It is unfortunate that the propaganda against the Bill is that it will benefit only one section — the well-off women. In reality, in today’s situation, it is not a disadvantage in politics to be a daughter in an OBC family. This is clear, for example, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
A myth is being created that the SC, ST and OBC women would not get anything. In the UP Assembly, out of 402 seats, only 23 are occupied by women. Of these, our SC, ST, OBC and minority sisters account for over 65 per cent. In Bihar, there are only 24 women in the 243-member state assembly, 70.8 per cent of whom are OBC, SC or Muslim women. Therefore, it is totally wrong to say that the Bill will benefit only upper-caste women. Data show that wherever there is reservation for women, women from all sections benefit.
If seats are reserved for women, it is clear that the parties that give tickets on the basis of caste configurations will continue to do so. Thus, the change that will occur is, a woman will get the ticket when the seat is reserved. The numbers of OBCs will not change. What will change will be the gender — women instead of men. There will be a Constitutional guarantee of equality.
As far as the issue of minorities is concerned, one of the greatest weaknesses in India’s democratic system today is the low representation of minorities, particularly Muslims. This is a shame for all of us. Why are our minorities so poorly represented? Why is their number in Parliament and state assemblies not commensurate with their population? There is indeed some weakness in our democratic system. How can we remove this weakness? This issue must be addressed. There should be a discussion and debate on it.
But the women’s Bill is not a magic wand that will remove all the weaknesses of India’s democratic system, nor can it be. Still, it is a fact that where there is women’s reservation at the local level, more Muslim women have an opportunity to contest and win. A recent example is from Hyderabad: Fifty out of 150 corporation seats are reserved for women. Out of those 50 seats, Muslim women have won 10 seats. How did they win there? Because those seats were reserved for women. Thus, taking advantage of seat reservations, our sisters can definitely contest and win elections.
Some people have asked: Why a rotation of seats? Some say rotation is a totally wrong principle. But we want to ask: Why should one person indefinitely be the representative of a constituency where there are hundreds of thousands of voters? Is there no other person capable of doing so among so many people? This is a totally wrong understanding.
Our party has taken the step to give a member only two terms in the Rajya Sabha. As for elected Lok Sabha representatives, our endeavour is to bring up a new comrade after one completes two or three terms. If someone says that, once elected, he or she will never leave that position because there will be instability, it is like promoting an indirect form of monarchy. Yes, it is indirect monarchy! We cannot accept this idea.
Some people ask: What will happen after the Bill? What is the guarantee that women will improve the present political scene? Will corruption end? Will all good things take place? We say a woman is not a supernatural being that she would enter Parliament and change the country and the world, though she does have the power to change many things. Please don’t expect women to treat themselves as superwomen in order to fight against the discrimination that is there in politics.
However, I do believe that women’s entry into electoral politics is most definitely going to lead to more sensitive politics. I believe it is going to be our effort to change the core political agenda.
(Excerpts from a speech by CPI(M) MP Brinda Karat on the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha on March 9)