Category : 2023 Rewind
Author : Izeen Fatima

Izeen Fatima

While the much-discussed Women Reservation Bill or Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam (128th Constitution Amendment Bill), has finally found its way to the light of approval, Izeen Fatima in this article discusses the bill briefly and evaluates whether it represents genuine empowerment or a mere tokenism and how it can address the concerns related to the power of the elite through the POV of past amendments

Introduction

After a protracted voyage through the labyrinth of legislative history, the Women’s Reservation Bill 2023, or Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam (128th Constitution Amendment Bill), has at last received the green light. This momentous bill, which set sail in 1996, has triumphed despite parliamentary challenges, structural complexities, resistance, and adjournments. At its core, the bill seeks to achieve key objectives, most notably the provision for 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, and the introduction of a delimitation process. Moreover, seat rotation through delimitation has been proposed. Beneath the discussion of these objectives, several past amendments are often obscured by the umbrella of “Women Reservation.”

Key Features of the Bill:

1. Reservation for Women in NCT of Delhi (New Clause in Article 239AA):
– Article 239AA of the Indian Constitution relates to the unique status granted to the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi in terms of its administrative and legislative functions. The introduction of this new clause reflects a broader commitment to extending women’s reservation provisions to various levels of governance, including Union Territories.
2. Reservation for Women in State Legislative Assemblies:
– The Bill introduces Article 332A, mandating the reservation of seats for women in every State Legislative Assembly. The specific number of seats reserved is not provided, but the primary goal is to enhance women’s representation at the state level.
– The Bill also seeks to reserve one-third of the seats allocated for SCs and STs in state legislative assemblies for women. It further proposes that one-third of the total seats filled through direct elections in state Legislative Assemblies be reserved for women.
3. Reservation for Women in the Lower House (Lok Sabha):
– The Bill introduces Article 330A, similar to Article 330, which reserves seats for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the Lok Sabha. The proposed provision aims to reserve seats for women, allocated through rotation among constituencies within states or Union Territories.

73rd Amendment – Women’s Representation in Panchayati Raj Institutions:

The 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1992 mandated the reservation of one-third of seats for women in all tiers of Panchayats. While this policy has led to approximately 44% of women’s representation in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), the ground reality reveals a different story. This includes examples of token representation where influential men continue to exert power, as seen in the story of Mahmuda Khatoon- “Two men, seated outside an office labelled ‘Mahmuda Khatoon, Mukhiya, Vaishali Panchayat’, are greeted by Mukhiyaji, a man in his 40s wearing a white kurta pyjama and canvas shoes. They discuss the Mukhya Mantri Kanya Vivah Yojna, a marriage assistance scheme. Mukhiyaji assures them their paperwork is processed at the block office. This is their seventh meeting. Proudly, the man introduces himself as M.D. Kalamuddin, ‘President of Vaishali, MP’ who in reality is just enjoying the pleasure of being Mahmuda’s husband.” The existence of an elite within the patriarchal structure raises questions about true representation and decision-making power.
The Women’s Reservation Bill aims to avoid the trap of mere tokenism, emphasizing the need for a robust monitoring system to ensure effective implementation. Additionally, the bill’s long-term effectiveness and sustainability should be a focus, as many policies tend to lose momentum after their initial launch. The bill also needs to address the intersectionality of gender, looking beyond reserved SC/ST seats to ensure representation for marginalized women of various backgrounds, including religion.

Comparison with Global Women in Politics:

While India’s women’s representation in politics stands at around 14% in the Lok Sabha and 11% in the Rajya Sabha, countries like Rwanda, Cuba, and Nicaragua have achieved higher representation. Rwanda, for instance, boasts more than 60% women in its parliament, setting an example for gender diversity in politics.

Women’s Reservation Bill – The Road Ahead:

While the bill won’t take immediate effect in the upcoming general elections, the Home Minister, Amit Shah, has indicated it may be enforced in 2029. However, it is important to acknowledge that the bill tackles deep-rooted issues, including the historical underrepresentation of women in politics. While the percentage of female MPs has increased from 5% in the first Lok Sabha to 15% in the 17th Lok Sabha, there is still much progress to be made.

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