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'Women need proportional representation in all spheres'

Jun 18, 2009

Women’s liberation in India is intertwined with the emancipation of the backward and oppressed castes, says Kancha Ilaiah, political scientist and social activist. The principle of reservation in eliminating gender disparity should simultaneously address the caste inequality within women folk, he argues.

Again an agonising debate has started on the question of women’s reservation in the legislative bodies in India. No country in the world has so far reserved a certain percentage of seats in the legislative bodies.

Women in almost all the nations constitute around 50% of the population. In many European countries they constitute slightly more than 50% too.

But even in the most advanced democracies like the US and Britain, which provided the cardinal principles of democracy both in theory and practice, there is no reservation of seats for women.

Why? Is it because the women in those countries already represent their (gender identity based) social self in every sphere of life – including that of legislative bodies?

In fact, in a majority of countries, the women constitute no more than 10% of their legislative bodies. They are struggling to achieve adequate representation, but are not asking for reservations.

The demand of women to be given their due share in all spheres of life – including that of the legislative and governing institutions is a universal demand.

In fact, in the third world countries like India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh women leaders had occupied most powerful ruling positions much before the women leaders in advanced democracies could get into such positions.

This does not mean that women in these countries could, in education, employment and in personality building have reached the levels that the European and American women could reach. I am aware of the limitations of exceptional or accidental emergence of such leaders.

Why oppose the bill in present form?

If Indira Gandhi did not empower all upper caste women, Mayawati did not and would not empower all Dalit women.

Women of the world and India need to be given proportional representation in all spheres.

Nobody, much less the Other Backward Caste (OBC) leadership, needs to oppose reserving seats in legislative bodies to the tune of 33% or for that matter 50% seats in all institutions of law making and governance.

Then why do the OBC leaders and intellectuals oppose the women’s reservation bill in the present form?

This bill does not in any way address the caste inequality that exists within women. All of us know that inequalities are not based on just caste and gender. There are inequalities of class, race, region and so on.

No nation in the world is invoking the theory of reservations to solve all inequalities – including that of women’s inequality.

Reservation is a specific theory constructed by the intellectual and mass leaders coming from the Scheduled Caste (SC) and OBC communities as a method of producing organic leaders from those communities because they were by force not allowed to emerge as leaders.

There is no doubt that the women of all castes were also not allowed to emerge as leaders historically.

So the principle of reservation could legitimately be invoked to address gender inequality in India, but the pre-condition should be that caste inequality within women folk of India should be addressed simultaneously.

This calls for enforcement of OBC reservation of at least 27% for OBCs in all spheres of public institutions.

But such enforcement requires an introduction of a parallel OBC reservation Bill in the same parliament that is seeking to introduce women’s reservation bill.

Double standards?

Why did the Indian media create heroes out of Rajiv Goswamys and why are they now so shamelessly ridiculing Sharad Yadav who said that he would take “poison as Socrates did” if the women’s reservation bill is passed without introducing a parallel OBC reservation bill in the parliament?

The OBC leaders and intellectuals have their own philosophical vision. They were not born as dogs and donkeys but were born as human beings.

Why heckle them on every day basis? Some writers call Sharad Yadav, Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad as backwards. This is certainly not a reconciliatory language.

There can be differences of opinion on issues. Which upper caste leaders took more progressive stand than that of Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar on women’s liberation?

History of women’s liberation is not just starting with this reservation bill and it is not going to put an end to all their problems. Their liberation is quite intertwined with that of the liberation of the oppressed castes.

The forces that opposed the OBC reservations in central educational institutions, public sector, the forces that opposed extension of reservations for SC, Scheduled Tribes (STs) in promotions are very enthusiastically supporting the women’s reservation bill.

At the same time all these forces are opposed to the OBC reservations in legislative bodies. That makes their intentions suspicious.

The upper caste forces suspect every idea or proposal that comes from the Dalit/ OBC leadership.

The OBCs are as oppressed as the upper caste women are, if not more. Then they should also get their share in all legislative bodies. Is it not mutually respectable that all women should support the OBC reservation in legislative bodies and all OBC leaders then should support the women’s reservation bill?

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