Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Does reservation matter?

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, April 20, 2008


Every year, for the last decade or so, around this time, noises are made on the issue of women's representation in Parliament. Some shout, some request, some reason, some argue, all hope that somehow this year the vexed issue of whether there should be reservation of seats for women in Parliament is finally resolved. Predictably, the day, the month, the year passes,
Parliament convenes and reconvenes, and nothing much happens. The debate continues, inconclusive for all time it would seem.

Those who support reservation for women in Parliament argue that without a quota, women will continue to be excluded and
the most important decision-making body in the country will remain dominated by male politicians as it is at present and has been in the past. The counter argument holds that merely reserving seats for women will not ensure that any kind of gender or women's perspective will enter decision-making processes as the women who enter through this route are as likely to be the wives, sisters and relatives of male politicians as they have been in the past. Hence, why should these men be given a chance to extend their area of influence by inducting women who will, in any case, follow their command?

Then there is the other argument about women making it through this route and the exclusion of poor and lower caste women. So if there is reservation for women, it should be further broken up into quotas according to caste.

Lost focus

As is inevitable when such a debate stretches out over decades, the main focus somehow gets lost. In the meantime, many things have changed in Indian politics, not least the caste make up of Indian politics. And women too have become far more prominent in most political parties, including the Left parties, as compared to a decade back. You have women like Jayanti Natarajan, a lawyer, who is spokesperson for the Congress. In the past, we have seen Sushma Swaraj fulfilling the same function for the BJP. And Brinda Karat is a very visible face and voice of the Left. Of course, the women ministers remain confined to the "soft" ministries. We have still to see a woman heading Home Affairs, or Defence, or any of the economic ministries. Yet, there are professional women holding high positions in the area of finance, there are women in the bureaucracy who have now breached many barriers, and younger women are entering professions that their mothers thought were closed to their gender. So competence or knowledge on these issues cannot be an argument anymore in confining women politicians to certain portfolios.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

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