Dr. Lubna Yousuf
Govt. Degree College for Women, Anantnag,
Gender equality – political and social – is guaranteed in the Constitution of India. This political equality not only includes the equal right to franchise to both men and women, but also equal right to gain access to the formal institutionalized centres of power. This means that every adult female irrespective of her social position or achievements has the opportunity to function as a citizen and individual partner in the task of nation-building.1 Women’s participation in Indian political scene was inextricably linked with the freedom struggle in the 20th century. The participation of women in the national movement and the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi can be considered as the major forces which made women aware of their political rights and responsibilities and helped them to come out of the security of their homes to the public domain.
A demand for women’s franchise was initiated by Sarojini Naidu who alongwith a deputation of Indian women laid a demand for enfranchisement of women on the basis of equality with men, before the British Parliament in 1917. In 1921, although the Reforms Act gave the right to vote to women but at the same time certain qualifications were prescribed for them like the possession of ‘wifehood’, property and education. This led some women’s organizations to draft a memorandum wherein they demanded the right to vote without any kind of sex-discrimination. But this was turned down by the British government. Although the government turned it down, the Karachi session of Indian National Congress in 1931, resolved in favour of women’s franchise and representation, regardless of their status and qualifications. Subsequently in 1935, the Government of India Act, deleting the condition of marriage, granted voting rights to women with property and education. And finally in 1950, the Constitution of India conferred equal political and legal rights to Indian women.2
Even after the attainment of freedom and granting equal political rights to women, it was found that women still occupy less than 10% seats in the country’s Parliament and State legislatures. The highest representation of women was a dismal 9% in the Lok Sabha in 1999 and 15.4% in the Rajya Sabha in 1991. This percentage came down to 8.2 and 11.4 respectively in 2005.3
The demand for greater representation of women in political institutions in India was taken up only after the release of the report by the Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI) in 1976. Before this the focus of the growing women’s movement had been on improving women’s socio-economic position.4 The CSWI Report suggested that women’s representation in political institutions, especially at the grass-root level, needed to be increased through a policy of reservation of seats for women.5
In 1988, the National Perspective Plan for Women emphasized on the question of political participation of women at the grass-root democratic institutions. It was pointed out by the core group constituted by the Government of India that political power and access of position of decision-making and authority are critical pre-requisites for women’s equality in the process of nation-building. Therefore, it was recommended by the Committee to reserve 30% seats for women in all rural local self-governing bodies at all levels from the village panchayats to zila parishads.6 Finally on December 22, 1992, the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act was passed by the Parliament. This Act provides for the reservation of not less than1/3rd of the total number of seats for women in PRIs to be filled in by direct elections. The 73rd amendment is considered a milestone in the way of women assuming leadership and decision-making positions, as it makes such a role...