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Spectator | No reservations

To reserve seats for women is to push them into a political ghetto rather than empower them, writes Seema Goswami.

entertainment Updated: Mar 13, 2010 16:53 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times

By the time you read this column, the Women’s Reservation Bill may well have been passed by Parliament. And more’s the pity.

Yes, that’s right. Call me a contrarian but I don’t agree with the militant sisterhood on this one either. While I am all for increased female participation in the political process, and for more women in Parliament, I really don’t see how reservation is the best way to achieve these goals.

In fact, in my view, the Women’s Reservation Bill is probably the worst way ever.

Let’s just pause for a moment and see how the Bill would actually work. To achieve 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament, a proportionate number of constituencies all over the country would be reserved for women on a rolling lottery basis. So, even if a male MP had nurtured his constituency for years on end, if it ended up on the reserved list he would be summarily turfed out to make way for the ladies.

Even if we ignore how unfair this is to men who may lose out for no fault of theirs, there is a real danger that this measure would actually push women into a kind of sexist space where they could only compete against other women. (Do you believe for a second that many women would be awarded seats in the general category over and above the 33 per cent sanctioned to them? No, I didn’t think so either.)

So, what we would see is a ghettoisation of women in Indian politics, the equivalent of asking the womenfolk to cram into the ladies compartment while the men took over the rest of the train.

Is this really what we want 60-odd years of Indian parliamentary democracy to come down to: the creation of modern-day


for women, a protected space, where men are kept out by law? Is it really a good idea to introduce another


system, no matter how metaphorical, to keep women in their place? And how exactly does it benefit women to be pushed out of the vast political space they might occupy and sent off to live on the reservation?

All this, to achieve what exactly? To ensure that exactly 33 per cent of Parliament comprises women?

If that is our goal, surely there are easier ways of achieving it than by subverting the essential tenets of our liberal democracy and by amending the Constitution of India. If all political parties are agreed – as they say they are – that women are under-represented in Parliament and that these numbers need to increase then what prevents them from amending their own party constitutions to institute a 33 per cent reservation for women candidates at all levels?

That’s right. Nothing. Every political party could implement this without any trouble at all. And it would be a darn sight easier than bringing about an amendment to the Constitution of India. And yet, no political party – not the Congress, not the BJP, not the Left, not the assorted regional outfits – is even willing to discuss such a commonsensical measure, let alone implement it. Doesn’t it make you wonder about their commitment to female empowerment?

With a certain dreary inevitability, at every election, women candidates are denied seats by political parties across the spectrum, on the pretext of their alleged ‘unwinnability’. And instead of trying to develop a line of more credible female candidates the next time round, all of them fall back on harking for the Women’s Reservation Bill, which is presented as a panacea for every injustice ever wrought on women.

So is this just a way for the patriarchal political system to tell women in the nicest possible way: “Hey, you couldn’t possibly compete with us boys, so why don’t you go off and play on your own?”

Frankly, it beggars belief that women are falling for this, no actually begging for this to become a reality, especially when I suspect that most of these seats will be reserved for female relatives of powerful male politicians.

Can’t you just see how this will play out? Male politician’s seat comes under the reservation quota. He promptly produces his mother/wife/daughter/daughter-in-law and suggests that the ticket be given to her instead. After all, the family has long ties with the constituency, there is widespread goodwill for his clan in the area, and she can draw on his support base as well. Surely, this makes her the ideal candidate – and at election time, it’s all about ‘winnability’, right?

So across the country, we will see the unedifying spectacle of women from powerful political families entering the system on the basis of this dubious measure. And soon all political power will be concentrated in a few hundred families who control the system on the basis of sheer numbers. The boys will get dynasty. The girls will get reservation.

How can this be anything but disastrous for our parliamentary democracy?

And as for those who insist that it doesn’t matter which women enter the system, because the entry of more women will only benefit the female of the species. I have just two words to say to them: Mayawati; Jayalalitha.

I really don’t think I need say any more.