Quota for women must respect social divide, say some MPs

May 11th, 2008 - 1:46 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Bahujan Samaj Party
By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, May 11 (IANS) The purpose of reserving seats for women in legislatures will be defeated if these are not earmarked for different social strata, say supporters of reservation along caste lines. In support of their argument, they say there are only 11 woman Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) members in parliament now although the total seats reserved for these two groups is 120 and 79 respectively.

“Which is why we demand a specific number of seats for Dalits, tribals, OBCs (other backward classes) and minorities. Otherwise the basic purpose of the whole effort will be defeated. The seats will go to others,” Devendra Prasad Yadav, deputy leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the Lok Sabha, told IANS.

A woman MP from the reserved category told IANS on condition of anonymity: “There must be seats earmarked for the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and minorities among women if political parties are really concerned about their political empowerment and participation in governance.”

The Rajya Sabha this week witnessed uproarious scenes when members of the Samajwadi Party tried to snatch the copy of the women’s reservation bill being presented by Law Minister H. R. Bhardwaj.

Among the 11 women MPs elected to the reserved seats, six are from the Congress while the remaining five are from the Samajwadi Party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Shiv Sena, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The CPI-M is among the most vocal votaries of reservation for women in state legislatures and parliament, but the Left parties are quiet on the issue of quotas within quotas.

“Our stand is very clear that there should be quotas for women in legislative bodies. The modalities should be discussed on the floor of the house. The foremost task was to table the bill and unfortunately there were protests from some members,” said Mohammad Salim of the CPI-M.

Several “social justice parties” like the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) have no SC/ST woman member in the Lok Sabha.

The bill, as Law Minister Bhardwaj said, will now be referred to the parliamentary standing committee for examining different provisions and submitting a report, most probably during the monsoon session of parliament.

“By ignoring the concerns of various parties, the government has once again ensured that the bill does not see the light of day,” claimed Ram Kripal Yadav, chief whip of the RJD, a key ally of the United Progressive Alliance and a strong proponent of quotas within quotas for women.

The women’s reservation bill, which is to ensure 33 percent of seats in parliament and state assemblies to women, gives preference to SC/ ST women only in states and union territories with one or two parliamentary seats.

If a state has two reserved seats, the bill says that “one seat shall be reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes in the first two general elections in such a manner that the same constituency is not reserved for women”.

The bill comes as an amendment to Article 330 of the constitution that provides reservation for SCs and STs.

The present women Congress MPs from the reserved category are Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Meira Kumar elected from Bihar, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Minister Kumari Selja from Haryana, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Lakshmi Panabaka from Andhra Pradesh, Sushila Kerketa from Jharkhand, Krishna Tirath from Delhi and K. Rani from Tamil Nadu. In fact, Kerketa is the sole Scheduled Tribe woman MP in the Lok Sabha.

The CPI-M’s Susmita Bauri represents Vishnupur in West Bengal.

The BJP’s Susheela Laxman has been elected from Rajasthan, while the SAD’s Paramjit Kaur is from Punjab. The Samajwadi Party’s Usha Verma is from Uttar Pradesh. The Shiv Sena’s Kalpana Ramesh Narhire is from Maharashtra.

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