In a momentous development on September 19, during a special session of the Indian Parliament, the government took a bold step by reintroducing a constitutional amendment bill. This bill carries the vision of reserving one-third of the seats in both the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies for women. The revival of this bill injects fresh life into a longstanding legislative endeavor that had languished for 27 years, primarily due to the absence of a unanimous consensus among political parties. This proposed legislation, aptly titled “Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam,” symbolises an unwavering commitment to addressing gender disparities entrenched within Indian politics. Its resurgence underscores the relentless efforts aimed at amplifying women’s participation in the formulation of policies and governance. As India recommits itself to the cause of advancing gender equality in the realm of governance, the legislative journey and destiny of this bill assume profound significance and will be vigilantly observed.
- The struggle for gender equality in Indian politics has deep roots dating back to the nation’s independence movement.
- Visionary women leaders like Sarojini Naidu and Annie Besant played pivotal roles in shaping India’s destiny.
- Despite their contributions, women’s participation in Indian politics remained severely limited.
- The Women’s Reservation Bill is a critical milestone in the journey towards gender equality in governance.
Women’s Reservation Bill, officially known as the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, had been introduced multiple times in the Indian Parliament. Here is the historical context up to that point:
- First Introduction (1996): The Women’s Reservation Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1996.
- Reintroduction (1998): It was reintroduced in 1998 but lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
- Reintroduction (1999): The bill was again reintroduced in 1999 but faced stiff opposition.
- Reintroduction (2002): In 2002, the bill was introduced once more but did not progress.
- Reintroduction (2008): The bill was reintroduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2008 and passed by the Upper House. However, it did not receive approval in the Lok Sabha.
- Reintroduction (2010): In 2010, the bill was introduced again but was met with protests and disruptions in Parliament.
- One-Third Reservation: Reserving one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women.
- Reserved Seats for Marginalised Groups: One-third of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are also earmarked for women of these communities.
- Rotation of Reserved Constituencies: Ensuring equitable representation through the rotation of reserved constituencies.
- Time Limit: The provision that reserved seats for women will cease to exist 15 years after the amendment’s commencement.
The Importance of the Bill:
- Empowering Women: A significant step towards women’s empowerment in India, enabling active participation in decision-making.
- Affirmative Action: Addressing gender disparities through affirmative action, positively impacting resource allocation.
- Debate on Merit: A debate on the perception of women competing on merit, prompting discussions on broader electoral reforms.
- Alternate Methods: Exploring alternatives like reservations within political parties or dual-member constituencies.
- Unrealized Recommendations: The bill missed incorporating recommendations, such as extending reservations to OBC women and including the Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils.
How a Bill Becomes a Law in India:
- The bill is introduced in either the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha.
- Debate and Committee Review: It undergoes thorough debate and may be referred to parliamentary committees.
- Passage in One House: The bill is approved by a majority in the house where it was introduced.
- Passage in the Other House: The bill undergoes a similar process in the other house, with potential amendments.
- Concurrence or Amendments: If amendments are made, the bill returns to the first house for concurrence.
- Presidential Assent: After both houses agree, it is sent to the President for approval.
- Becoming Law: Once the President assents, the bill becomes law.
The Women’s Reservation Bill is firmly rooted in India’s constitutional framework, with significant constitutional provisions relevant to this bill:
- Article 15(3): This constitutional article empowers the State to enact special provisions for women and children, affirming the State’s authority to do so.
- Article 81: Addressing the composition of the Lok Sabha, this article outlines seat allocation to states and union territories. The Women’s Reservation Bill seeks to reserve one-third of these seats for women.
- Article 243D: Within the context of Panchayats (local self-government bodies), this constitutional provision outlines seat reservations for women. The bill extends this principle to state legislative assemblies.
- Article 330: Pertaining to the Lok Sabha, this article discusses seat reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The Women’s Reservation Bill proposes allocating one-third of these reserved seats to women from these communities.
- Article 332: Similar to Article 330, this article applies to legislative assemblies in states, focusing on seat reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The bill extends these reservations to women within these communities.
The Women’s Reservation Bill aligns with these constitutional articles, providing the necessary legal foundation for seat reservations in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, promoting gender equality in Indian politics.
Conclusion – The Way Forward:
The Women’s Reservation Bill, with its historical significance and key provisions, has the potential to reshape Indian politics by empowering women and addressing gender disparities. As India moves forward, the bill’s fate in Parliament will be closely monitored. To realise its goals, constructive dialogue among political parties is crucial to build consensus. While debates on merit and alternative methods persist, the bill remains a symbol of India’s commitment to creating a more equitable and inclusive political landscape, where women’s voices are not just heard but given the prominence they rightfully deserve.
Source: PRS Legislative Research