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No simple solution - The Times of India

Jaya Jaitly ()
July 6, 1998

Title: No simple solution
Author: Jaya Jaitly
Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 6, 1998

Among the Bills scheduled before Parliament, the Women's
Reservation Bill is probably the most controversy-ridden. It is
fairly clear that though the Bill has been deferred at present,
it will be presented sooner rather than later. Yet for the
women's organisations which have valiantly fought for the Bill
and the politically correct groups who wish to be seen to be
standing up and be counted, the pitch of the demand has been
raised. It is almost as if the BJP-led coalition government will
sneak away from its commitment made in the National Agenda for
Governance, unless everyone loudly reminds them of it. This is
hardly likely to happen because, apart from the joint pledge, the
matter is now far too politically correct, even if no party
really wants to set aside 33 per cent seats for women. The big
question, therefore, is not will it be presented but will it be

The first obstacle that came up in September 1994 when Prime
Minister Deve Gowde brought the Bill before the House was that of
a quota for OBC women. On one side, the men from the OBC
communities, some of whom are more patriarchal than even the
feudal upper caste communities, used the argument that with a
blanket reservation, upper caste women will corner all the party
tickets; that upper caste men will use this to promote their
caste interests thereby regaining supremacy in Parliament. This
fear is not unfounded since an overwhelming majority of those who
are visible, high profile spokespersons for the demand for
reservations are from the Brahmin, Thakur and Bhoomihar castes.
(The backward caste women such as Ms Uma Bharti and Ms Bhagwati
Devi have demanded a quota for OBCs while Ms Mayawati has refused
to associate herself with the matter.)

Other Complications

To be fair to the upper caste votaries, they have never been
casteist in their approach and are largely from left and
socialist backgrounds, which claim to eschew any of the
domination characteristics usually associated with those castes.
However, old antagonisms run deep and post-Mandal, many a
socialist like Mr Sharad Yadav, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mr Laloo
Prasad Yadav and Mr Ram Vilas Paswan have turned to their caste
following for political clout. As Mr Nitish Kumar points out in
his dissenting note in the JPC recommendations on the Bill, "I
have come to know that there are only four OBC women out. of 39
in Parliament; National Commission for Women does not have a
single member belonging to OBC". The argument he follows is
clearly that since the OBCs are socially dominated and OBC women'
are patriarchially dominated, OBC women are doubly dominated and
thus need a special quota within the 33 per cent. So far so good,
but then there are further unaddressed complications such as,
which OBCs?

Next Trap

The Left parties are typically hypocritical on the issue. Apart
>from having no woman in their politburo, women in leadership
within the party and in their front organisations are clearly.
upper caste. They do not pay heed to this but the backward caste
leaders do. Despite a firm "no" in response to the demand for an
OBC quota, these same Left parties lean heavily on OBC leaders
who have clearly turned casteist to see them through in some
seats in heavily caste-oriented states like Uttar Pradesh and
Bihar. Politicians may say whatever they wish but it is not easy
to hide political and caste realities from them. Instead of
taking note of the fact that there are already caste-based
reservations for SCs and STs, leftist women who reject the demand
for OBC reservation merely say "don't divide us women into
castes, we are united as women". This is a hollow argument. Women
are not only already divided by caste but the so-called women's
movement comprising front organisations and NGOs' have further
divided women according to religion and ideology by consistently
excluding the grouping of BJP and allies from any collective
action by claiming that the real women's agenda is secular while
these groups are communal.

The politically correct secularists then create the next trap for
themselves and others. "If OBC women are doubly oppressed, the
women from the minorities are triply oppressed", they say,
launching a demand for a quota for women from the minority
community which all patriarchs of the minority and OBC
communities happily approve. "Strike while the iron is hot" says
Mr Sharad Yadav. It would be worthwhile to look closely at the
Minto-Morley reforms of 1909 which allowed for a separate Muslim
electorate and the Ramsay Macdonald Communal Award of 1932 which
recommended that 17 communities including seats for Hindus,
Muslims Indian Christians, Sikhs, Europeans and women, must be
reserved. A separate electorate for women further divided women
according to Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Anglo-Indian. The former
reforms sowed the seeds of partition while the latter was luckily
rejected after stiff resistance from the Congress.

While a section of one minority community seeks representation
for it's women, the chief minister of Nagaland has opposed the
reservation for women in Nagaland as it interferes with the
customs of tribal society. He argues that in tribal societies
women are free, highly literate and have ocially empowered and
useful activities. The implications are that either we have
different laws for different states throughout the country (371 A
applied everywhere for one reason or the other) or ominous
threats may translate into reality if this becomes an Act and is
applied uniformly to every state.

Many Aspects

There are many aspects surrounding the history and nature of this
Bill and its fall-out that still need to be seriously addressed
both by the political class at large and women in particular.
There has been an oversimplification of the issue both by those
who have drafted the Bill, those who sat as a Joint Parliamentary
Committee to study it and those who simply want it introduced and
passed without a detailed and constructive debate on its
ramifications and modalities of its implementation. Patriarchy
does not give way that easily and unless all these aspects are
addressed, the loopholes will serve as perfect traps to ensnare
the Bill in such a way that it will be well nigh impossible to
actually bring about its enlightened implementation. All the
points raised in connection with "controversial" issues have
constantly been brushed aside, without an open mind. These
positions will only harden unless debated democratically and
reasonably, instead of genderising or politicising them.

(The author is general secretary of the Samata Party)

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