TODAY -

Women's Bill : A passage to nowhere ?

Rajendra Kshetri *



It was in this month nine years ago that history was made/created in the Parliamentary history of democracy in India. Women's Bill was passed on the ninth day of March 2010 in the Upper House of Parliament by one hundred and eighty six votes to one. Expectations were high and anticipated with much enthusiasm that it would soon be introduced / passed in no time in the Lower House and eventually became an Act.

What happened? Nothing . All that was evident was a game of 'hide and seek' played by all political parties which eventually puts the women's Bill in a mire. The whole questions of 'Women's Bill' ended in smoke. It was at best an exercise in futility.

Nine years down the line, the Bill has not been introduced, let alone passed, in the Lok Sabha. Not during the UPA regime. Not in the present NDA regime. It is not that the so-called ' Women's Bill' and/or the whole question of having more number of women in the decision making bodies has been buried death. The issue/ question is very alive and kicking especially when elections are round the corner.

Now that the Election schedule for the 17th Lok Sabha has been announced, all Political parties and Political leaders across the country will once again use the 'Women's Bill' as political plank to woo women voters. Promises (read unkept) will be galore and Manifestoes (read namesake) aplenty assuring (read fooling) female electorates that "Bill" will be introduced/passed if voted to power.

The last nine years tells a different tale though. A tale, no fairy tale mind you, that sends a message loud and clear to the entire women population of the country. The political leadership of most of the political parties in India do not want to see more number of women in the decision making bodies.

In fact, women of the largest democracy in the world have been taken for a long ride ans and mechanisms of providingopportunity and encouragement for larger representations of women in the Parliament and State Assemblies. That is to say, why wait for the 'Bill' to be passed and enacted as an Act when the same could be initiated at the party level. 'Women's Bill' is not necessarily the only means through which women could get themselves elected to the Parliament and the state Assemblies.

All one needs to do is to allot 33% (or more for that matter) of the total tickets to women. Such an initiative will surely pave the way for larger number of women representation. This is exactly what Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha have done by declaring 33% for women in allocation of BJD Lok Sabha tickets. The Trinamul Chief and West Bengal's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee went a step further declaring 40.5% tickets to women.

There is every likelihood for other regional parties to come up with such similar declaration in the days ahead. And if the trend continues, something not unlikely, which would definitely serve as a political booster towards translating 'Women's Bill' into reality, the two major political parties of the country, BJP and INC will have no other option but to follow the suit. No political party, national and/or regional, would like to be painted/labelled outright as anti-women.

Women constitute almost half of the country's total population. In many states including Manipur female electorates outnumber male electorates. It is indeed a matter of wonder nay shame that women in India have so far not been given a fair share of representations in the Parliament and the state Assemblies . A dismal record, a blot on India's seventy two long years of developmental path to Parliamentary democracy.

An inglorious history of Independent India's long march to 'government of the people, by the people and for the people.' Promises were/are made and unmade. Policies framed and unframed. Schemes launched and left high and dry. All in the name of and for empowering women. Project, promise, policy and scheme comes and goes. What remained is the perpetual plight of women and their under representations in the decision making bodies.

There seems to be a perceptive change now in the mindset of political class of the country as evident from the recent declaration/ announcement of Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee. Will the 17th Lok Sabha 2019 bring any change in terms of the number of women representatives in the House? Would it be wishful thinking if the Indian electorates expect the largest political party in the world –BJP and the oldest political party in the country – INC – to allot 33% ( or more) tickets to women?

The next few days will tell whether the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress believe in the moral maxim: "Practice what you preach."

Till then, wait and watch while keeping your fingers crossed.


* Rajendra Kshetri wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, Manipur University, Imphal. Author of "The Emergence of Meetei Nationalism"; "District Councils in Manipur: Formation and Functioning"; "Sociology: Perceptions and Conceptions".
His continuing series of poems on Nambul River " Cry of a Dying River" appears in the Poetry section
This article was webcasted on March 18, 2019.



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