Forty-three-year-old Changuna Raoji Sinalkar, an anganwadi worker, got a break in politics three years ago after her village — Ranmala in Pune district — was declared reserved for women.
During her term as sarpanch [village chief], the class 4 dropout-— a single Dalit woman — ensured that every house in the village has a toilet.
Women like Sinalkar can now bid for bigger roles in policy making. With the women’s reservation Bill cleared in the Rajya Sabha, thousands of women grassroots leaders can aim for places in Legislatures.
Once the Bill is cleared, at least 96 seats in the state Assembly, including those reserved for Dalits and scheduled castes (SC), will be for women.
Today, the state Assembly has 11 women legislators — five per cent of the 288-member house. This, despite the fact that 50 per cent of the votes polled in the 2009 Assembly elections went to women.
The reservation will be on the lines of the reservations in local self-government bodies. If there are seats reserved for the SC then one-third of those will be kept for women SC candidates.
Critics of the Bill say reservation is tokenism and new faces in Parliament will come mainly from established political families. But political analysts and women’s rights activists feel reservation will bring a paradigm shift in politics and lead to real democratisation.
“In the beginning, politicians may field their daughters and wives to keep control over the constituency. But, this will change over time as it has with local self-government institutions. It will empower women and will give a larger scope to women from the grassroots,’’ said political analyst, B. Venkatesh Kumar.
Kiran Moghe of the Janwadi Mahila Sanghatana, the state wing of the All Indian Democratic Women’s Association, said: “If lakhs of women across the country get elected, there will be more who will contest,” said Moghe. “Even in reserved seats, Dalit and SC women will now get a chance to contest and play a bigger role.’’
Activists also feel women will change political systems and bring sensitivity to governance. Vibhuti Patel, women rights activist and professor at SNDT University, said: “The texture, character and substance of politics will change with the entry of so many women. This has been reflected across the globe and even in our panchayati raj institutions. Women effectively address issues such as sanitation, water supply, the public distribution system, roads.’’
Political parties, however, are unhappy. “Now we can’t just give lip service about women’s participation,’’ a Nationalist Congress Party functionary admitted.