The historic Women reservation bill has just been passed in the Rajya sabha. To help you understand BJP's perspective, I give below some salient points from the statement by Sri Arun Jaitley in the Rajya sabha. - Moderator
BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY
Brief talking points made by Shri Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition (Rajya Sabha) while speaking on the Constitution amendment providing for reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and State Legislatures
For those present in the House, it is a matter of great privilege that they are a party to history in the making. We are all discharging a historic responsibility in becoming instruments of enacting one of the most progressive legislations in recent Indian history. We are rewriting gender history.
The rationale behind women’s reservation in Lok Sabha and State legislatures is laudable. The myth is that reservations create a privileged section. The truth is that nature created all of us as equals, the Constitution also provided equality. However, aberrations in the society translated some equals into unequal.
Reservation, therefore, is an affirmative action, which is intended to wash away the reality of unequality and translate it into a vision of equality. Those who have been made unequal will today become equal participants in decision-making. Reservation quotas for women, therefore, becomes an essential instrument to jump start the process of equality. Women constitute 50 per cent of the society. In the last 63 years, we have witnessed 15 general elections. The actual election of women has not significantly changed. It remains between a range of 7 to 11 percent. Even today, sixty three years after independence the representation of women in the 15th Lok Sabha is 10.7 percent. This in itself demolishes the myth that slowly the situation will improve with regard to women’s representation even if nothing is done. The truth is that in the last 63 years, it has not happened and in the next 63 years, it is not likely to happen.
Can men in majority also look after women’s interest ?
The reality is that 50 percent section of the society gets a 10 percent share. We speak in terms of becoming a global economic power. We are a state with a nuclear capability. We host amongst the largest number of billionaires but 2/3rd of our children are born out of the womb of their mothers without medical facilities. Our maternal mortality is 410 out of 1,00,000 (one lac), which is one of the highest in the world. Some 88 percent of pregnant women are anaemic.
Demographically, the national average of woman is 933 for every 1,000 men. Unconfirmed reports show that five million foetuses are aborted every year. The gender literacy gap index puts us at number 121 in the world. Our female literacy is 53 percent as compared to male literary of 76 percent. The female drop out from school is almost twice that of their male counterparts. Even though in the last ten years, we have made some progress in our personal laws, some personal laws are still retrograde. They treat women as unequals. Some deny them the equal right to property. Dowry continues to be a menace. This parliament does not have the courage even today to say that all personal laws, which violate the constitutional guarantees of right to live with dignity and equality are unconstitutional and must be repealed.
The argument that men can also ensure justice to women has been weakened. Underrepresentation and discrimination stare us in the face. The time has come for equal representation. The politics of tokenism must now evolve into a politics of ideas. The politics of ideas must be accelerated by the politics of representation. It is on this rationale that I stand here to support the Bill.
What is the Law
The Constitutional amendment is very simple. It has a life span of 15 years. In this lifespan of 15 years, if General Elections are held as scheduled, there will be three blocks of Lok Sabha seats, each constituting one-third. Each block will get a representation for one General Election. At the end of 15 years, each constituency would have sent women to the Parliament. Since there is a constitutional provision for representation for seats for SC and STs one-third of those reserved seats obviously will be reserved for women of that community. This principle will apply for a period of 15 years. After judging the quantum and quality of representation, Indian legislature will have an opportunity to decide whether to continue or discontinue the reservation.
The 73rd and 74th amendments reserved constituencies for women in state assemblies. Several state government have even reserved up to 50 percent of seats in the local bodies and panchayats. The spread of female representation has increased manifold. Today, 43 percent elected positions in Panchayats are held by women.
Experience of other countries
The experience of several other countries in the world shows that three different systems have been followed to provide for reservations. The first system is to reserve certain number of fixed constituencies for women. This has been universally successful. Today, it is on strength of this reservation that one of the poorest countries of the world viz. Rwanda has overtaken Sweden with 48.8 percent of women in their Parliament. Sweden has 47 percent, Argentina has 40 percent, Norway has 36 percent, and even Afghanistan has 27 percent whereas Pakistan has 22 percent. Because of this system of reserving constituencies, it has been successful.
The second system is the list system where political parties submit a list of individuals to represent the parties. The third methodology is to fix quotas for political parties. All these systems have been attempted and a global pattern is available.
Why prescribing a percentage for women candidates for political parties is not successful
Article 19 (1) (c), read with the limitation prescribed under Article 19 (4) in the Constitution as at present enacted does not allow a constitutionally valid legislation to prescribe for a restriction on the right to form and run an association with a sex-based quota- the only restrictions allowed are in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, public order or morality. Such a system is unlikely to be successful. The United Kingdom (UK) has such a system. It does not ensure that women are fielded in constituencies in which their success in likely. The result is that in a mature democracy like the UK, which provides for quota in political parties, the representation is at 19.8 percent in the House of Commons, which is lower than the representation in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Rwanda.
Why rotation is justified.
The provision for rotation in the Constitution amendment has come in for some controversy. Rotation is the most suitable principle for sex-based reservation. It will ensure that in the 15 year period, the life of this amendment, each constituency in the country sends, at least once, a woman representative to the Parliament. This will increase the horizontal spread of women activism across the country. This coupled with reservations in the local self-governments and panchayats will throw up a huge activism at a national level. Thus, after 15 years, when reservations are removed and constituencies are thrown open, India will have millions of women activists for political parties to choose from. On the contrary, if there is no rotation and one single constituency remains reserved for a long period of time, it will result in reverse-discrimination against men belonging to that constituency who would be disqualified for a very long period of time. It does not stand to reason that persons once elected will not nourish that constituency. A woman is not disqualified for contesting for a second time. She will generally nourish the constituency in order to ensure that she has a chance for contesting the next election. There would be several male candidates who would be busy nourishing the constituency in the hope of contesting the next time.
Should there be reservation quotas for other castes and communities
The constitution provides for caste-based reservations only for SCs and STs. When there is no reservation for other communities, there is no reason why there must be reservation for women belonging to those communities. Most candidates selected by Political Parties will mirror the social character of the constituencies.
The Gujarat experiment
Gujarat Assembly has passed a Bill providing for reservation for women in the local self-bodies and Panchayats at 50 percent level. It is ironical, that the Congress which is supporting the Bill at the centre is obstructing it at the State level. For the last four months, the Governor of Gujarat is not giving her consent to the Bill. The Congress should seriously introspect its lack of commitment on this issue.
The members of this august House are privileged today to be privy to the passing of this historic legislation. I stand one with the Government of the day and other political colleagues to uphold the aspirations of women in India. I appeal to all members to be unanimous in approving this Bill.