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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Three Yadav’s, Mulayam, Lalu and Sharad, demanded reservations within reservation for Backward and Muslim women. Their supporters violated every rule and parliamentary decorum by not merely defying the Chair but by attempting to humiliate and physically assault the Chairperson, Hamid Ansari, Vice-President of India, and refusing to allow the House to function.

Grudging Men Empower Women

The women’s reservation Bill got rough passage through the Rajya Sabha. In the teeth of opposition from caste-based parties, the Congress has thus far stood firm.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 14 March, 2010

The women’s reservation Bill got rough passage through the Rajya Sabha before it was finally adopted by 187 votes to one, after sundry obstructionists had been suspended and physically removed from the House for hooliganism and other recalcitrant elements had withdrawn. The BJP and Left voted with the UPA. Floor management on the first day was remarkably clumsy with nothing anticipated despite clear intimations of possible disruption.

Three Yadav’s, Mulayam, Lalu and Sharad, demanded reservations within reservation for Backward and Muslim women. Their supporters violated every rule and parliamentary decorum by not merely defying the Chair but by attempting to humiliate and physically assault the Chairperson, Hamid Ansari, Vice-President of India, and refusing to allow the House to function. Why the Leader of the House did not seek their suspension and expulsion on the first day itself is surprising. It is also strange that the Opposition, including supporters of the Bill, should deplore the use of marshals to evict the rowdies and seek to annul their suspension with pathetic and insincere apologies. The damage has been done, a dreadful precedent established and the bar of good conduct knowingly lowered. Thus do some parliamentarians destroy Parliament to cultivate vote banks. This is precisely how the Shiv Sena and other fascist elements like Haryana’s khap (gotra) pancahayats have won immunity and impunity despite flagrant violation of the law.

The Bill, which has yet to negotiate the Lok Sabha, provides for 33 per cent womens’s representation in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies by reserving as many seats for them on a rotational basis. These reservations are to come to a natural end after 15 years by when, in theory, women will be sufficiently empowered to contest and win seats on their own. Hopefully, this will not continue indefinitely like general SC and ST reservations as any government/party seeking to implement the law will be (falsely) accused of discriminating against women, patent humbug of a kind that is plausibly and piously marketed all the time.

It is true that Muslims have not got their due and that their representation in most walks of life is abysmally low. This is deplorable and is very properly being sought to be corrected through affirmative action. Yet it does not do for conservative Muslims, and others, to sit back and assume that there is little onus on them to exert themselves and that the state owes them a living. Wakf Boards for example have not done enough to utilise their lands and wealth to set up educational, health and training facilities that would enormously benefit the community and others.

The Women’s Bill will now not be taken up in the Lok Sabha until financial business is concluded and the vote on account if not the entire Budget adopted for fear of embarrassment and truant  voting if cut-motions are  moved. Many MPs across the board appear unhappy with the rotational principle and fear that they might be the ones to lose their seats through reservation. The hypocrisy lies in the fact that, despite lip sympathy for the cause, women are simply not nominated in adequate numbers by any political party. The Yadav trio’s record in this record has been far from  spectacular; that of the Congress, BJP and Left no better.

Two alternatives have been mooted. Both are premised on a one-third expansion of all legislatures, with the additional 33 per cent seats being mandatorily filled by women. One option thereafter would be to permit two members, one female, to be returned from 33 per cent of all seats over a two-term cycle, rotating the double-seat constituencies every third election over six elections. By then women would be sufficiently empowered to stand and be returned on their own. The other would be to mandate that the additional 33 per cent seats be indirectly filled by women by proportional representation through the list system. In either case, women could be directly elected but their 33 per cent women’s quota would have to be made good through the List.

In any event, the present Bill need not be further delayed by such refinements. Half a loaf is better than no bread. The matter is urgent because women will assuredly bring greater commitment and integrity to the unfinished and increasingly urgent task of implementing rights based legislation – to food, education, health, sanitation and water supply, clean energy, demographic change, and employment. Those nominated are not all going to be wives, daughters and sisters of powerful political families. This could happen up to a point but not for long and women will increasingly come into their own. Parties that wish to see more OBC and Muslim representation are free to nominate more candidates from these categories. It is also likely that corruption and misbehaviour in the House may also come down with a proportionate increase in women members.

Conservative and fundamentalist forces are not favorable to women. Witness female infanticide and declining sex ratios in the relatively prosperous NW states. Worse, witness the ferocious objections to a uniform civil code, so necessary to promote fraternity and equal citizenship, by persons determined to misinterpret the law and suggest that a UCC can only be enacted by abrogating personal law, which is simply not the case. Similar influences were at work over the ban and threats to M.F. Husain and again when there was rioting recently in Shimoga and Hassan in Karnataka over publication of a supposedly erroneous translation of an old article of Taslima Nasreen , the exiled Bangladeshi writer, that was allegedly offensive to Muslim religious sentiment. The law was not allowed to take its course. Some perversely asserted a freedom or “right to offend” as in the case of the Danish cartoonists or Taslima. A person has a right to be offended and to seek recourse to law. But there is no right to offend, which would entail a right to murder, rape, forgery and similar acts.

All fundamentalisms are inherently rooted in deep social conservatism, generally with a gender bias. The caste based parties opposing the Bill have threatened to withdraw support from the UPA coalition. The Congress has refused to be blackmailed thus far and must stand firm. There has been no OBC census for decades and accurate figures are not available. Nor does an OBC in one state get recorded as an OBC in another. In such circumstances, any across the board OBC reservation could create confusion. And in the current race to be backward witnessed in recent times, a new and avoidable premium will have been placed on backwardness.

The Government does not propose to include caste among the questions to be asked in the 2011 census. It is time to rise above such absurd throwbacks and root to become and be just Indian.

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