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September 19, 2023 @ 7:00 am - 11:30 pm


The Narendra Modi government’s decision to bring the women’s reservation Bill ahead of state elections and the general elections next year caps its string of measures targeting social welfarism to women and framing it in terms of empowerment and representation.

First attempt: United Front Govt

The Constitution (Eighty-first Amendment) Bill, 1996 (insertion of new Articles 330A and 332A) was first introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996 by the H.D. Deve Gowda Govt. Ever since then many political parties have tried.

The closest success came in 2010. After two days of spirited discussion, the Rajya Sabha, on March 9, 2010, passed the Bill by over a two-third majority — the BJP and the Left, who were in the Opposition, supported it.

The UPA government, however, did not show the political will to get the Bill passed in the Lok Sabha despite the BJP and the Left supporting it. In 2011, Speaker Meira Kumar convened an all-party meeting to break the deadlock, but in vain.

Recent Women Centric interventions

Slashing of the price of domestic cooking gas cylinders by Rs 200. This was followed up with the Cabinet decision to extend the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) — introduced in 2016 to provide cooking gas to deprived households that earlier used firewood and coal as fuel — to an additional 75-lakh poor households over three years beyond its current nine crore beneficiaries.

The Swachh Bharat scheme, under which an estimated 11 crore toilets were installed since 2014, was also framed as protecting the dignity of women who had to defecate in the open.

The Jal Jeevan Mission, to provide tap water connection to all rural households by 2024, has also been showcased as reducing the drudgery of women. So far, 13 crore tap water connections have been provided under this scheme.

From a women’s helpline and a scheme to prevent human trafficking to the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme for bolstering the child sex ratio and the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) that provides cash benefits to pregnant and lactating women, the government has rolled out several initiatives since 2014. It even has a Working Women hostel scheme.

The Reality of Women

The BJP government at the Centre recently faced flak when women wrestlers protested against party MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh with many critics saying this had dented the claim that the government was committed to the empowerment of women.

The Political Pitch for attracting Women Voters

This welfarism has an added aspect: championing measures such as Uniform Civil Code (UCC) on the grounds of justice to Muslim women.

In the latter pitch, the party hopes to reach out to a section of Muslim women, as well as its Hindutva constituency that sees Indian secularism as biased in favour of conservative sections of the minority community.

Accused by the Opposition and many commentators of being wary of Muslims as a community, the govt passed a Bill making instant triple talaq a criminal offence, arguing that gender justice required tough measures.

With the party also reviving the debate on the need for UCC, it projects such steps as ones aimed at justice for Muslim women.

There is an electoral imperative as well:

The turnout of women voters, with a few exceptions, has been steadily increasing since 1962 when 62% of men and just 46.6% of women voted in the Lok Sabha elections. That percentage rose to 67.2% in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections — surpassing the share of men (67%).

With Lok Sabha elections around the corner, most political parties will promise measures addressing women as a horizontal political constituency – consider the Congress’s guarantees on stipend and free bus services in Telangana announced Saturday.

‘Greater political power alone will not improve women’s plight’

Inequality can be measured in multiple ways. The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, for instance, has four dimensions – Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment. The first three are self-explanatory as indicators of progress, relating to the ability to earn, be well-informed and healthy.

So why should political participation be included?

It shows the proportion of women who are involved directly in the legislative and decision-making processes in a country.

Simply, it indicates their presence in a crucial field that has been male dominated for centuries.

Political participation also matters because it influences the lives of millions of people directly and promises significant power to those who succeed in garnering popular support.

In India, the first Lok Sabha of 1952 had 5 per cent of its Members of Parliament and so, 24 women were elected out of 489 parliamentary seats.

The current Lok Sabha has the highest-ever percentage of women MPs, at 14 per cent, which is lower than the global average of 24 per cent.

What, then, are the criticisms against equating political power with progress?

Despite the fact that one-third of seats are to be reserved for women under the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution in local governing bodies since the early 1990s, there are serious drawbacks, nevertheless.

There exist even after many states, later on, went on to introduce 50% reservation for women.

The Oxford Companion to Politics in India, in a chapter on Local Governance, cites a study (Stephen and Sekaran 2001) on this. Conducted in Karnataka, it states women in panchayat faced “more stumbling blocks than building blocks”.

Half the women councilors contested elections upon the insistence of male relatives who sought indirect control of political power through them.

Another paper (‘Tokenism or Agency’)

The Impact of Women’s Reservations on Panchayats in South India‘) said of its findings in 2004, “Women in reserved GPs (gram panchayats) perform worse when most of the land in the village is owned by upper castes.

This suggests that caste structures may be correlated with structures of patriarchy making the job of women particularly difficult when they are confronted with entrenched hierarchies.”


For women to achieve progress as a whole, the most marginalised among them will have to be focused on and given basic opportunities to lead a good life.

Whether reservation in Parliament becomes a reality remains to be seen, but in discussions and debates on it, the need for simultaneous progress on other indicators must also be pointed out.

Mains Questions

  1. Political Reservation is just one facet of real women development. Comment (150 Words) 10 Marks
  2. By raising our support for the Women Reservation Bill are we committing the mistake of equating political power with progress? Discuss (150 Words) 10 Marks
  3. Historically, Women have been used by political masters as pawn to play their game in political landscape without any true intent for their progress. Give your views in support the statement. (150 Words) 10 Marks
  4. In your view, what all constitutes real progress for women and why? Elucidate (250 Words) 15 Marks


September 19, 2023
7:00 am - 11:30 pm
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