In a landmark decision, the Lok Sabha passes a bill aiming to reserve one-third of all seats for women
The Lok Sabha, on Wednesday i.e., on September 20, 2023, witnessed a historic moment as it passed the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eight Amendment) Bill 2023. Proposed by Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal during a special parliamentary session, the bill aims to reserve 33 percent of seats for women in the Lok Sabha, state legislatures, and the Delhi legislative assembly. With an overwhelming majority of 454 Members of Parliament voting in favor, this significant step toward gender equality was met with only 2 opposing votes.
However, what sets this bill apart is its deferred implementation, which will take place after the completion of the next delimitation exercise, following the first census conducted post-enactment. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, addressing the house, expressed optimism about the future, stating,
“After elections, soon census and delimitation exercise will take place. After this, there will be 1/3rd women in this House.”
While the bill received widespread support from the opposition, questions arose regarding the delayed implementation. Many members demanded immediate execution, and some called for separate reservations for women belonging to OBC and minority communities. Nevertheless, amendments proposed by the Law Minister to certain bill clauses were accepted by the house, signaling a step towards consensus.
This isn’t the first time such a bill has been introduced. Over a decade ago, the Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008, aimed to reserve seats for women in Parliament, state legislatures, and the Delhi legislative assembly. Unfortunately, the bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th LokSabha (2009-14).
Comparing the two bills, the 2023 amendment proposes an amendment to Article 239AA (Special provisions with respect to Delhi) and introduces three new articles: Articles 330A, 332A, and 334A. The first two newly proposed articles seek to introduce 33 percent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, while the last article contains a sunset clause, phasing out this affirmative policy after 15 years. Notably, provisions relating to the reservation for the Anglo-Indian community remain untouched.
The Introduction of the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, also known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, has generated significant buzz across various sectors. This bill, which aims to raise women’s political representation, marks the first legislative action after shifting to the new Parliament building, emphasizing the government’s commitment to gender justice.
Reflecting on the historical context, it’s enlightening to explore the views of the founding mothers of the Indian Constitution regarding women’s reservation. The Constituent Assembly featured 15 women representatives, who played a pivotal role in representing diverse voices in a predominantly male assembly.
While not all of these women actively participated in debates, ten of them advocated for “merit” rather than special consideration. Hansa Mehta, in particular, emphasized that women sought justice in social, economic, and political spheres, rather than reserved seats.
Renuka Ray opposed reservation, citing examples of women like Vijayalakshmi Pandit, who achieved positions based on their merit, not gender. She expressed concerns that reservation could overshadow women’s competence.Purnima Banerji, when seeking to fill vacant seats, underscored the importance of selecting women based on merit, not gender.
In the 76th year of India’s independence, women’s representation in Parliament and State Legislatures still falls below 15%. This raises questions: Is it due to a lack of “merit” advocated by the founding mothers, a lack of opportunities, or outdated beliefs about women’s ability to make administrative decisions?
As the implementation of the bill depends on the restructuringexercise, these questions must be addressed. The bill’s success could be instrumental in adequately representing 50% of the nation’s population in the next 15 years. Ammu Swaminathan’swords from a different context serve as a hopeful reminder of the progress yet to be made in achieving gender equality in Indian politics.