Even after 70 years of Independence, the role of women in power and policy making is almost negligible. Female representation in the Parliament and the State Assemblies, for example, is mere 12 to 19 per cent. The Women Representation Bill, aimed at giving equal rights to females of the country, remains pending for almost 20 years. However, women activists are continuously raising their voice for more power in all the sectors, including politics. Various women organisations from all over the country have come together to form a national alliance to push for the long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill in the Parliament.
Women’s rights activist Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director of Centre for Social Research, has been trying to raise this issue in each and every corner of the country through rallies, panchayats, nukkad sabha. Kumari discusses the Bill and related issues with Anu Jain Rohtagi.
edited Excerpts from an interview •
Why even after 20 years, the fate of Women Reservation Bill hangs in balance?
We have calculated all financial gains which women received when they come to Parliament in past 20 years. It comes to around US$2 billion. It includes salary and perks which Parliamentarians get. Thus, firstly no one wants women to benefit financially. Male politicians are draining resources that could have been utilised by their women counterparts by creating hurdles in the passage of the Women Reservation Bill in the Parliament.
Secondly, male parliamentarians have been enjoying over centuries the glamour, power and domination in politics. They are not prepared to allow equal participation to women easily. Domination of men covers every sphere of the society — be it corporate business house or a family matter. Male domination can be seen even when it comes to religion. Sadly, women are told to follow the religion as per the instruction of male preachers. With the changing situations, women have started demanding for their rights.
Again I think women have proved themselves efficiently and effectively in every field. Male politicians must be fearing that they may lose their seats if more seats are allotted to females. Since women have proved their political and leadership skills, it’s not easy for their male counterparts to digest their competency.
Is it hypocrisy on the part of male leaders of different parties as they unanimously oppose the Women Reservation Bill in the Parliament but talk big about women safety and empowerment?
This is absolute hypocrisy on the part of parliamentarians. A Parliament report points out that only 4 to 5 per cent time has been given to discuss issues related to women — be it health, education or any other issue. On the other hand, individually every party leader gives nod to Women Reservation Bill. Outside they speak public language that proves absolutely hypocritical nature on the issue.
Which political parties mainly and openly do not favour of this Bill?
From the very beginning, they all are on the same page. The way they have ignored women representation in parties’ decision making bodies. They don’t focus on women when it comes to memberships drive. There is hardly any effort to have more females in their organisations. From top to bottom, the situation is more or less same in almost all political parties.
Some parties talk about quota-based reservation for women. Are they serious about it?
When caste-based minority reservation issue was raised, it was clear that it’s an effort to block the Bill. These political parties did not intend to get the Bill passed in the Parliament by any means. Women group across the board believe that a woman seat should be decided by the party to suit the need and not as per the reservation. Those who want caste-based reservation have benefitted the most as they are surviving on the caste based politics.
On one hand, women are talking and fighting for equal rights, on the other hand, they are asking for a reservation. Is it not a double standard on their part?
I think equal opportunity includes equal participation — be it in corporate house, educational institutions, health sector or political power. For a long time, accesses and opportunities have not been in equal ratio. In spite of efficiency and competence, women are not being able to get proper and equal access in all sectors, including politics. Our simple demand is to at least give them access. It’s possible only through the reservation. Later women will prove themselves. There would be no need for reservation. In Panchayats, about 33 per cent reservation was given to women candidates in the beginning. Over the years, women are now fighting and having more than 50 percent seats in the local elections. It has been proved time and again that women need only opportunity and accessibility. Once given, they can fight and prove their skills.
How are you planning to fight for the Women Reservation Bill?
We have already taken up this issue out from the cold storage. We are meeting with decision makers in the BJP government on one-on-one basis. We have organised many mobilisation rallies. We recently arranged a big rally in Champaran, where late Mahatma Gandhi had started Satyagraha Movement. Symbolically, we have also started our mass movement for the Women Reservation Bill.
We are organising mass rallies in Mahem, Haryana, and in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. We are connecting with the women, who work at grassroot level. We are also working with elected women of different panchayats. Our slogan to fight for the Bill is ‘Jhansi Ki Rani.
We have started sending a flower to PM Office everyday as a symbolic reminder. However, due to security reasons it has not worked out well. The National Alliance for Women has started sending a pink colour envelope to PM Office just a reminder for this issue. We have been following this practice since last three months. It will continue till we meet our demand. Lastly, women are depressed and unhappy as they have not been given time by the PM for past three years. We are hoping to get an appointment from the PM. During our meeting, we will persuade him more vehemently to consider the ‘Women Reservation Bill.