The resistance to the Women’s Reservation Bill is based not on rational considerations but stems from deep-rooted insecurities and churlishness. Indian men have enjoyed the privileges of power for decades and it’s not surprising that they aren’t willing to let go of what they have come to think of as their birthright.
Resistance to change is normal. Those well-entrenched and well-versed in the workings of an imperfect system will fight tooth and nail against what they perceive as encroachments on their turf. Part of this fear is based on real considerations like the loss of power. Much heartburn, though, is caused by habit, inertia and an elemental fear of the unknown. When structural changes are introduced into any system, there will always be apprehensions of disequilibrium.
While ‘timeless India’ may be a myth perpetrated by the West, it’s also true that Indians are slow to adapt to changed realities. We’ve always been flexible though: we’re willing to bend over backwards for influential people; we’ll bend rules for a small bribe. But when it comes to real change we’d rather stick our necks in the ground and wait for the winds to blow over. In our schools and universities for example, suggestions towards even minor changes to the curriculum are met with hostility by fellow teachers. For it’s easier to plod along the beaten path than to hack a new one through the forest.
Apprehensions have been raised about the Bill’s misuse and the practicality of its implementation, but this is mere nitpicking and still doesn’t take away from the moral force of the argument. All systems have loopholes and fixing these is a matter of intent and agency. But it is not reason enough to block a progressive and far-sighted legislation.
There is no denying that women have got a raw deal. In the May 2004 general election, out of 539 candidates elected to the 14th Lok Sabha, only 44 were women, prompting the Election Commission to write to the government about the need for providing adequate representation to women. While it takes much more than legislation to set old wrongs right, the Bill, if passed, will ensure two things. It sends out a message to the world that the world’s biggest democracy is willing to give its women a substantial role in its politics. This, along with some other moves like decriminalising homosexuality and allowing live-in relationships, sends out an unambivalent message that India is a plural, inclusive and progressive society. At the same time, the Bill guarantees the infusion of fresh honest blood in politics, something that is very much the need of the hour.
The writer is the author of Eunuch Park and the editor of Recess: The Penguin Book of Schooldays.