NDIA: History is full of delicious ironies. The only
person who supported reserving seats for
women in parliament during the making of India’s
constitution was a man. RK Chaudhury made a
curious pitch, with a touch of misogyny:
“I think it would be wise to provide for a women’s
constituency. When a woman asks for something,
as we know, it is easy to get it and give it to her;
but when she does not ask for anything in
particular it becomes very difficult to find out what
she wants. If you give them a
special constituency they can
have their scramble and fight
there among themselves without
coming into the general
constituency. Otherwise we may
at times feel weak and yield in
their favour and give them seats
which they are not entitled to.”
The women railed against reservations.
Constituent Assembly member Renuka Roy said
Indian women “have been fundamentally opposed
to special privileges and reservations.” Her
colleague Hansa Mehta rejected reservations,
saying what women wanted was “social justice,
economic justice and political justice.”
Over half a century later, the wheel has turned full
So when a landmark bill reserving a third of seats
for women in parliament and state legislative
assemblies was passed in the upper house after
stiff resistance by a small group of socialist MPs, it
was a historic moment for the world’s largest
democracy. Analysts reckon this is politically as
significant as the introduction of communal
electorates in 1909, and reserving seats for the
“depressed” in 1932. But more than anything, it is
a crowning achievement for India’s women.
Despite critics who say such quotas are a blow to
meritocracy, this affirmative action has to be
applauded. In India’s largely patriarchal society,
women have borne the brunt of neglect,
discrimination and violence. Despite comprising
nearly half of India’s population, only 54% of women
are literate, compared with more than 76% of men
and far too many women still die during childbirth.
Also, with barely 10% of its parliamentary seats
held by women, India needs to play catch up. Its
neighbours fare much better – Bangladesh
reserves 15% of its parliamentary seats for
women, Pakistan 33% and Afghanistan, after its
new constitution, more than 27%.
Nobody is saying that bringing
more women into parliament will
change things overnight. But
studies of India’s village councils
and municipalities - where a third
of the seats are already reserved
for women – have found that
increased political representation
of women leads to more investment in health and
education, less corruption and more altruism.
I remember the sneering men when I was reporting
a story on newly-elected women in the village
councils many years ago. Most of them said the
women would end up as their proxies. But times
have changed, and most elected women do not do
their husband’s or relatives’ bidding any longer. India
has a controversial record on affirmative action, but
this is one move which should be celebrated by all.
Soutik Biswas/bbc.co.uk / 09-03-10
A victory for IndiaÊs women
A victory for the women of India.
Bangladesh reserves
15% of its parliamentary
seats for women, Pakistan
33% and Afghanistan
more than 27%.

Newsheet [2010], 2 - 2/32