The Women’s Reservation Bill that carved out 33 percent of seats for women in the Parliament, state legislatures, and the Delhi legislative assembly was passed in the Lok Sabha with a historic mandate. 454 MPs supported the bill while two dissented.
The bill will now be sent to the Rajya Sabha for its consideration. However, since it is a constitutional amendment, the proposed law also has to pass muster by legislation of at least 50 percent of the states before it goes for the President's assent.
During the debate, the AIMIM MP Asauddin Owaisi, one of the dissenters, argued that the bill was merely BJP's attempt to bring in more "savarna" women and reinforce the "political isolation" of Muslim women and those belonging to the backward classes.
The bill - introduced in the parliament for the fifth time over three decades - was passed after the lower house debated on the issue for more than eight hours. Taking a dig at the opposition, Home Minister Amit Shah said women's quota was not a political move for the BJP or PM Narendra Modi, but it was a “matter of recognition".
“For some parties, women empowerment can be a political agenda and a political tool to win elections, but for BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi it is not a political issue,” he said. While addressing the house, Shah also clarified that the delimitation commission would be responsible for the distribution of the seats that are reserved for women.
Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said delimitation was bound by the constitution. Article 82, which freezes delimitation till 2026 was clear on this issue, he added. BJP leader Nishikant Dubey responded to criticism over the delay in implementation on account of the Census. Dubey said the Census was delayed on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Census will be conducted, a delimitation exercise will be conducted, it will be announced and women will be given reservation," he said assuring the house.
During the debate, many opposition MPs and a few from the ruling alliance demanded the reservation of seats for women from the backward classes. In the end, all supported the women’s reservation bill without pressing for a division.
Today's debate was largely led by women members. However, many of them questioned the timing of the introduction of the bill and criticized the conditional implementation of the law.
The passage of the bill without amendments effectively means that in practice, the reservation will not take effect until the 2029 Lok Sabha elections.
BOOM recaps the important points discussed today.
Immediate implementation, quota for OBC women
Ex-Congress President Sonia Gandhi extended her party’s support for the bill with the caveat that provisions must be made to extend the quota for women belonging to the other backward classes (OBCs) as well.
Kickstarting the debate after law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal tabled the bill for discussion, Gandhi said any delay in extending reservation would be “gross injustice” to Indian women.
“Rajiv Gandhi's dream is only half fulfilled. His dream will come true with the passage of this bill...For the last 13 years, Indian women have been waiting for their political responsibilities, and now they are being asked to wait for a few more years. Two years? Four, six, eight years? How long should we wait to see the implementation of the bill?” Gandhi said.
DMK leader Kanimozhi said, the reservation could be easily extended in the coming 2024 Lok Sabha elections. “Stop this tokenism. This bill is called Nari Shakti Vandhan Bill. Stop saluting us. We don't want to be saluted, put on a pedestal, or worshipped. We want to be respected as equals,” she added.
TMC leader Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar echoed Kanimozhi’s sentiments saying, “We want equal opportunity and respect. We want to participate in nation-building as equals, and not by someone looking down at us.”
Dastidar said TMC leader Mamta Banerjee was the only woman chief minister in this country despite the BJP being the ruling party in 16 states.
NCP MP Supriya Sule said that if the bill was not going to be implemented unless delimitation and census was over, then what was the point in introducing the bill in the parliament’s special session? We could have discussed this in December and discussed other things in this session, like the droughts,” she added.
Introduction of the bill a political gimmick
JDU MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh echoed several sentiments when he questioned the timing of the bill. “We support this bill because we believe in women empowerment. But the government has brought this bill now as a panic reaction to I.N.D.I.A. formation. Yeh 2024 ka chunavi jumla hain,” he said.
Other MPs said the government could impose lockdown, GST, and demonetization within hours, then what was the hurdle in implementing women’s quota for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
TMC leader Mahua Moitra said the timeline for the 33 percent quota was “indeterminate”.
“What does this mean? In true BJP's Goebbelsian double-speak style, it means we don't know if and when, we will actually have 33 percent women sitting in the Lok Sabha. Bill not historic as touted, but a sham, she added. “When this government wanted to protect cows, it did not wait to count the number of cows or see whether it was a Jersey or Gyr. You went and built cow shelters,” Moitra said.
“Are women any less that we have to wait while you count numbers and draw lines?” She asked.
Several MPs also echoed calls for a caste-based census along with delimitation. “Then let this legislation be enforced. This should not just be a chunavi mudda (election issue),” BSP MP Sangeeta Azad said.
This is a utopian promise, DMK MP T Sumathy said. “Delimitation scheduled for 2026. Census that was scheduled for 2021 never took place. This is clearly an electoral agenda for the ruling government,” she said adding that Indian women were intelligent and capable of telling right from wrong.
“This bill may become wild goose chess before elections,” Congress MP Ramya Haridas said.