The much-awaited Women’s Reservation Bill that has been re-christened as Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam (yet another India vs Bharat bogey) has been passed by the Lok Sabha with a majority vote. It is all about realpolitik that saw the Bill being presented and passed after a rather insipid debate. There wouldn’t be a better way of reaching out to almost half of the voter population and getting their electoral allegiance on the BJP/NDA side. It is a political masterstroke played on the runup to the General Elections. In addition to erasing all the efforts made by the earlier dispensations to take the Bill through the Parliamentary system, it almost neutralizes the negative sentiment that was generated, and flared up by the opposition, after the Manipur mayhem against women and the gross indifference shown by the government and the functionaries of the party in power towards the female wrestlers who had accused the Federation Chief of sexual assault.
As a society we are so deprived – economically and as a result of that, socially and culturally – and hopeless that even an insignificant hope of better times makes us forget our current miserable realities. On the death of a person due to an avoidable natural calamity or an accident, a compensation is doled out to the family and that is good enough to quench their grief and get them to start planning their future. In the backdrop of the colossal discrimination and violence displayed against women, the Bill brings in hope for a better tomorrow for our women. A hope that would result in something tangible only after the census is carried out and the follow-up emotionally sensitive delimitation process is completed and that would take years. But it is hope that is generated and that is good enough reason for a large number of women voters wanting to get BJP to power again. Congress and its I.N.D.I.A. associates are clueless, as always, and are not able to articulate a logical counter-strategy that would go well with women. It is impossible to convince people about the possible malafide intentions of an apparent good deed. NDA is so good in delivering and that too with so much of fanfare that it is impossible for I.N.D.I.A. to generate any dilemma – which is a pre-requisite for the possible change in loyalty – in the minds of the voters.
Formulation of a law to ensure higher representation of women in law making is a welcome step but alongside that it is time that the agencies that enforce laws and men, in general, are socially groomed and sensitised to look women as equal. Looking at the way women have been treated in the recent past by law makers and the Central and State administrations, we still have a long way to go to be able to give women their rightful place. Women need to be empowered not through legal provisions or by announcing that they would play a lead role in development. It is a mammoth task and requires re-defining our value system and socio-cultural ethos and expecting this to happen with the current set politicians that are in power or even those wanting to be in power, is like expecting dodos to solve complicated differential equations. If laws could solve problems, we wouldn’t have about 4.28 lac cases of rape cases being registered in 2022 despite the punishment for rape having become severe post the Nirbhaya case. Having laws is important but having institutions that uphold laws is equally, if not more, important. The fear of law is not generated by the provisions of the law but by the manner in which the executing agencies uphold laws.
What is our ultimate objective for women empowerment? It wouldn’t be out of place to assume that it is incumbent upon our Government to ensure that women, in the course of time, feel empowered and confident of being elected to the Parliament and the State Assemblies on merit and after competing with whosoever they have to and not as a result of the ‘reservation’ protection that is provided to them. If women have to be equal to men – which they ought to be – they need to accept the challenge of transforming their status and image. Women’s Reservation Bill would have a life span of 15 years and in this period the elected women representatives should take it upon themselves to ensure that the girl child that is born about five years back and who would be eligible to contest election after about twenty years is confident of taking anyone head-on. India, in addition to nurturing this ambition of emerging as a superpower by 2047, should ensure that at least half of the elected representatives are women and that they get elected thru an open contest.
The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam is a great start towards women empowerment but empowerment, in the sustainable and ever-growing context, has to be unencumbered and reservation is a psychological inhibitor for law makers who are there because of reservation. The good thing is that the Government has realised that continued affirmative action to overcome discrimination results in continued discrimination and has provided for only a 15-year window post the commencement of the Amendment Act. Its going to be interesting but tough 15-year journey for women law makers.