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 .
Dept of HSS
IITB , Powoi.
Date: 8th March 2010