It is quite sad that the Women Reservation Bill is in danger of postponement again, soon after it was justly celebrated by all right thinking women and men as a step towards ending the commonly accepted version in India of a woman being just a mother, daughter or wife but not an individual with her own personality - the Bill is only a beginning of the fight for Gender Justice.
The passing of Bill in the Rajya Sabha has generated extraordinary confidence amongst women in the country. That enthusiasm should not be allowed to be frittered away by what one is fearing of political expediency by not passing this Bill in the present session of Lok Sabha, but waiting for the next session which will be months away.
Some weak kneed persons in Ruling Party may trot out the excuse of danger of passing the Budget or risk in weakening of outside party support. There seems hardly any justification for this gloomy view. Let me remind all of the steadfast insistence of Pt. Nehru, J.P. , Lohia in insisting on passing the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 notwithstanding the country passing through tumultuous times and inspite of the vociferous powerful apposition from stalwarts like Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the President of India and some of his colleagues. It is in times like these that the real mettle of leadership is tested. Fortunately, a last minute corrective action by the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi (notwithstanding the shaky advise of their advisers), in insisting on passing the Bill in Rajya Sabha was the real knock out blow against the opponents of the Bill. Of course, this was made much easier by the open and correct support given by both BJP and the Left Parties. That support is still available. Notwithstanding the bullying buster by Mulayam, Lalu, Sharad, these die hard obscurantists can not muster any strength nor make a cleavage in the support given by BJP/Left on this issue. May I respectfully remind Yadav Trio to freshen up their Lohia readings - the mentor had clearly opined that reservation for women was an instrument in social engineering - he never suggested splitting the strength of woman quota by further splitting them into sub-quotas.
Another fear put forward is that a non-confidence move by Yadavs might tempt BJP/Left to make use of this opportunity. I do not see any such possibility. Notwithstanding the cleavage in their political formulations, women electorate as such will never forgive a political party, which sought in any way to trifle the numbers and endanger the passing of Bill in the present session.
It may look little anomalous and frustrating but the overall compulsion of passing the Women Reservation Bill in Lok Sabha in this very session is of so overwhelming importance that some kind of adjustment is necessary between Congress, BJP and Left Parties.
Let us not forget that half the State Assemblies have still to approve the Bill before it can become law. If the enthusiasm generated is not made use of in this very session I am afraid it may run out to become empty rhetoric and the danger of the Bill being caught up in mutual mud slinging with uncertain prospects might give a near fatal blow to the passing of Bill as in the past.
The opponents of the Bill are projecting false fears. The argument that the women's quota will be monopolized by urban women is a red herring. There are very substantial numbers of OBCs in the Lok Sabha. It is stark reality that it is not their public service, but merely the caste configuration that has preferred them. Similar results will follow even after reservation for women. The only difference will be a big chink in the male bastion. That is the real reason for opposition by a section of male legislators.
Crimes against urban women are no less heinous than those against rural women. Women as a class cannot be bifurcated in the matter of injustice. The creation of artificial sub-quotas within this suppressed section is a conspiracy of male chauvinism to perpetuate its dominance.
In my view, provision of a sub-quota for OBC women runs the risk of being held as un-constitutional. Reservation of seats is guaranteed only for SC/STs in Article 330. The framers of the Constitution did not intend further fragmentation of the legislatures on caste lines.
The latest Asia Pacific Human Development Report estimates that the under representation of women in the workforce costs the region about $89 billion each year - roughly equivalent to the GDP of Vietnam.
Reservation for women would check the muddy polities that their menfolk have brought about. It would bring social consciousness to political life. It will also help in breaking the criminal-politician nexus - the real danger to our democracy. In my view, the working of this law will unleash a powerful agent of social change, gender respect and social reforms.
Women are not asking for grace and charity. Their contribution to the cause of nation-building exceeds that of men. An International Labour Organisation study shows that "while women represent 50 per cent. of the world adult population and a third of the official labour force, they perform nearly two-thirds of all working hours, receive a tenth of world income and own less than 1 per cent. of world property". Therefore, reservation for women is not a bounty but only an honest recognition of their contribution to social development.
Opponents of the Bill refuse to treat women as equals. It is this mindset that is sought to be destroyed by the Bill, which selfish politicians are resisting while pretending to fight for social justice.