Women’s reservation bill is threat to Subaltern’s political emergence

It is hoped that the International women’s day centenary will bring cheers as Women’s Reservation Bill is expected to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on 8th March 2010. It is anticipated to be approved as Congress and BJP along with the Left parties have joined hands, which is one of the rarest alliance to witness in Indian democracy owing to different ideologies each one adheres to projects. They have gone to the extent of issuing a whip in order to ensure enactment of the bill. However, it is conspicuous that there is no consensus on such a prime bill. It has been vehemently opposed by SP, BSP and Janta Dal United. In spite of intense political rivalry among SP, BSP, RJD and Janta Dal, there is a thread of commonality that binds them together. These parties represent voices of the exploited and the oppressed, they struggle for restoring human dignity, social economic and political rights , and have affinities in their subaltern identities. So we must ask, why the political parties which have been engaged into fighting for the rights of the marginalised are opposing “progressive women’s reservation bill’ and why congress, BJP and left are united to vote for the bill? Why BJP which mobilised people against reservation for OBCs, is supporting it? Is it just because, as Virappa Moili said, ‘they owe the bill to their mother”? Its too intricate to answer. Therefore, it is of prime importance to analyse it on historical as well as contemporary social and political grounds and try to understand the subaltern perspective.

When the first Lok Sabha was constituted, there were 369 Brahmin members out of total 540, whereas currently in Lok Sabha Brahmins are merely 69 in number. This reduction of higher caste representation in the Parliament and increase in the number of representative of subaltern categories can be attributed to enhanced political awareness, participation in the democratic processes and successful political mobilization in the electoral politics. Building political consciousness, increasing electoral gains and ability to influence legislations of the subaltern parties are largely perceived to be threat not only to the long maintained political hegemony of the upper castes but also to their status quoist stands. The increase in the political clout of BSP, SP, RJD is evident from strengthening of the exploited sections of the society and consolidation of their electorate.

It would not be ironic to state that against this social and political background, mainstream parties have come together and planning to pass Women’s reservation Bill in the parliament. Otherwise, why BJP which was antagonistic to Mandal Report implementation makes passing Women reservation Bill one of its priority? Passing the bill in the existing format will have adverse implication to the women belonging to SC, ST and OBC communities. The representation to the women will be at the cost of not only quelling political aspiration of the SC, ST and OBCs but also at the cost of representation of the women belonging to oppressed section of the society. The bill also conveniently ignores three fold discrimination (caste, class and gender) that women belonging to SC, ST and OBC background face. Therefore, the bill is socially insensitive. Isn’t the opportunity for representation of the most exploited SC/ ST / OBC females desirable? The bill is considered to be a vehicle for the political participation of the women in the decision making. This definitely is empowerment of women but  it stops short of being holistic empowerment. On the contrary this will ensure empowerment of the women belonging to the privileged section of the society and deprive deserving SC/ ST / OBC women of the opportunity in such decision making roles.

Why the secular congress and the progressive left has failed to gauge such adverse implications on marginalised section of the society? Contrasting Ideologies may blur, weather, be compromised and even collapse, the way it is apparent from present Congress, BJP and Left political consensus, against the rights of vulnerable SC/ ST/ OBC women in general and exploited and marginalised section of the society in particular. It exhibits how do different political ideologies and parties complement each other in protecting privileges of the upper castes. The bill and the consequent political lobbing across parties and ideologies seem keener on arresting political and social juggernaut of subalterns by swelling upper caste women’s representation over the years in the parliament.

This is an alarming political and social indication to the parties like BSP, SP and RJD who have been fighting for subaltern voices. It is a threat to their emmerging political strength as it is likely to turn the clock back to higher parliamentary representation of Brahmins to 1951 first constituent election. Similar political arrangement is most likely to occur when question of empowerment of SCs/ STs and OBCs comes for deliberation in parliament like reservation in the private sector, radical land reforms; welfare expenses and subsidy; prevention of the atrocity act. Secondly, bill in the present form would further strengthen the dynastic politics in India giving opportunity representation limited to political families. Thirdly, it is most likely to bring in more elitist and urban biased in the democracy. Last but not the least, the overtly intolerant media over reservation to SC/ ST/ OBC is giving wider publicity to Women’s Reservation bill. It speaks volume about existing contradiction in selectively protecting rights and interest of the privileged, which is enough to sense all is not well .

Nilratan Shende
Research Scholar
Dept of HSS
IITB , Powoi.
Date: 8th March 2010


4 thoughts on “Women’s reservation bill is threat to Subaltern’s political emergence

  1. Hi Prabin:

    I have this interesting conversation between me and nivedita which I would like to share, I tend to see this merely from a position of a dalit Woman, with this post of nil, i am convinced that I am neraly at war with OBCs and Dalit men (which I have always been, this patriachy is no lesser oppressive than savarna patriachy)for not being considerate towards the most oppressed, dalit women. Let me mention that I have no sympathies for upper caste or the OBCs as both of these sections have promoted atrocities against Dalit women.

    This for the so called Dalit men who are into politics of bahujan- Keep aside electoral equations and politics aside,and think of their women first, as OBCs and Upper caste folks are doing. Well, I hope this conversation gets space here.

    Would it take SC/ST women to sacrifice?

    Dear Nivedita:

    I agree completely to the points you are making here in favor of OBC women, but I request you to look into the benefits that the WRB brings for SC/ST women.
    First, this bill as you rightly suggested will give opportunity for elite, upper caste Hindu and Muslim women, undoubtely, but will also open the door for SC/ST women through quota within within, hitherto represented by SC/ST men.
    Second, is OBC, a constitutional category or a statutory category, devised by the popular politics? I agree there are other marginalized sections in India too, such as shudras and minorities. however the latter are not constitutional category? And it is not only baseless but mischevious to compare situation of SC/ST women with that of OBC/UC/Minority women, particularly Muslims. If we were to talk of Muslims alone as a minority then we may have to discuss the Macdonald awards and its aftermath. Scholars like Zoya Hassan in particular needs a good education on constitutional provisions for SC/ST on the basis of their caste and not religion. What were the Muslims doing in 1935, she may want to ask her leaders? Anyways, it is not only mischevious but unconstitutional to negate the importance that SC/ST community has been accorded with, thanks to Ambedkar.

    Now my question to you is: on what basis do you demand political representation of an overrepresented community (without reservation)? The whole idea of reservation in parliament is of adequate representation to begin with. I agree that is overrepresentation of Upper Caste and will be a matter of concern if there are upper caste Hindu and elite Muslim women representing women’s issue. Agreed.
    However, I dont agree to the political representations of OBCs in the first place, ? Are they really deprived, and socially marginalized? Can you identify such communities within states of India ? Morever, educationally and socially backward are not necessarily economically backward. And what about the dominant caste such as Jats, Yadavs, Ahirs, Thakurs, Koyri, Kunbi, Leva Patil, Patedar, Nadar, Reddy, Kammas, Thevars, etc etc…… there is a whole OBC economy which one cannot deny. I agree OBC (Hindus) are ritually lower than UC but above SC. But OBCs were never an outcaste, or a disadvantegous community or suffered heinous practises of untouchability. In fact they were part of the caste system and in the recent times have been committing atrocities against SC women more than any upper caste. OBC women aint no different from upper caste women, if you were to look at dalit women and their testimonials. I see OBC intellectuals and activist talking of the bill and its negative implications to them but not of the benefits that it brings to SC/ST women. My only concern is of SC women in particular who remain the most vulnerable women in Indian society. And I hope at least this time she does not have to sacrifice for Savarnas.

    By: sarah on April 29, 2010
    at 2:25 PM


    The reservation for SC/ST women within the WRB would in no way be affected by an OBC quota. And while OBC women are powerful vis-a-vis SC women, they are marginal vis-a-vis UC women. Hence the need for quotas for all three categories – Muslim, OBC, SC/ST. Otherwise UC women will replace OBC men, basically, in Parliament, and I dont think that is necessarily a good thing.

    By: Nivedita Menon on April 29, 2010
    at 4:49 PM


    It is not a question of whether SC/ST women will be affected by an OBC quota, becasue, SC/ST in itself are a special and separate entity.

    I agree that there is a possibility of UC women challenging/taking away seats that belonged to OBC men but one wonders if the constituency is reserved for women, wont OBC women stand in election against UC if it is not reserved seat of SC/ST?

    The fundamental question is this bill aimed at bringing representation of women more than OBCs Vs UC. Does this bill mean nothing for empowerment of the least empowered? And by the way, are OBCs underrepresented in parliament? In fact dominant caste OBCs are over-representing and it is them who dont give chance to the actually disadvantaged communities from the OBC section. We need to reexamine who should be given OBC status.
    I think this bill cannot be looked merely as congress mastermind to curtail participation of OBC politics. This bill is more than OBCs as well since it for the first time, talks about quota for SC/ST women. This bill will ensure rightful representation of SC/ST women.

    I also wonder what stops OBC men who are in parties like the congress, BJP, RJD, SS, SP, BSP nominate OBC women candidates at the party level itself?

    I also wonder why dont scholars understand that SC/ST women are constitutional categories unlike the OBCs and Muslims, statutory categories, so why compare them, it is not only baseless but mischievous.

    The latter and their representation at legislature will require constitutional amendments. Second, OBCs in itself has no homogeneous identity, it such a heterogeneous category, and are some of OBCs socially and educationally backward? Ezhavas, Nadars, Thevars, Yadavs, Kunbi, Patedar, Reddy’s, Kammas, Kappus, Sali, Mali, Teli, to name a few are OBCs, some of the new capitalist class and traditional congress leaders come from these so called communities.
    I think, the political interest of OBC men seem to matter more than representation of women (UC and also SC/ST) here. I also feel everything cannot be located in terms of political equations.

    I agree there should be demand of limiting upper caste women, they should not over-represent and so the OBC men and women.

    Underrepresentation is the key of this bill, and I dont see OBC being underrepresented in parliament in any ways.

    By: sara on May 1, 2010
    at 12:51 AM


    Sara, you raise important issues, but your general argument against OBC reservations are applicable to SC/ST too, and for that matter, to women – for instance, the heterogeneity of OBC’s as a group. Isn’t that true for SC/ST and for “women” too? Does this heterogeneity delegitimize the reservation demand?
    What it does do, is complicate the discussion considerably, but if heterogeneity of a group is used to shut down demands for reservation, that only feeds into anti-reservation arguments as a whole. For instance, what you say about OBC’s (“dominant caste OBCs are over-representing and it is them who dont give chance to the actually disadvantaged communities from the OBC section”) is the standard argument made against reservations for SC/ST too.
    It would be productive to consider other forms of affirmative action than reservation – for instance, the deprivation points system followed by JNU that takes care of the heterogeniety and the so-called “creamy layer” problem too. But that is another debate.
    As for OBC’s not being under-represented in Parliament, OBC men are there, OBC women are not. And the whole point is that it makes a difference. If you dont believe that it does, then why the WRB at all?
    And as for the argument that OBC parties should just field more women candidates, does that not hold for SC/ST communities too?
    Or are you simply arguing that the benefits of reservation should not be extended beyond the SC/ST communities? That is going to be a difficult argument to sustain – logically, politically, ethically.

    By: Nivedita Menon on May 1, 2010
    at 9:46 AM


    it is not only baseless but mischievous to compare situation or reservations of SC/ST to that to OBCs. What you are doing is refuting is a constitutional fact that there is a major difference between SC/ST and OBC. The difference is that of constitutional and popular politics, statutory. The concept of creamy layer or of dominant does not apply for SC/ST, since it is based on different parameters.

    Lets go back to history for a minute, 1935 list was exhaustive list to begin with and it identified untouchable caste’s and tribes. I wonder what OBCs were doing at that point in time? Fule, Periyar never argued for reservations in politics, and I am sure, there would have been considerations at the communal awards if shudras had articulated their position. OBCs of today, before Mandal counted themselves as Savarna, lets no forget that.

    You mention, why dont SC/ST men should be extending their ‘benefit’ to their women as I propose it for OBC men, this comparison is utterly impulsive. Why?

    A. Constitution made a temporary provision of giving adequate representation (political) to SC/ST communities, which definitely accounted the total size of population ie included men and women of both SC/ST category. Now, this was never realised by women or let say usurped by SC/ST men. So, this bill as I see, will mandate SC/ST men, and the electoral process itself to give representation (and not benefits of reservation) to SC/ST women.

    My arguments are not simply to suggest that no reservations for other marginalized communities, but I am looking at history before Mandal, wondering what had happened to these so-called deprived and marginalized communities in 1914 (Risley’s census work, where they documented themselves as savarna/aryan caste/communities, or their status in census on Gaav Gadha (where they referred to Mahar, Mang, Dhor as of inferior race) and their own status as superior. what were they doing in 1932 during the communal awards. They had aligned with Hindu interest and identified themselves as savarna. OBCs have always been part of Hindu caste system and were never an outcaste like untouchables.

    Now with some fundamentals of SC/ST and OBCs, let look at what Ambedkar, a champion of constitutional rights for SC/ST apart from being intellectual giant of the century had to say, his position has been very clear, he has already mentioned that SC itself is a distinct political entity in Indian democracy. SO lets not compare OBC and SC. OBCs of today formerly shudras are an intrinsic part of Hindu order. they themselves hold the Hindu order.

    My argument Nivedita, is reservations of any form in India had taken into account social history of India at the time when it was formed. It had taken into account every possible factor more than I and you understand. please lets not apply logics, political or ethical position to compare situation of SC/ST with that of OBCs. It is blunder to compare. I hold that reservations (not benefits/welfare/profit as you understand) for SC/ST has a history of different nature than that of OBCs. I stand in defense of constitutional rights vs popular politics played particularly by today’s OBCs.

    This bill is not that simple, and this is definitely not limited between upper caste women vs OBCs. It is not so. To my mind, OBCs are savarna’s irrespective of whatsoever you may think of them. The fieldview of caste is certainly important in this case. Look at Khairlanje. who committed heinous atrocities on Bhootmange family, Khobragade family, and Meshram. Before Bhootmange’s were killed they had killed an educated Meshram boy. Who committed these crimes? they were OBCs. Further, who protected this bunch of OBC men and women, who collectively committed atrocity on dalit family which included two dalit women? Maratheshahi. In fact, if you are following that news, you will know that Khairlanje has been rewarded that village as dispute-free village and awarded one lakh rupees. wow. of course, it is dispute free, as they were successful in driving out three mahar’s from their village. what does one say about this situation. and there are so many more khairlanjes in TN, Kerala, central india, western india and even north east states. you may choose to ignore on this matter.

    Ethical positions cant be chosen as it suits interest, they have to be consistent irrespective of the narrow interest. In this sense I argue will it take sc/st women to sacrifice for obc men and women? In spite of being someone of that social location where feuds such as Kunbi, Maratha, Lingayats, Thevars, Nadars, Thakurs continue to committ atrocity against Dalit women, I can understand the demand of reservation of OBCs unlike their selfish interest of not looking beyond their own benefits. I am yet to hear/meet one OBC who has even referred to the right of representation of SC/ST women that this bill will bring. So ethical position apply more for OBCs than SC/ST in this case.

    Nivedita, you will have to understand the basic and fundamental difference between SC/ST and OBCs. Or else, you will compare and contrast situation of SC/ST with that of OBCs . I dont consider them even arguments but simply ignoring the historical and basic facts.

    By: sara on May 2, 2010
    at 12:34 PM


    Sara – Re the WRB, given current political configurations, I doubt that it will get passed in its present form (without quotas-within quotas), and it may continue to hang fire for another 15 years. Is it better to have a WRB in the q-within-q form or not at all, becomes the question.
    There are of course, “basic and fundamental differences” between all sorts of different groups that require affirmative action, not just between SC/ST and OBC’s. I am not convinced that this particular difference is significant in ways that other differences are not. But perhaps we will have to agree to disagree, Sara…

    By: Nivedita Menon on May 3, 2010
    at 9:44 AM



    Can you name Who are the ones that requires affirmative action (voluntary programs) vs reservations( constitutional programs) in case of India and on what basis? And in continuation to that, why do we not discuss history of reservation, you seem to be ignoring that completely.

    I know we disagree, but the point is I am amazed at the course of the discussion on reservations and anti -reservations debates. I cannot believe my ears when constitutional provisions for SC/ST are compared with every possible category who wants reservations, without really looking at the history of this nation and its social groups,.

    What I know is some of the leading intellectuals and activist are involved in making such unconstitutional demands and have involved in mischevious comparision of SC/ST with every possible group who merely is trying to get reservations turned in their favor. Look at Muslims, and Sachar committee report, why do they have to compare SC/ST as though its a milestone. I disagree to the baseless comparisions, particularly with OBCs and Muslims, since both of these groups have committed atrocities against Dalits and continue to do. and have never suffered stigma of being who they are as SC had to suffer. You seem to be ignoring Ambedkar too. wHY?

    Anyways, we disagree on fundamentals. I understand affirmative action policies and not reservations for every possible groups. Tomorrow, Brahmins would also say they are a minority and others are Hindu OBC, SC.ST, Tribes, Muslims, please reserve our seats. Indian society is all about Avarna, Savarna and Vanvasi. Minority religion also have their own version of caste orders. You cannot ignore social facts over politics of demands.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s