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Watching the ladies

All those nice folks, convinced that reserving seats for women in Parliament will be lovely for womankind are celebrating because 33 per cent of the total number of seats are now on their way to being block-booked for women? Indrajit Hazra examines...

india Updated: Mar 13, 2010 23:05 IST
Indrajit Hazra

Let me get this straight. All those nice folks, convinced that reserving seats for women in Parliament will be lovely for womankind are celebrating because 33 per cent of the total number of seats are now on their way to being block-booked for women? Man, that’s like winning the 1947-48 war against Pakistan and patting each other on the back for getting to keep half of Kashmir.

Frankly, if the Women’s Reservation Bill is about fixing the minimum number of women in Parliament (and across state assemblies) according to the number of women who make up the country’s population — 48 per cent, going by the latest headcount — the zenana of one-third seats seems to fall way short. If it was about real arithmetical representation, the magic number wouldn’t have been 33; it would have been 48.

Okay, so 181 is going to be the minimum number of women MPs in the 543-member Parliament (1,370 being the minimum number of women MLAs in the 4,109 assembly seats strewn across the country). And with bigwig, tried’n’tested ladies like Sushma Swaraj and Jayanthi Natarajan able to hold their own in unisex constituencies and not wishing to ‘waste’ their parties’ precious ‘female electoral fuel’ on reserved seats, the number of women MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha should actually be in the range of 190-200.

So women will now not only fight for seats against general category men and SC/ST men as in the past, but they’ll also contest rotating constituencies against only fellow women Venus-Serena Wimbledon-style.

Oh, I’m all for it. In fact, without meaning to offend the FoRG (Fans of Rahul Gandhi), I don’t mind all 543 Lok Sabha MPs being women. Frankly, how radically different will India be if it’s represented in Parliament by roughly 350 men instead of the present 484? My only question is whether packing the House of the People with ladies will serve any purpose except packing the House of the People with ladies.

Going by what all political parties, including the ones with women at the top, have done within its own club walls, I don’t think so. What made Sonia Gandhi, the Annie Besant of our times, have only 19 women MPs from the Congress kitty? Her sorority sisters haven’t done much better either. Mamata ‘Didi’ Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress has four women MPs, ‘Behenji’ Maywati’s Bahujan Samaj Party has two, ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party have no women MPs each. So how different are these ladies now, all supportive, at various levels of intensity, of the parliamentary ladies’ coupe, from, say, Lalu Prasad who reserved a chief ministerial seat (how’s that for empowerment?) for a woman?

If the job of reserving seats for women — or, for that matter, one-eyed midgets with a hearing disability — is to represent their kind, well, that’s fine. No one should have problems about how they get to become MPs then. Just being there should be the nice, right gesture. But if the object is to strengthen and fix issues like healthcare, female education, female foeticide, violence against women, female empowerment, then a concerned Martian with the right set of priorities can be more helpful for women than the president of some important women’s rights manch.

But what on earth makes us think that by just being women, non-male MPs would be the honest-to-god, social welfare-obsessed deities? As a German Jew who survived the Holocaust complained, “Why can’t we have our own bad guys? Jews also have their own cool, bad lot.” Yes, the corrupt or goodfor-nothing woman MP does exist.

Which is why I await the day when folks enter Parliament — and the last bastion of malehood, this page — not according to the type of public washroom they enter, but according to their capabilities. One day, I also hope to shout at a pestering lady, “Ghar mey baap, bhai nahin hain?” (Don’t you have a father or brother at home?)