Women Reservation: After a Good Speech,Don’t be Party to Kill the Bill

By Mansi Sharma,

Mr. Rahul Gandhi is not known for good speeches but on January 17, 2014, he gave an excellent speech. He said he wants to see 50 percent women in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. There is something more, he wants that 50 percent of Chief Ministers should be women. Good intentions, surely. We wish he could fulfill this promise. We wish it happens. We wish we could live to see such a day in Indian democracy.  But given our experience with the Women’s Reservation Bill[1] and the approach of the Congress and other parties towards it in the past, we fear that his speech would remain only a good speech.

Pass WRB

We hope Rahul Gandhi remembers March 9, 2010. It was a historical day. That day the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha. It was a joyous day for all, especially for those, who struggled for over two decades to convince legislators to pass it. Everything was right with the Bill as the Congress, the BJP and the Left parties had openly supported it. There was no reason to doubt that this Bill would be passed in the Lok Sabha.

There was immense hope since most top women leaders such as  Sonia Gandhi, President of the ruling party, Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition party, Meira Kumar, Speaker in Lok Sabha and Pratibha Patil, the then President of India, had always lent their support to the Women’s Reservation Bill. We thought nothing would stop it. Nothing. We were riding on high hopes.

Thousands of organisations across the country joined this voice and appealed to all political parties to immediately table and pass the Bill in Lok Sabha. Since then, it has been four years and the UPA government is in its last leg of completing five years of its tenure in May 2014, and there is no
trace of the Bill.

But there is still hope after Rahul Gandhi’s fine speech. This winter session of the Parliament has been extended by another two weeks from February 5 to February 21, 2014. It would be the last Parliament Session of the XVth Lok Sabha.

As per rule, if any Bill gets through in one House but does not get passed in the other House of the Parliament within the same tenure of the Lok Sabha, then the Bill gets nullified. In simple terms, it means that if the Women’s Reservation Bill does not get tabled and cleared in the upcoming Parliament session, all the efforts and struggles so far, would go down the drain.

Mr. Rahul Gandhi, we do not know what are the six Bills that you mentioned in your speech yesterday, and whether it would include the Women’s Reservation Bill or not. But we urge you to include it in your list and get it passed in the Lok Sabha. You have enough mandate in the Lok Sabha to get the Bill passed. What are you waiting for?

At this point, we do not need to get into the merits and demerits of the Bill, which already stands passed in the Rajya Sabha. However, to draw your attention, at present, there are less than 10 percent women parliamentarians. Taking the latest data from the four Assembly elections that were held recently, the numbers are no less appalling. In the December 2013 State Assembly Elections, women members elected in the following Assemblies were:

Chattisgarh- 10 out of 90
Delhi- 3 out of 70
Rajasthan- 25 out of 200
Madhya Pradesh- 30 out of 230

Media reports state that Ms. Sonia Gandhi has always supported the legislation. What is the issue? Who are blocking it? Who are not in its favor? Mr Rahul Gandhi, it is high time that you pressurize your Government to get the Women’s Reservation Bill passed in the upcoming Parliament Session in February 2014. If not now, along with your party, you too would be held responsible for killing one of the finest legislations. Don’t be part of ‘kill Bill’!

[1] The Women’s Reservation Bill is the  108th Amendment in the Constitution of India which would give :
33% reservation for women in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies.
33% reservation for women under existing 22% reservation for SC/ST.
The seats will be on a rotational basis every 5 years
The Women’s Reservation Bill is only applicable for 15 years.

 (The author is a Delhi based activist,closely associated with the campaign for Women’s Reservation) 

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