It is ironic that Sharad Yadav (M.P.) who constantly reminds us of his Lohia legacy should be opposing Women Reservation Bill on the ground that sub quota should be provided within OBC quota. He has probably forgotten that Dr. Lohia believed that in order to usher equality and dignity in the society Dalits, and Women (emphasis supplied) should be placed in higher positions even if they were not most capable to compensate for past injustices. Dr. Lohia did not bifurcate the quota for women – for him the suffering women must not be split by sub castes which will only weaken their capacity to demand equal gender justice.
Though women constitute about 50 per cent of the population, their strength in the Lok Sabha has been almost negligible right from 1952 when they numbered 45, to about 50 at present.
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 one per cent of world property.” Therefore, reservation for women is not a bounty but only an honest recognition of their contribution to social development.
Women activists must appreciate that the opposition to the Bill arises not so much from any ideological stand as the real apprehension of the existing male members when they are asked to commit political harakiri by being asked to vacate their seats for women members. To expect this is totally unrealistic; the legislators are not Karan warrior of Mahabharata epic who was even willing to surrender his life saving belt, or Jesus of Nazareth who willingly embraced the cross to redeem his fellow beings.
I have always maintained that all this can be avoided by increasing the membership of legislatures so that 1/3rd representation can be given to women without disturbing the existing male members. Even Lalu in his recent Parliament speech referred to the increase of seats – I have no doubt that if this increase is done Lalu, Sharad and others can be persuaded to give up their insistence on sub quota. It is an old adage that both women activists and sub quota protagonists should remember – “that a little bending is necessary to shoot the arrow straight.”
At present there is a comfortable government majority. If it is to surrender its 1/3rd of membership along with others, what is the guarantee of retuning its majority. Is it wise or politically sensible or in the interest of country to play with the stability of the government in these delicate times?
At present parliamentary constituency average between 1.5.million to 2.5 million population, and state assemblies constituency average 2 to 3 lakhs in most of the states. If there is a 50 per cent increase in membership of parliament and legislatures seats and provision made for double member seats in the top half of constituencies, election for electing one woman in each of these extra seats can take place immediately (the other seat being already full) so that woman representation can be provided in all the legislatures including 15th Lok Sabha. The law of double member constituencies prevailed up to 1957 for general and reserved constituencies. Similar provision for double member constituencies for women is only following a precedent. We know that this attempt failed because the constituents of some parties insisted upon sub quota for backward in the women quota, even though this is not permissible under the Constitution. The argument of sub-quota among the women is a red herring projected by male members who are in fact against women occupying positions of power. Fortunately this anti-woman block of legislators has been rejected by electorate.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee under Dr. Nalchinpan had almost finalized its recommendation for double member constituencies which would ensure 1/3 members of legislatures to the woman ‘reserved quota’ and even more if a woman gets the highest vote.
Another unfounded fear expressed is that women reservation would mean change of reserved constituencies every election cycle. There is misapprehension. Realist supporters of women reservation do not envisage any such thing happening without correspondence increase of parliament strength to 750 (proportionately in the legislatures). This shifting of seats is not uncommon – it is done frequently in the case of Scheduled Caste seats. And it can be provided that change of double constituencies will only be after two general elections.
There is more urgent and strong reason for double member constituency. We have just had Parliamentary elections and also some time back State Assembly elections. If insistence is not to increase the seats by double member constituencies, is it seriously suggested that the 1/3rd of present male members Parliament and State Assemblies will be so considerate as to resign their seats to accommodate fresh election for women legislators? If this course to me is impossible then opposition to double member seats will mean that women will have to wait for at least five more years to get reservation till that next general elections take place – that even would be doubtful. A wait for such a long period will pulverise the whole struggle which women activists have been fighting for all these years.
If there is agreement on double member seat formula, the identification of seats can be done immediately. All that needs be done is to identify 1/3rd most populated constituencies being declared as such (this will also mean no haggling and a rule of thumb quick measure) – one woman could be elected from that constituency (the other being already filled up). I feel the women activists should seriously opt for double member constituencies if they want representation or face another decade of useless bravado, false promises, and mutual mudslinging. Frankly I see no logic in why the women organisations should object to such a course – the more they delay there is a danger of Sharad Yadavism kind of perverse logic spreading.