People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 13, 2006
THREE-DAY DHARNA BY TEN WOMEN’S ORGANISATIONS
‘Enact Women’s Reservation Bill Now’
Marching to parliament on the last day of the dharna
ACROSS the political spectrum, a battle was rejoined –– the struggle to get the Women’s Reservation Bill back onto the agenda of parliament witnessed the coming together of ten national women’s organisations for a three day dharna held on Sansad Marg during August 2-4, 2006.
These ten organisations – All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), All India Women's Conference (AIWC), Centre for Women's Development Studies (CWDS), Forum for Child Care and Creche Services (FORCES), Guild of Service, Joint Women's Programme (JWP), Muslim Women's Forum (MWF), National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), SAMA, and Young Women’s Christian Association of India (YWCA) – issued notice to the UPA government that they would not brook any further delay in the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill which seeks to reserve 33 per cent seats in parliament and state legislatures for women. They pointed out that this was the fourth commitment in the CMP, and refused to accept further postponement in the guise of seeking “consensus.” All national parties had included this promise in their election manifestoes. Given the positive change in the stance of some of the alliance partners, they demanded that this should be made into an opportunity, and the original Bill should be introduced in parliament immediately for an open discussion. After members move their amendments, the Bill should be put to vote. The Congress should take the responsibility and ensure that this gets done.
This was the crux of the powerful struggle launched unitedly by the ten organisations. The huge mobilisation of women from across the country, and especially from some of the most backward districts, the attendance crossing a thousand women everyday and culminating in a massive gathering of over 2000 women on the final day, had one message to deliver –– the women’s movement, along with the support of all democratic forces, was in no mood to put up with the prevarication of the UPA government on this vital Bill.
Their voices reverberated inside parliament as well, as joint delegations comprising of representatives from the women’s organisations, led by Rajya Sabha MP and AIDWA vice president Brinda Karat, and accompanied by MPs from many parties accosted the various ministers, and also the prime mnister, forcing them to reiterate a firmer, more categorical, time-bound commitment to the Bill. MPs from political parties in the delegations included Mohsina Kidwai, Biplav Thakur, Mabel Rebello, (Congress), Durga Devi (TDP), Indira Devi (AIADMK) and Sathi Devi, C S Sujatha, and Jotirmoy Sikder from CPI(M). The delegation pointed out that the neighbouring countries such as Nepal with 33 per cent, Pakistan with 22 per cent, Bangladesh with 14 per cent and even strife-torn Palestine had a higher proportion of women’s representation than the biggest democracy in the region!
The mobilisation of different sections of women on different days proved extremely effective in highlighting the multidimensional aspects of the injustice meted out to women. On August 2, with a focus on the theme – From Panchayat to Parliament, elected women from the states were invited to participate, and extend their support. The response surpassed expectations. Participants included Rekha Goswami, the minister for self employment and self help groups from West Bengal, along with her colleagues, Bilasi Bala, minister for forests, Debolina Hemram, minister for tribal affairs, and P K Shrimathy, the minister for health and social welfare, Kerala. Twenty one members of the West Bengal state assembly also participated in the dharna. They were joined by several women presidents of zilla parsishads/district panchayats, sarpanches, grampanchayat members and councilors elected to their posts due to the enabling provision of one-third reservations for women in local bodies. They, along with women from different states such as Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi took part in the programme, and joined the delegations that met the union home minister, Shivraj Patil, the panchayati raj minister Mani Shankar Iyer, and the minister of state for rural development, Suryakanta Patil. Additionally, the joint memorandum was submitted to the prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and leaders of regional parties in the cabinet – Maran (DMK) and Raghuvansh Prasad (RJD).
The memorandum reminded them that it was now 10 years since the Bill had been introduced in parliament. It had been sent to a Joint Select Committee, which gave its recommendations, and on this basis the final draft had been prepared. Pointing out the impractical, and often diversionary nature of many of the proposals being made outside parliament, it demanded that the Bill should be tabled in its present form without delay.
There was also an enthusiastic response from professionals in various spheres, and unions whose representatives addressed the dharna.. National Commission for Women members, Malini Bhattacharya, and Manjulata spoke in support, and also State Women’s Commission chairperson Kiran Walia. People from different fields came to express solidarity. AIKS secretary N K Shukla, CITU president M K Pandhe Delhi Nurses Federation representative G K Khurana, Insurance Employees Association leader Neeta Singh, Public Sector Employees representative Ashok Rao, Ranjana Kumari from MDS were but some of those who greeted the dharna. DYFI, SFI, and many other mass organisations gave full support to the struggle. The high point was the 500 strong team of anganwadi workers who had launched a 10-day hunger strike, came in an inspiring rally to greet the struggle.
There was good response to the performance of a street play by Janam – Woh Bol Uthi – on the special problem of lack of toilets faced by a large section of women, and skits on other issues. A presidium comprising AIDWA president Subhashini Ali, Pramila Pandhe and Kalindi Deshpande conducted the three-day sessions.
Various leaders from different organizations addressed the gathering over the three days, and the list included – Manorama Bawa from AIWC, Savithri and Vasanthi from CWDS, Bulu Sarin from FORCES, Mohini Giri from GOS, Jyotsna Chatterjee from JWP, Annie Raje and Primila Loomba from NFIW, Azra Abidi from MWF, Nirmala Fenn and Sunita Das from YWCA, and Brinda Karat, Sudha Sundararaman, Ashlata from AIDWA.
We will demand our right, We will continue the fight. With such determination the three day programme concluded on a militant note. All the women’s organisations put forth the context and issues involved, and insisted that the vote of the women of India cannot be taken for granted.
A huge contingent of women marched to parliament amidst slogans and resolved that if the Bill was not introduced, their struggle would intensify further, and would spread to each and every part of the country.
Women’s Reservation Bill was first introduced on September 4, 1996 by the
United Front (Deve Gowda) government as the 81st Constitutional Amendment
was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee chaired by the late MP Geeta
Joint Parliamentary Committee presented its report to the Eleventh Lok Sabha
on December 9, 1996.
was re-introduced in the 12th Lok Sabha as the 84th Constitutional Amendment
Bill by the National Democratic Alliance (Vajpayee) Government on June 26,
was once again introduced by the NDA (Vajpayee) government in the 13th Lok
Sabha on November 22, 1999. The Left parties and the Congress gave written
assurances to support the Bill if it was introduced. It was brought to the
House once in 2002 and twice in 2003, but despite its having a majority in
the Lok Sabha, the NDA government made no effort to have the Bill passed.
United Progressive Alliance (Manmohan Singh) government elected in May 2004
announced its intentions to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill by including
it as an assurance in the Common Minimum Programme –
UPA government will take the lead to introduce legislation for one-third
reservations fro women in vidhaan sabhas and in the Lok Sabha.”
to date, the UPA government has failed to introduce the bill in the Lok Sabha
passage of the Bill based on the recommendations of the JPC
Bill in Parliament
it in the house
amendments if necessary
it to vote!!
Proposals Being Put Forth Now
The Context Of The Bill
One-third reservation of seats in lists of candidates of political
will not necessarily ensure an increase in the number of women in parliament and
state assemblies in the present system of elections, because women may be put up
on losing seats. This proposal will work only in a system of proportional
representation, that too when women’s names are included in the first few
names in the list of candidates.
Separate reservation of seats for women belonging to SC, ST and OBC
and ST women will automatically benefit from the Bill because one-third seats of
the seats reserved for SCs and STs are reserved for women. At present, there is
no general reservation for OBCs, hence no separate reservation for OBC women is
proposed at present. Political parties are free to move any amendments and have
them voted upon once the Bill is introduced in Parliament.
Increase one- third seats in parliament and reserve them for women
is not possible because parliament has already passed a resolution that does not
allow the number of seats to be increased. The exercise to delimit
constituencies is already over. Increasing the seats will entail all kinds of
practical problems including space, money etc.
Double member constituencies with one-third constituencies being
represented by a man as well as a woman
is patently discriminatory, since it implies that women are not capable of
representing a constituency independently and must ‘share’ it with a man.