago, El Salvador, Portugal, and Sudan and joined the ranks. Ethiopia and in Trinidad and Tobago also have reached that milestone. But India is nowhere there.

Nine percent in all law-making bodies together is peanuts because, despite major political parties like the BJP and the Congress in favour of it, the Women’s Reservation Bill has not become an Act. There have been shameful attempts, including physical, to derail the very intent to have a law favouring a share for women.

When the Rajya Sabha approved it in 1996, it seemed history was being made but it was an ephemeral dream. When the UPA law minister, HR Bharadwaj moved it in the House, his copy was sought to be snatched and women MPs had to guard him then. Even Vice-President Hamid Ansari, chairing the Upper House, was sought to be “attacked” as The Hindu described it then.

MPs like Sharad Yadav had gone to the extent of asking if the women elected -- "these women with short hair can speak for our women" implying that the women who get elected are different from the women who populated the country. It would, however, be wrong to single out Sharad, for the parties led by the other two, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav were in the forefront opposing the one-third quota.

At one point, at a press conference in Mumbai, CPM’s Brinda Karat went to the extent of saying that these two parties had “no social agenda” but could not defend hers and other parties which were allies with them. She accused the then government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee of not ensuring the passage of the Bill without conceding that the MPs or political parties also have their responsibility to ensure adoption of the quota Bill.

There were slogans from Samajwadi Party like "Take back the Women’s Reservation Bill" in 1996. An RJD MP went on to snatch the copy of the Bill from the Speaker and tore it. The Bill was sought to be introduced time and again but political misogyny thwarted the attempts. It was a resolute sabotage of women’s empowerment.

In this background, it is silly to pride ourselves on the fact that India once had a woman president or a speaker, and that yesterday, the lady who had occupied the speaker’s chair was a candidate to be the country’s president. Such elevations are merely token.

To pat ourselves on the fact that West Bengal has a woman chief minister in Mamata Banerjee, with a counterpart in Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, and till she died, Jayalalithaa makes no sense. That Mayawati and Anandiben Patel too had occupied that post. They were the few who battled their way up in a male-dominated world of politics. But there is a huge section of women who would like to get there but are kept out. Women are even elected to gram panchayats because of quotas, their husbands, fathers, or brothers who work as their proxies.

Updated Date: Jul 18, 2017 18:39 PM

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