RESERVATION FOR WOMEN IN LEGISLATIVE HOUSES: TOWARDS EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2010 as approved by Rajya Sabha recently, seeks to reserve as nearly as possible one third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, and the state legislative assemblies including Delhi. Rajya Sabha and Legislative councils in States are excluded from the purview of this reservation, justification for which was not explained anywhere. The allocation of reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by the Parliament. This bill also seeks to reserve one-third seats among those reserved to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in favour of SC/ST women. These reservations will cease to exist 15 years after commencement of the Act. This Bill has a provision giving power to the Center to review and extend the reservations. Reserved seats will be allocated by rotation to different constituencies in the state and union territory. If a state or union territory as only one seat in the Lok Sabha that seat shall be reserved for women in the first general election of every cycle of three elections. If there are two seats, each shall be reserved once in a cycle of three elections. Similar rules apply for seats reserved for SC/STs. Of the two seats in the Lok Sabha reserved for Anglo Indians, one will be reserved for women in each of the two elections in a cycle of three elections. Similar provisions are made for all the seats in state legislative assemblies also.
If reservations policy is accepted as an instrument of development and empowerment, this Bill translates that policy in to law. For those opposing the reservation as a policy, this may not be acceptable. But taking into account the acceptability the policy secured in number of Supreme Court judgments and enactments by Central and State Legislatures, the reservation policy, which started as a temporary phenomenon has come to stay as part of our equality achievement process. Achieving complete empowerment of all women may not be possible with this measure, but we need to look at a stark reality of absence of equality or empowerment to more than majority of women. Another important point is that there is a lot of evidence to show that the reservation for women has increased redistribution of resources in their favour.
Equality, a myth
Discrimination against any one based on sex is against the constitutional right to equality. That is what the letter of supreme law says. Does it mean that the state should allow the downtrodden or backward to remain so, so that they can never compete with other forward sections of society? No. Hence the Constitution itself provided for the affirmative action within Articles which proclaimed equality. To make some of the people equal with others, they need to be provided a lift up. Reality is that the equality among in-equals will amount to inequality. Who will remove the anomaly of treating in-equals as equals quoting the most important fundamental right of equality?
Reserving some seats for women to contest exclusively to the membership of Parliament and State Assembly is constitutionally compatible though politically controversial. None can say that it is unconstitutional. As three yadav leaders of the country Mulayamsingh of Samajvadi Party, Laloo Prasad Yadav of Rastriya Janata Dal and Sharad Yadav of Janata Dal party were demanding sub-quota to women within the reserved quotas. But not providing sub-quota will not invalidate the quota for women. It is desirable and hoped that the political executive would proceed further to provide for internal distribution of the seats among the women also.
In principle providing reservations for women in legislative houses is not against the spirit of equality, though some vehemently pleading that men in those reserved seats are prohibited from contesting which amounts denial of their right to contest. It is not their case that...
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