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Women Reservation Bill: Then And Now

The Women Reservation Bill, also known as the Women's Reservation Bill, is a significant legislation proposed in India to empower women in the political arena. The bill aims to reserve a certain percentage of seats for women in the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. First introduced in 1996, the bill has witnessed numerous debates, controversies, and revisions. This document delves into the historical journey of the Women Reservation Bill, from its inception to the present day, highlighting the key arguments, progress, challenges, and the potential impact it can have on women's representation in Indian politics.


Historical Background:
The need for the Women Reservation Bill arose from the under-representation of women in Indian politics. Historically, women have faced numerous barriers and discrimination that hindered their participation in decision-making processes. Recognizing the necessity for affirmative action, the bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament) on September 12, 1996, by the United Front government.

The idea of women's representation in politics dates back to the early days of the Indian independence movement. Visionaries like Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar emphasized the importance of women's participation in governance. However, it wasn't until the 1990s that the Women Reservation Bill gained significant attention.

The Bill's Objective:
The Women Reservation Bill seeks to reserve one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for women. If enacted, it would ensure that women occupy 33% of the total seats, thus promoting gender equality and women's empowerment in politics. Additionally, the bill incorporates provisions to rotate reserved seats among different constituencies, ensuring a fair representation of women across the nation.

Amendments and Reforms:
Over the years, several amendments and reforms have been proposed to address the challenges faced by the Women Reservation Bill. One such proposal is to reserve one-third of seats for women within political parties, encouraging parties to field more female candidates and promote gender equality within their ranks. Additionally, there have been suggestions to introduce a rotation system, ensuring that reserved seats are distributed fairly among different constituencies.

Progress and Challenges:
Since its introduction, the Women Reservation Bill has faced numerous challenges. Some critics argue that it is against the principles of meritocracy, as it prioritizes gender over qualifications. Others contend that political parties may use the reserved seats to promote women from privileged backgrounds, thus excluding marginalized groups. These concerns have led to heated debates and delays in the bill's passage.

The Women Reservation Bill has faced numerous challenges and hurdles. While it was passed in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house) in 2010, it is yet to receive the required majority in the Lok Sabha. Political parties and various stakeholders have expressed differing opinions on the bill. Opponents argue that it undermines the principles of meritocracy and may lead to tokenism. They suggest that women should be elected based on their capabilities rather than through reservation.

What is the status of Women's Reservations in India?
  • Gujarat - In its 182-member parliament, just 8% of the candidates were women.
  • Himachal Pradesh - Where women make up one in every two voters, 67 males have been elected and only one woman.
  • National average - The proportion of women in state legislatures nationwide is still at 8%.
  • Rankings - According to a survey by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, India is ranked 144th out of 193 nations in terms of the representation of women in parliament.

Why did the parliament fail to pass the Women Reservation Bill?
  • Heated debates & sexist taunts - The WRB has seen some contentious discussions and a fair amount of misogyny.
  • Quota within quota - The 1996 committee advocated a quota for OBC women under the Bill's one-third reservation for women, however, this recommendation was never implemented.
  • Lack of political ability - Only the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Odisha and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) of West Bengal have seats set aside for female candidates in elections.
  • Diverts attention - WRB's detractors claim it draws attention away from more important electoral reform concerns including the criminalization of politics and party democracy.

Why In News? Now days!
Twenty-seven years after On September 20, the Lok Sabha passed the Women's Reservation Bill 2023 (128th Constitutional Amendment Bill) or Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, providing 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.

The bill reserves one-third of the seats in Lok Sabha, State legislative assemblies and the Delhi assembly. This will also apply to the seats reserved for SCs (Scheduled Castes) and STs (Scheduled Tribes) in Lok Sabha and State Legislatures.

  • There are 82 women Member of Parliaments in Lok Sabha (15.2%) and 31 women in Rajya Sabha(13%).
  • While the number has increased significantly since the 1st Lok Sabha (5%) but is still far lower than in many countries.
According to recent UN Women data, Rwanda (61%), Cuba (53%), Nicaragua (52%) are the top three countries in women representation. Bangladesh (21%) and Pakistan (20%) as well are ahead of India in case of female representation.

What are the Key Features of the Bill?
Reservation for Women in Lower House:
  • The Bill provided for inserting Article 330A to the constitution, which borrows from the provisions of Article 330, which provides for reservation of seats to SCs/STs in the Lok Sabha.
  • The Bill provided that reserved seats for women may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in states or Union Territories.
  • In the seats reserved for SCs/STs, the Bill sought to provide one-third of the seats to be reserved for women on a rotational basis.
Reservation for Women in State Legislative Assemblies:
  • The Bill introduces Article 332A, which mandates the reservation of seats for women in every state Legislative Assembly. Additionally, one-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs must be allocated for women, and one-third of the total seats filled through direct elections to the Legislative Assemblies shall also be reserved for women.
Reservation for Women in NCT of Delhi (New clause in 239AA):
  • Article 239AA to the constitution grants special status to the Union Territory of Delhi as the national capital with regards to its administrative and legislative functioning.
  • Article 239AA(2)(b) was amended by the bill accordingly to add that the laws framed by the parliament shall apply to the National Capital territory of Delhi.
Commencement of Reservation (New article - 334A):
  • The reservation will be effective after the census conducted after the commencement of this Bill has been published. Based on the census, delimitation will be undertaken to reserve seats for women.
  • The reservation will be provided for a period of 15 years. However, it shall continue till such date as determined by a law made by Parliament.

Only two nays
With 454 members of the Lok Sabha supporting the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Eighth) Bill 2023, the constitutional requirement of "two-third majority of the members present and voting" was easily met.

Only two members, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen's Asaduddin Owaisi and Syed Imtiyaz Jaleel, had opposed the Bill. The voting process, during which Mr. Modi was present, took nearly two hours as members voted manually, using paper slips.

Battle for credit
The eight-hour long debate witnessed members from the Treasury and Opposition benches, led by the Congress, engage in a battle over who should get credit for the landmark Bill and on the question of having a separate quota for women belonging to other backward classes (OBCs).

According to the United Nations, "This quota reserving 33% seats for women will leapfrog India into one of 64 countries around the world who have reserved seats for women in their national Parliaments. Typically, achieving a critical mass of 30 percent representation by women in Parliament is known to yield positive outcomes for women's empowerment. However, we hope that implementing such reservations will ultimately lead to achieving 50 percent representation of women in Parliaments across the globe."

It's important to note that the Women's Reservation Bill has faced opposition and debates within India's political landscape.

Some critics argue that it might perpetuate tokenism, while others believe that it is necessary to address the underrepresentation of women in politics.

Reservation for women in politics can be a valuable tool in challenging patriarchy and promoting gender equality, but it should be part of a broader strategy that addresses cultural norms, education, economic empowerment, and social change to create a more inclusive and equitable society.

Additionally, the impact of such policies can vary, and their success depends on various factors, including their design and implementation.

Written By: Mohd. Tofik, Seventh Semester Student Of University College Of Law, Udaipur

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