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Women’s Reservation Bill: Parliamentarians lack resoluteness of purpose, says lawyer Geeta Luthra

Mar 26, 2013

Eminent Indian lawyer, Geeta Luthra, laments that in all the successive Parliaments, the percentage of women has been gradually coming down in comparison to the first Parliament. Excerpts from Geeta Luthra's interview with OneWorld South Asia.

Geeta Luthra, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India

OneWorld South Asia: Why do you think even after ten years of the introduction, the Women’s Reservation Bill has not been passed yet?

Geeta Luthra: There is no will among the political parties to actually implement the Women’s Reservation Bill. The will is not there because the legislatures in the Parliament do not want to lose their power to women. The moment 33 percent reservation comes into effect for women being elected to Parliament, a major number of the present Parliamentarians will have to surrender their seats and scurry for new constituencies which are safer for them to fight elections.

The current Parliamentarians will not want to lose the credit in the constituencies they have nurtured for years.Once this bill comes into force, the present Parliamentarians will have to increase their efforts in winning the remaining 67 per cent open seats.

OWSA: How do you look at the empowerment of women at the Panchayat level?

Luthra: It is a classic case of charity not beginning at home. While the Parliamentarians want to empower women at the Panchayat level, they are reluctant to do the same at higher levels, including Parliament. This shows that they do not have resoluteness of purpose regarding this long pending bill.

In a sense, it is duplicity on the part of Parliamentarians.

From the time of our independence till now,the number of women in Parliament as a percentage is actually going down. So, that itself speaks volumes about women not being promoted or encouraged to come out for demanding a greater share in the country.

OWSA: How do you look at some prominent women personalities who have made it big in the field of politics like Sonia Gandhi and Sheila Dikshit?

Luthra: Most of the women Parliamentarians, this country has had are the wives, mothers, spouses and daughters of the politicians. So, if their constituencies grow then the wife or a daughter is asked to stand for the election. This kind of attitude does not even remotely serve the purpose of women’s representation.

Most of the women in the top echelons of the country by virtue of holding high level posts in judiciary, administration and politics like Sonia Gandhi, Sheila Dixit and Jayalalithacome from very advantageous backgrounds, and hence are an exception to the rule.

OWSA: What kind of role can political parties play to ensure that the Women’s Reservation Bill sees the light of the day at the earliest?

Luthra: There should be a resolution from the Parliamentarians that once the bill regarding 33 per cent of the reservation for women comes into effect, the reserved seats would not be cornered by the female relatives of the veteran politicians.

Our political parties need to play a positive role. If this country can have reservations for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, then we can have the same for women too.

OWSA: Despite all obstacles, we do see that women are being empowered and gaining foothold in areas untouched by them, so far. How do you look at this development?

Luthra: We are actually not empowering women, we are doing a camouflage and we are not being honest.

In this country, the moment a woman becomes too powerful, she is sidelined on one pretext or the other.  In all the successive Parliaments, the percentage of women has been gradually coming down in comparison to the first Parliament, which shows the state of things.

The fear of women’s empowerment is so real that Parliamentarians will look for an excuse by referring to Joint Parliamntary Committees (JPCs) and resorting to anything which will ensure thedelay of the Women’s Reservation Bill.

OWSA: How important it is to sensitise people holding responsible positions in various departments like the police, administration and health towards women?

Luthra: We realize that the need to have a gender sensitive police, doctors and administrators to bring about the positive change – sensitizing the police through the police academy and judiciary through thejudicial academy towards the issues related to women. People in the administration need to be sensitive towards women in their everyday conduct and behaviour.

But, all this will only get real when our Parliamentarians will demonstrate their resoluteness to give women their due representation.

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