|By Vijay D'Souza, U.K. [ Published Date: August 22, 2004 ]|
Since ages nations have always engaged in discussing what should be the place of women in the society and the debate still goes on. Every society has its own ideologies derived from its tradition or religious influences. When we think of regions across the globe say Northern America, Australia, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asian subcontinent, South East Asia, a thousand images of women from around the world pass through our mind. Be it familiar faces of celebrities from the world of sports, music, cinema, art, politics, or recollection of numerous images of common characters exposed to our eyes over the years. As women from different geographical regions look different, dress different, so too their role is varied in different communities and in the wider world. The amount of freedom the woman enjoys in developed world and her share in developing world is beyond compare. Somehow whatever the ground realities may be we all seem to agree that women should have equal importance in the society.
In India too, we debate about the state of women’s representation in all sectors. To encourage their involvement in policy making, possible implementation of reservation policy is also being considered. Today reservation has become a contentious issue and a potential vote gainer for political parties in India. Each one of us has our own ideas about reservation for various classes and minority groups. What do we think when it comes to reservation for women? Or does it really matter?
One would have thought reservation in India is an opportunity for vulnerable people or groups to have their say in society, through a strong and equal representation in possible sectors. At least this was the idea behind initiating reservations in Independent India. It was devised to get rid of social divisions and to attain equality amongst all its citizens. We all are aware how it’s being squandered by selfish and non-patriotic people to gain power. Whereas some people have taken the matter too seriously and do not stand the idea of reservation; others may be indifferent to the whole affair. Ironically people for whose benefit it was established are probably still unaware of its usefulness and are depriving themselves of a chance to progress. Most of us probably had our tryst with the idea of reservation while going through the application material from various colleges and universities or when we applied for entrance examinations or for government posts. When we say reservation is not good, do we really question or try to understand what we are going to gain or lose in long term and whether is it good for a country like India?
Nothing wrong in reservations if it helps our society, however, it shouldn’t degrade or affect the potential output of that position. It is unavoidable when the eligibility criterion is set at 50% for reserved classes and 60% for non-reserved classes. Wouldn’t it dissatisfy people who are superior by academic merit and create divisions for the abolition of which it was devised in the first pace? The right thing would be to have some positions left for people from backward classes with same qualifications. If these places were to be left vacant for not having people from reserved classes then those places should be open for anyone who meets the criterion.
India has been divided into 543 Parliamentary Constituencies. In a number of seats in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha, the candidates can only be from either one of the scheduled castes or scheduled tribes. There are currently 79 seats reserved for the scheduled castes and 41 reserved for the scheduled tribes in the Lok Sabha. As academic qualification does not matter much when it comes to contesting an election it is highly likely that a person from general category has lesser qualification than the person from reserved class and still holds public office.
According to the system followed by Election Commission of India the number of these reserved seats is meant to be approximately in proportion to the number of people from scheduled castes or scheduled tribes in each state. However, it would be illogical and wouldn’t do justice to the system and society at large if we were to continue to increase the number of reserved seats in proportion to the increase in the number people in this group. How can we know whether there is any progress made by these groups and what percentages of people have benefited from reservation policy and how many of them could be merged into mainstream society? We need some parameters to gauge our progress in terms of human development. Wouldn’t it be an insult to our fellow citizens if we were to attach a tag of scheduled caste or scheduled tribe on them forever irrespective of their achievement? Therefore the successive governments could do a lot to avert this imbalance by constantly analyzing the social structure of the country. Progress in these groups will demand a gradual decrease in the percentage of reservation and in some cases where there is persistence of inequality we could increase it. This would facilitate needy people to get better allocation of resources and they would be on the path of constant transformation towards the stage of being considered as equal citizens and this in turn could help India to develop at rapid pace.
When we talk about reservation for women we need to get acquainted with present day realities. The gender profile of the recent general elections indicates the status of representation of women in Indian politics. In the Lok Sabha Elections only 8.19% of the contesting candidates were women. All the major political parties fielded less than 20% women candidates in the fray. Currently there are only 44 (8.16%) elected women MP’s (Member of Parliament) from 530 constituencies. Similarly in Assembly elections the women made only 7.14% of the contesting candidates. It is not surprising then that according to UN’s (United Nations) Human Development Indicators (HDI) ranking India stands at 126th position. Leading industrial nations as well as in countries with high human development ranking the representation of women in government at ministerial level is above 30% whereas in India it’s just 10%. The honour for being the largest democracy in the world should not just indicate our number but the quality of democracy we practice. India is the second most populous country in the world and women account for almost half (496,453,556) of it according to census of India 2001. Half of this number lies in the productive age group of 15-59. If we apply the system of calculating the seats for reserved classes here women might end up getting almost half of the seats in elections reserved for them. However we can’t consider all women in same category as reserved classes. Furthermore, I don’t think women would be comfortable with that sort of atmosphere where they wouldn’t be able to compete with men.
If we start this debate now and have a referendum we might end up with a solution in the near future. The decision should reflect the fact that the reservation for women is not a reward or help but an honest recognition of their contribution in nation building and a mode of encouragement to do more. Gradually when women are empowered the system could then be slowly abolished in stages. More number of women representatives means women will be involved in policy making which would also help to create an atmosphere of mutual respect between opposite sex and to prevent gender inequality. The active participation of women could bring human touch to governance and stop leaders from running the countries like corporate houses. They might give different dimension to our imagination about security, hunger and shelter. If they are adept enough in negotiations their concern filled with compassion and love could convince governments to avert evils like war. In a country like India where women and children die of malnourishment and diseases and where our population explosion adds insult to injury, women could play very important role. In ministries like cultural, educational, health and medical, women leaders could bring about drastic changes in making the population aware of serious issues plaguing our country like population control, sexually transmitted diseases and poverty.
It is no secret that under the veil of tradition or culture a large majority of women in India have been given a raw deal. That reports of female infants being killed and practice of dowry even in this modern era is a slap on the face of democracy. The best course, therefore, is to let more and more women enter politics at the grass root level, say village councils and Panchayats and let them work their way up the ladder with the support of family and friends. How often have we heard sneers that the reservation bill for women is an insult to women and through it they admit their incompetence? In reality, women are asking for it not in charity, but because they think that they are shut out of the electoral process and given a fair chance they could make a difference. They are shut out precisely because of their winning potential and competence. We are not sure yet as to know how many women leaders in Indian politics today were given their first break through the category of various classes or minority groups.
Does it surprise or bother you in knowing that the maximum age of winning male candidate (Bidhar, Karnataka) is 94 years in recently held Lok Sabha elections. What prevented the concerned political party from giving the chance to some one young or a woman? Do we really think while electing our leaders and for what purpose we are electing them? Good character might give honest governance but not necessarily a visionary one.