Another Women’s Day will most probably bring us no closer to the Women’s Reservation Bill being passed in Parliament. Its last outing, in March 2010, saw the bill going through in the Upper House, but not before seven legislators had to be unceremoniously evicted by marshals. Six years since, the bill has not made it to the Lok Sabha once. True, the BJP government, with its unassailable numbers, has the mandate to push through the bill if it wants to; true, both President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari have called for a revival of the bill at the National Conference of Women Legislators; true, all parties are in principle agreed on its urgent necessity. But both Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the bill at the same event and a long history of its inventive sabotage
signal that this is a piece of progressive legislation every party is agreed on — but only till it comes to voting for it.
How can this political impasse be broken? Will it ever be broken? How long does a political worker, frustrated by entrenched networks of male political privilege, wait for her chance? Perhaps, the good thing is that she is not merely waiting. Though the number of women legislators in the current Lok Sabha is a mere 12 per cent, it has steadily increased through the years (it was 5 per cent in 1951). More importantly, the number of women contesting elections has gone up manifold in the same period. Of course, in the global context, this is change of a glacial pace — and not the social engineering that is needed for women to get their political due.
Nevertheless, the debate has for too long hurtled to a dead-end by insisting on 33 per cent reservation for women for those who have stakes in it to shun pragmatism. One alternative, as Ansari suggested, is to encourage parties to push more women workers into the political arena. Another is for political parties and governments to expend their energies in enabling women to lead better lives, to ensure that girls stay in school, that they have access to health services, that communities work to guarantee and protect women’s autonomy. Already, a transformation of Indian womanhood is underway — through education, technology and opportunity. It needs to be enabled and facilitated — till the political class can get its act together.