INDIA has a long history of reservations, an affirmative action mechanism aimed at uplifting marginalized communities. Dating back to the Poona Pact of 1932, the concept of reservations has evolved to provide Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) with a better footing in education, employment, and political representation. The debate over the ethical and social ramifications of this reservation system has often been contentious, yet it remains an integral part of India’s constitutional framework.
The new horizon
The Indian Government has taken a momentous step by introducing the Constitution (128th Amendment) Bill, 2023, commonly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, which aims to reserve one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative Assemblies for women. Intriguingly, this reservation will extend to seats already reserved for SCs and STs, making it an inclusive endeavour.
Politics and timings
The proposed Bill has resurfaced at a time when General Elections are on the horizon. This strategic timing is being seen as an attempt to garner support from female voters, who constitute almost half of India’s electorate. However, it should be noted that the Bill has encountered less opposition over the years, providing a favourable landscape for its passage.
Legal merits of move
As a legal professional, I find the initiative laudable for several reasons. First, the Bill aligns with the constitutional ethos of equality and social justice. By enhancing women’s representation in legislatures, the Government aims to correct a longstanding imbalance, thereby making our democracy more robust and inclusive.
Secondly, by extending this reservation to seats already reserved for SCs and STs, the Bill adopts an intersectional approach. This ensures that women from marginalised communities are not left behind, a point often raised by critics who argue that reservations usually benefit women from privileged backgrounds.
Challenges and solutions Implementing the Women’s Reservation Bill, however, is not without its complications. While it carries immense potential for empowering women and marginalised communities, the mechanism for delimitation and rotation of reserved seats presents complex challenges, both logistic and strategic.
To mitigate this, some interesting suggestions have emerged. One such proposal is to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1951, to mandate that every recognized political party must nominate women candidates for one-third of the constituencies. This removes the lottery element and provides political parties an option to decide which constituencies will have women candidates, thereby allowing for strategic planning and long-term constituency development.
The reservation of seats for women is a finite mechanism; it will cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of the Act. Ideally, by then, the necessity for such reservations would have been eroded by a more equitable society.
Drawing inspiration from the success of the 1992 73rd Amendment Act, which mandated reservations for women in panchayats, it’s fair to expect that this Bill, if passed, could be a game-changer for the Indian democracy.
After 75 years of Independence, as India aspires to become “Vikasit Bharat” by 2047, the need for an inclusive society has never been greater. By introducing the Women’s Reservation Bill, the Government has acknowledged that achieving this goal will require the concerted efforts of all, especially the women who constitute half of the nation’s population. As a legal instrument designed to correct a historical wrong, the Bill merits our collective attention and support.
The time for talking has passed; the time for action has arrived. Let us seize this moment to fortify our democracy and ensure that the journey towards ‘Viksit Bharat’ is a journey for all.