Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

Empowering Bhartiya Nari : Bharat’s Recent Breakthrough Under PM Modi’s Leadership

When the H. D. Deve Gowda-led administration tabled the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament 27 years ago, in September 1996, it began a contentious legislative history. In reality, the UPA Government was successful in doing so in the Rajya Sabha in 2010; since then, practically every administration has attempted to approve it. Lack of political will and absence of consensus caused the campaign to fail, but twenty-seven years later, on September 20, the bill to amend the Constitution and grant women a one-third reservation in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies was passed in the Lok Sabha with almost universal support.

The bill reserves one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha, state assemblies and also in the capital, Delhi, which is a federally-administered territory but has an elected assembly.

The law will also apply to the seats that are already reserved for some of India’s most disadvantaged communities known as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In the 545-member Lok Sabha, 131 seats are reserved for these two groups and add up to thousands in state assemblies.

India boasts a history of powerful women in politics, both in the past and the present. The country had a female Prime Minister as early as in 1966 and some of the biggest political parties are headed by women. Female Chief Ministers have run some of India’s largest states and several women helm powerful ministries at federal and state levels. The country has also had two female heads of state, including current President Draupadi Murmu.

 All you need to know about Delimitation

According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), delimitation is the act or process of establishing the limits or boundaries of geographical constituencies in a nation. Delimitation, to put it simply, entails redrawing the borders of the Parliamentary and Assembly seats, increasing the number of constituencies in accordance with the most recent population figures. The Census would serve as the foundation for the delimitation process. When both of these procedures are completed, the Bill becomes operative.

This is done for every state to ensure a balance between the number of constituencies and the population, to provide a portion of the population equal representation, and to set aside a certain number of seats for the designated categories, which are currently women.

In order to establish balance and give equal representation, the Delimitation Commission must ensure that the boundaries of each seat or constituency are drawn in a way that ensures that the population inside each is equal. The Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) are also given to the Commission to carry out the same responsibility.

There have only been four delimitation exercises in India: in 1952 under the Delimitation Commission Act of 1952, in 1963 under the Delimitation Commission Act of 1962, in 1973 under the Delimitation Act of 1972, and in 2002 under the Delimitation Act of 2002. And because of COVID-19, the Census of 2021 was postponed.

The number of Lok Sabha seats was fixed at 543 in the 2002 delimitation process till 2026. The Women’s Reservation Bill may only be passed before the 2029 general elections, depending on the outcome of a delimitation procedure that is in line with the Census report, as the Lok Sabha election in 2024 is only a few months away.

Women Reservation Bill redefines Bhartiya Nari Role in Politics and the Road to Equality

“This is a historic moment, this is a moment of pride for us,” PM Modi said in his speech as he introduced the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam or Women’s Reservation Bill.

Women’s reservations are supported by their claim to representation that is proportionate to their numbers as well as by their historical disadvantage. In actuality, the “one nation, one election” plan would be a far smaller change than proportional representation of all the varied segments of our people. At the very least, the variety of the country must be reflected in our legislators.

Up until recently, even our judiciary reflected the patriarchal worldview and supported nominal equality above genuine equality. Therefore, Justice Chagla in Dattatrya v. State of Bombay

(1952) regarded the particular provision for women in Article 15(3) only as a “proviso” that cannot undermine the parent provision of Article 15(1) rather than an expansion of equality. As a result of so-called “protective discrimination,” rules safeguarding women were preserved because they were considered “weak.”

Given that women make up around 50% of the population, their active involvement in politics helps increase the populace’s representation in the government. Women are more likely to have their own viewpoints and goals taken into account when making decisions. The realization of gender equality in our country will depend heavily on the political engagement of women. The measure makes it obvious that women can and should hold leadership positions in society just like men. This will support the fight against deeply ingrained gender conventions and prejudices. Women often handle political issues in a number of ways. Their participation might result in laws and policies being created that more effectively address issues like gender-based violence, women’s health, education and economic empowerment.

Moreover, calling it a “bold” and “transformative” step, Susan Ferguson, Country Representative of UN Women India, underlined the importance of political representation for women’s sustained empowerment. UN Women also welcomed the proposed Bill’s reservation of seats for women leaders from scheduled castes and tribes as an “important step” that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals and its core objective of leaving no-one behind. It’s a significant record that makes India one of the top performing nations in the world in facilitating women’s political empowerment at the local level, leaving behind other major countries like France, the U.K., Germany, and Japan. Proudly, India was one of the first Asian countries to give women the right to vote and be elected as Members of Parliament. The passage of the women reservation bill is another milestone in the history of the world’s largest democracy. It certainly needed massive political will, and this time with PM Modi at the helm of affairs, there was no dearth of the same.

(Sanjana Sinha is an Associate with Youth Engagement Group of G20 India. Views Expressed are Her Own)