Thursday, March 11, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Countering the critics

Countering the critics
Subhashini Ali

Posted online: Thursday , Mar 11, 2010 at 0129 hrs
The Women's Reservation Bill, in its tumultuous life so far of nearly
14 years, has sparked off debates and reactions far beyond its limited
scope to reserve one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and state
assemblies for women.
The political parties opposing the Bill have concentrated their fire
on the issue of "reservation within reservation" insisting that only
separate quotas for Dalit, OBC and minority women can ensure the entry
of poor and downtrodden women into Parliament. This argument has been
echoed in Jaithirth Rao's article ('Let's junk the hypocrisy', IE,
March 9), and finds resonance among many sections of society.

The truth, however, is that while in the present Lok Sabha there are
17 SC/ST women members, the enactment of the bill will ensure that
their number goes up to at least 42. Electoral results of recent years
have seen the numbers of elected OBC members climbing to over 30 per
cent of the total in most state assemblies and the Lok Sabha. The size
of the OBC population and its tremendous political mobilisation
ensures that OBC women candidates are also very successful. For
example, in the UP Vidhan Sabha, of a total of 28 women MLAs, between
eight to ten are OBCs. Once the bill is enacted, OBC women will
probably constitute the largest social bloc among the women MPs.

It is, however, a matter of concern that the numbers of Mulim elected
representatives has dwindled both in state assemblies and in
Parliament. This needs urgent attention and addressal but it is not a
problem that can be addressed or resolved within the parameters of the
Women's Reservation Bill.

The March 9 issue of The Indian Express also carries an article by
Madhu Purnima Kishwar who objects to the bill on three main counts: 1)
that the provision of rotation of seats in the bill will lead to
uprooting of legislators after every election and will make women
candidates even more dependent on the whims of their male, political
leaders and increase the numbers of the

"biwi-beti" brigade, exemplified by Rabri Devi; 2) biwi-beti brigade
members are bad role-models for Indian women; 3) they actually "block"
the way for other women to develop as leaders as has been done by the
likes of Pramila Dandavate, Ahilya Rangnekar and Brinda Karat who were
all promoted to heading the women's fronts of their parties by their
husbands who were party leaders.

The principle of rotation of seats has been included in the bill so
that in 15 years, the lifespan of the bill, the reservation enjoys a
horizontal spread across the country and is implemented in every
constituency. Uprooting of elected members is bound to result but
under the existing dispensation, it is certainly not a fact that all
elected representatives devote themselves to development work in their
constituencies or that those who do not are punished by their voters.
Electoral reality is far more complex. Uprooting may, in fact, force
political parties to become more responsive and responsible and
discourage personal fiefdoms

The domination of most political parties (and the Left has universally
been given grudging credit for being an honourable exception) one or
more by political families is certainly a development which is
undemocratic. It is astonishing, however, that Kishwar singles out the
dangers of the "biwi-beti" brigade, symbolised by Rabri Devi, and
bemoans the danger of assemblies and Parliament being invaded by this
brigade, but completely ignores the anointing of a long and unending
list of "sons" that includes Farooq Abdullah, Rajiv Gandhi, Ajit Singh
et al. Kishwar alleges that the foisting of the biwi-beti brigade is
done to safeguard family interests but the promotion of the sons has
been done for precisely the same reason. Clearly, the serious malaise
of political nepotism cannot be remedied by the scrapping of the
women's bill.

Kishwar goes on to blame "biwi-betification" for the problems that
women have in gaining admission to and promotion within party
structures by saying that wives of political leaders, who have been
made leaders of women's fronts of these parties are responsible for
the road blocks faced by other women and cites Pramila Dandavate,
Ahilya Rangnekar and Brinda Karat as examples. Pramila and Ahilya came
to politics through their militant participation in the freedom
struggle as young students. They later married political colleagues
but continued to be leaders of struggles for gender equality, for
Samyukta Maharashtra and for a host of other causes. To suggest that
either of them owed their positions as leaders of struggles and
movements, their elections to Parliament or their positions in
organisations and parties to their husbands is the most unforgivable
and unwarranted slur on their amazing achievements and to their
commitment to travel down a very hard and stony path. Neither of them
is with us today but that does not mean that such unnecessary and
uncalled-for slander will go unchallenged. Brinda Karat has been an
activist from her student days long before her marriage. She started
working in the All India Democratic Womens Association from its
inception, first as a district-level functionary and then, after five
years of hard work, became its general secretary. It was while she
occupied that post that she initiated a constitutional amendment that
has made it mandatory for the key office-bearers at district, state
and national levels to vacate their offices at the end of three terms.
This has ensured that women activists can develop as leaders and
occupy important posts without impediment.

The difficulties that women face in entering and advancing in the
decision-making bodies of political parties are tremendous and they
are being fought at all levels by indomitable women. Making false
accusations against those who are in no way responsible for this state
of affairs does nothing to help them in their struggle. Kishwar began
her article saying that any legislation that claims to favour women
sails easily through Parliament. This statement trivialises the
difficult, bitter and long drawn-out struggles that have had to be
waged for even the piecemeal passage of the Hindu Code Bill and the
partial passage of the Women's Reservation Bill. The path to gender
justice is an arduous one, marked by these and other significant
victories achieved through movements and collective action outside and
within Parliament.

The writer is president, All India Democratic Women's Association and
member of the CPM central committee


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