ON July 27, 2017, over eight hundred women enthusiastically marched from Mandi House to Parliament Street in New Delhi, demanding the passage of the long pending Women's Reservation Bill (WRB) in the monsoon session of parliament. Several women’s organisations participated in this protest.
Women came not only from Delhi but also from the rural areas of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Women marched shouting slogans, holding colourful banners, buntings and placards. The police stopped the march at the barricades at Parliament Street.
This protest was jointly organised by AIDWA, NFIW, JWP, YWCA, Swastika Mahila Samiti, SLD, Nari Shakti Manch, Feminist India, Shehri Mahila Mazdoor Union, ANHAD and Leprosy Mission.
The march culminated in a public meeting addressed by leaders of the participating organisations, namely, Mariam Dhawale (AIDWA), Gargi Chakravarty (NFIW), Rita Agarwal (YWCA), Husna Subhani (JWP), Kusum Sehgal (Swastika Mahila Samiti), Leena Dabru (ANHAD), Elizabeth (Nari Shakti Manch) and Anita Kapoor (Shehri Mahila Mazdoor Union).
The protest was supported by Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) and ex-MP, and by CPI(M) MPs P K Srimathi and Jharna Das. Brinda Karat said that the BJP's patriarchal mindset is the main stumbling block. She underscored the fact that we are behind our neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh in terms of women's representation. Women have been denied their rightful place in the social, economic and political spheres. If the WRB was passed the number of women in the parliament and assemblies would be much higher. It will help in forcing the governments to take women’s issues more seriously.
A memorandum was sent to the Lok Sabha speaker, Sumitra Mahajan, demanding that the solemn assurance given by the BJP central government in its election manifesto be honoured forthwith. The failure to fulfill this promise has led to a very low presence of women in state legislatures and parliament.
AIDWA had given a nationwide call to organise protests for the passage of the WRB. Memoranda were submitted to the governors, chief ministers and district collectors in different states. Dharnas and demonstrations were organised in many districts. Protest letters were given to MPs and MLAs in several places.
Dharnas were organised outside the offices of the central government institutions in all the 14 districts in Kerala. Tripura and Telangana organised their protest actions on July 15. Nearly one lakh women participated in the rallies held in the 24 sub-divisions in Tripura. Large rallies were organised in the state, district and mandal headquarters in Telangana. A mass signature campaign is being conducted all over West Bengal and all the signatures will be submitted to the governor. There have been women’s demonstrations in some districts in Tamil Nadu. Different forms of protest actions are still continuing.
BETRAYAL BY MODI REGIME
It is now more than three years that the Modi government is in power in the centre. Among the numerous promises that the BJP made in its election manifesto, was the promise of passing the WRB. But it is yet to see the light of day. In the last three years the WRB has not been listed even once on the agenda of parliament.
This bill has been pending for the last 20 years. No government has shown the political will to fulfill its promise of reservations for women, thus denying them their democratic right to political representation in parliament and state assemblies. The number of women in the current Lok Sabha is 64, which is only 11.4 per cent and in state assemblies it is only around 10 per cent.
The Women’s Reservation Bill, reserving 33 per cent seats for women has the dubious distinction of being the longest pending bill awaiting a nod from parliament. It was first introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996, by the United Front government under H D Deve Gowda. It was re-introduced in 1998, when the NDA government under Vajpayee was in power. But the deep patriarchal mindsets at different levels of hierarchies of the bourgeois parties vehemently opposed the bill.
The bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by the UPA government under Manmohan Singh in 2008. It was referred to a joint parliamentary committee which submitted its report in December 2009 after a nationwide debate. The bill was finally placed before and passed by the Rajya Sabha on May 9, 2010. Joy and happiness erupted amongst large sections of the people, especially women, who had been fighting for the passage of this bill for years. Unfortunately this joy was short-lived. The bill never reached the Lok Sabha and lapsed following the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. Since then it has been lying in cold storage.
Around 10 lakh women who have been elected to local bodies after the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments in 1993 have shown tremendous capabilities in performing their tasks. Most of the states have increased the reservation quota for women in local bodies to 50 per cent. Women who have been elected to local bodies have courageously defied and overcome all attempts to browbeat, scare and intimidate them. There have been instances of women being subjected to humiliation by vested interests. Despite several stumbling blocks, women have generally performed well despite all the constraints that they face.
Women in local bodies take more interest in housing and welfare programmes, drinking water facilities, education, health, construction of roads, etc as well as eradication of social evils like child marriage, witch-hunting, liquor addiction, etc. This contributes to bringing about positive changes in the lives of women.
Despite this creditable performance of women in local bodies, the patriarchal and feudal outlook has always raised its ugly head to deny equal rights to women. The struggle for the passage of the WRB will have to be taken up more vigorously as we now have a RSS-BJP government which is brazenly anti-women in its ideology.