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Analysis of a Women's Quota in India

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Rights
Wordcount: 4722 words Published: 2nd Jan 2018

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The question of a women’s quota in India is distinct from any other nation because the Constitution of India has already provided for quotas for the ‘Scheduled Castes’ (SCs) formerly untouchable castes in the Hindu community and the ‘Scheduled Tribes’ (STs). It has provisions for similar measures for the socially and educationally backward classes now termed as the ‘Other Backward Classes’ (OBCs). These quotas are for admissions to educational institutions, public sector employment and political representation. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments provided for 33% quotas for women’s representation in the local self-government institutions. These Amendments were implemented in 1993. They were enacted without any pressure or persistent demand from women or any other section. Prior to these Amendments the State of Karnataka had introduced 25% women’s quota in Panchayati Raj Institutions.1 First elections after the implementation of quotas were held in 1987 (Jain 1996). Later, State of Maharashtra passed a law providing for 30% reservation of seats for women in rural as well as urban local self-government institutions. It is curious that, in spite of over 1,000,000 elected women representatives flooding the local governments; the women’s movement in India was totally silent over this issue till 1996.

The smooth passage of the 73rd and 74th

Constitutional Amendments encouraged all major national political parties to commit themselves to extending 33% women’s quota to state legislatures and Parliament. The 81st Constitutional Amendment Bill, popularly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, was introduced in the Parliament in 1996 to that effect. The women’s movement had no role in bringing about this Bill. It did offer some inputs in the Committee hearings but it became vocal and visible on this issue only after its first debacle in eleventh Lok Sabha. Even then, this visibility was in the form of demonstrations and sit-ins in front of the Parliament and not by way of proactive intervention in the electoral process by supporting women candidates or recruiting movement’s spokespersons in elective roles on various levels.

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The proposer of the policy of reservation state that although equality of the sexes is enshrined in the Constitution, it is not the reality. Therefore, forceful affirmative action is required to improve the condition of women. Also, there is evidence that political reservation has increased redistribution of resources in favour of the groups which benefit from reservation. A study about the effect of reservation for women in panchayats shows that women elected under the reservation policy invest more in the public goods closely linked to women’s concerns. In 2008, commissioned by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, reveals that a sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive an enhancement in their self-esteem, confidence and decision-making ability.

Some opponents argue that separate constituencies for women would not only narrow their outlook but lead to perpetuation of unequal status because they would be seen as not competing on merit. For instance, in the Constituent Assembly, Mrs Renuka Ray argued against reserving seats for women: “When there is reservation of seats for women, the question of their consideration for general seats, however competent they may be, does not usually arise. We feel that women will get more chances if the consideration is of ability alone.”12 Opponents also contend that reservation would not lead to political empowerment of women because:

(a) Larger issues of electoral reforms such as measures to check criminalisation of politics, internal democracy in political parties, influence of black money, etc. have not been addressed,

(b) It could lead to election of “proxies” or relatives of male candidates.


Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory. If a state or union territory has only one seat in the Lok Sabha, that seat shall be reserved for women in the first general election of every cycle of three elections. If there are two seats, each shall be reserved once in a cycle of three elections. Similar rules apply for seats reserved for SC/STs. Of the two seats in the Lok Sabha reserved for Anglo Indians, one will be reserved for women in each of the two elections in a cycle of three elections.


The Bill reserves one-third of all seats in the legislative assemblies that are to be filled by direct election for women. Such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state. For SC/ST seats, similar rules as those for the Lok Sabha apply.


1. As nearly as may be one-third of all seats in Lok Sabha and State

Legislative Assemblies shall be reserved for women.

2. Reservation shall apply in case of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes

(SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) as well.

3. Seats to be reserved in rotation will be determined by draw of lots in such

a way that a seat shall be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections.


“The concept of democracy will only assume true and dynamic significance when political parties and national legislatures are decided upon jointly by men and women in equitable regard for the interests and aptitudes of both halves of the population.”

Inter-Parliamentary Union, 1994

While there is no universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’, any functional analysis must include two fundamental principles: all members of the society must have equal access to power, and all members must enjoy universally recognised freedoms and liberties. The Indian model of democracy also prioritises representation so as to avoid the pitfalls of “majority rule”. On this basis, there already exists a quota for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

It is clear from the statistics alone that women do not have easy “access” to raditional power structures. Their entry into public spaces is persistently isabled by prevailing historical constructions of gender, created and perpetuated by the dominant institutions such as family, religion, education and the State. Nevertheless, the nature of this relationship also means that the same institutions which created the imbalance can take responsibility for its repair.

The final objective of reservation is to increase women’s visibility in all policy decisions on the basis that all policy decisions affect women as well as men, and affect women differently to men. This applies equally to the “harder” issues such as trade, industry, agriculture, defence, employment etc., as it does to those “softer” issues which are traditionally assigned to women politicians.

Political participation of all sections of society is essential for building a functioning and representative democracy. Women must therefore be present in new arenas of decision making, with their experiences, perspectives and visions of the future informing public debate. Reservation will provide elected women with the ability to compliment elected men in making the rules that apply equally to both sexes, and which women are equally expected to abide by.

Reservations on Reservation

The greatest impediment to the passing of the Bill is the insistence from certain political lobbies on a “quota within a quota” for women of other backward classes (OBC). The concern is that, without these provisions, elected women will come from the ruling classes alone and will selectively represent the interests of these socio-political elite.

OBCs and Muslim women are not currently represented

Within the Women’s Reservation Bill simply because there is no general reservation for OBCs and Muslims and as such a sub-quota within the Women’s Reservation Bill may be unconstitutional. Whilst it might be possible to add a sub-clause, the push should first be for a Constitutional Amendment that enables a general OBC quota and/or a non-secular quota for Muslims.

This was the recommendation of the Joint Select Committee

Formed in 1996, which responded to a common delegation of backward caste MPs with the assertion that sub-reservations for OBC women were not legally permissible until a separate constitutional amendment established a general quota. In addition to a number of minor technical adjustments, the Committee then recommended that the bill be passed into law as soon as possible.

Interestingly, neither Mulayam Singh Yadav of the

Samajwadi Party nor any other leader has of yet brought a proposal for reservation for OBCs or other minorities to be debated and discussed in the

Parliament. Once the Women’s Reservation Bill is passed, quotas for general reservation for other social groups can be raised in the parliament as a separate

Issue, with one third of the seats within these distinct quotas subsequently reserved for women. Even with no general quota, it is difficult to understand why it is assumed that OBCs will be less well represented upon the implementation of women’s reservation. To quote the former Judge of Delhi High Court, Justice Rajinder Sachar (PUCL Report, 2003), “There are about 200 OBC candidates in the Lok Sabha… It is not their public service, but merely the caste configuration that has preferred them. Similar results will follow even after the reservation for women.

CLIMRAP Subsequently, women’s organisations and the National Commission for Women (NCW) have accused detractors in parliament of making demandsfor OBC sub-quotas simply to undermine the bill and safeguard their own seats, or alternatively to keep their Muslim and OBC vote bank intact at a highly opportune time. They claim that, within the parties most

Protesting about the need for female representation from backward classes, there are remarkably few female candidates or elected representatives: the Samajwadi Party (SP), for example, has 2 women representatives out of a total of 39 MPs. If these MPs were truly concerned about the lot of OBC women, it should have been possible before now to distribute party tickets to female candidates from OBCs and other minorities.

There are also very real dangers in compartmentalising the

Issue of women’s empowerment. The NCW have noted that quotas are one of the few issues to unite women in parliament from across party lines – often because many of these women have personally witnessed the systemic discrimination that impedes women’s participation in electoral and political procedures. Reservation is a tool that begins to repair the damage caused by

Centuries of discrimination that exists ubiquitously across political parties, across social classes and across community divisions.

Of any excluded group, the most deprived member will always be a woman. 22.5 per cent of seats in Parliament are already reserved for SC/ST – of which just over 7 per cent are held by women – and around 200 MPs are from OBCs (well over a third of the Lok Sabha). In contrast, just 8 per cent of seats in the national legislature are held by women.

There is undoubtedly a need to further the participation of Lower castes and classes, but an alternative prop is needed to the Women’s Reservation Bill. The government cannot continue to be sidelined on this issue because there are men in Parliament who apparently possess more pressing Concerns than the liberation of half the population. Ultimately, men’s very presence in Parliament will always enable them to shout louder and more often Until the Bill is passed.


Women’s Rights and Social Development

“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”

– B.R. Ambedkar

Taking measures to enhance the status and visibility of women is critical for sustainable progress against the range of human development indicators,

Both because women are particularly vulnerable to social and economic marginalisation when resources are scarce, and because women are critical agents in the development processes. According to various international reports, development in India is being severely hampered by the breadth of the gender gap and limited female participation in traditionally male dominated institutions and social strata as in below:

India and the Gender Gap

The World Economic Forum’s annual Gender Gap Report (2007) affirmed that there are just six countries – Iran, Bahrain, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – performing worse against economic parameters, with women constituting a mere 3 per cent of legislators, senior officials and managers and making up 90 per cent of informal workers in the economy. Against other major indicators, there is also immense cause for concern: India has the largest number of maternal deaths in the world and shocking rates of female malnutrition, and a woman in India has lesser chance of survival than in all but 2 of 128 countries. The oft-discussed imbalance in the sex ratio can be attributed – not only to female infanticide, as is often assumed – but to sustained neglect from infancy of female health, nutrition and wellbeing. A girl child is up to 3 times more likely to be malnourished than her brother (UN), and is also significantly more likely to drop out of school before completing a full eight years of education. As well as passive neglect, violence against women and girl children is on the rise: the number of rapes per day has increased by nearly 700 per cent since 1971, and thousands of dowry deaths occur each year (National Crime Records Bureau).

There are countless studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of women’s empowerment as a tool for development. For example, Kerala and Manipur have experienced rapid progress in improving health and reducing mortality and fertility rates – the benefits of which affect men as well as women – and in these states women also play a vital social and economic role. This correlation should not be surprising, given that nutrition and child health generally fall within the remit of the woman’s household decisions. Ultimately, healthy, educated and empowered women are more likely to raise healthy, educated and confident children and engage positively with the life of the community (UNICEF).

To eliminate gender discrimination and promote female empowerment, women’s decision making capacity must therefore be enhanced within the household, the workplace and the political sphere. Increased political influence should have reverberations for women’s equality in the other two realms, which will in turn have implications for India’s performance against all milestones for social progress. Reservation of seats is a basic, consistent and

logical step towards both women’s emancipation and inclusive development – particularly for a government which promised that the “equal access to participation and decision making of women in the social, political and economic life of the nation” would be at the heart of its agenda (National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, 2001).

Experiences in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs)

The challenges faced by elected women in local government are often extreme, and have been widely documented by both proponents and critics of women’s reservation. However, it is important to note that there are also many success stories from within the PRIs. Where women’s presence has been meaningful, they have been able to make a significant contribution to the life of the community and offer an alternative perspective to the traditional status quo. Women’s panchayats have also successfully campaigned and taken action on pressing issues that impact on women’s rights such as alcoholism, child marriage, domestic violence and gambling. Nevertheless, the experiments with reservation in PRIs have demonstrated that it will be necessary to ensure that women access equal opportunities to progress within the political system, and that fixed reservation in the Lok Sabha does not act as a seal on participation. Few women from PRIs have of yet managed to progress through the ranks and enter State Assemblies, national legislatures etc. Processes of promotion

Within decision making bodies must therefore be facilitated, for it is overly simplistic to imagine that prejudice is not dispersed within the institutions of governance themselves.

Women demand one third reservation in parliament

30 Aug 2009, 0014 hrs IST, ET Bureau

Thursday should have been a red-letter day for Indian women. That’s when the Cabinet agreed to hike reservation for women in all tiers of the

Panchayati raj system from the existing 33% to 50%. In a country where the Women’s Reservation Bill, reserving a third of the seats in Parliament for women, has been stonewalled for 13 years, the decision marks a victory, however small.

But it’s not enough. Especially if, as many suspect, it is a convenient ploy to draw attention away from the main issue: the inability (unwillingness?) of the government to deliver on its promise of reserving seats for women in parliament.

The unstated underlying logic (?) seems to be ‘more women are fine provided they are at the sub-ordinate level of decision making. So give them more seats in Panchayati level institutions that are anyway fairly powerless but don’t allow them to sup at the high table of Parliament/state legislatures’

But is that fair, either to the women or the country? Research suggests that having more women lawmakers makes a huge difference, not just to women, but to society as a whole especially in poor countries. In Rwanda, for instance, a much-needed law that defines rape and protects victims of sexual abuse was passed only after women legislators became a force to reckon with. Their male counterparts saw the subject as taboo. (Rwanda, incidentally, is the first country in the world where women are in a majority in Parliament).

Unfortunately, Rwanda is an exception. In the 100 odd years since women were first elected to a national parliament, only 18.4% of seats worldwide are currently held by women. To address this, close to 110 countries have introduced rules to help women get elected.

So has India but with one difference. We, or rather our male Parliamentarians, are willing to allow more representation to women, but not where it matters, in Parliament and state legislatures. This is why even as Indian women celebrate Thursday’s decision by the Union Cabinet they must see it for what it is mere crumbs!

The fact is more than sixty years after independence women are among the most deprived sections of Indian society. In law, the Indian woman has few equals in the world. The Indian Constitution, unlike many others, gave equal rights to women as to men right from day one. In every respect she is on par with the Indian man. But only on paper!

In reality, the picture could not be more different. On almost every human development indicator, women trail not just their male counterparts but also women in neighbouring countries; countries that are not only poorer but cannot boast of so many women at the helm of affairs: a president, a chief minister and a powerful political leader at the centre.

Take, for instance, maternal mortality rates. Deaths during childbirth in India are way above the S Asia average. In Sri lanka almost all births take place in institutions; in India this number is below 40%. Again, poorest women in Bangladesh have 72 % the health coverage of the richest; in Pakistan the comparable figure is 63 % but in India the number drops to 55% in urban areas and just 37 % in rural areas.

This state of affairs has much to do with the fact that less than one in ten legislators in parliament or state assemblies in India is a woman.

According to the Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research, women accounted for less than 7% the total MLAs in 28 states and two union territories and little over 9 % of the total number of MPs in the last Lok Sabha. The position has improved in the 15th Lok Sabha, but only marginally.

Agreed reservation as a policy instrument is a poor substitute for ensuring equality of opportunity, whether in educational institutions or in jobs or in Parliament. .But having said that, it is nothing but hypocrisy when a political class that regards reservation as an answer to social discrimination suffered by SCs, STs, and now OBCs, argues it is not an answer when it comes to increasing the presence of women in Parliament.

Thursday’s Cabinet’s decision to reserve 50% seats in Panchayats for women while stonewalling the Women’s Reservation Bill must, therefore, be seen for what it is: a bid to divert attention from the much larger issue at stake. There is no reason why the rest of the country, especially its womenfolk, should fall for it.


The main provisions of the Bill, as introduced in the Rajya Sabha in May 2008, are:

1. Not less than one-third of seats to be reserved in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for women.

2. One-third of the total number of seats reserved under clause (2) of article 330 (the existing quota for Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes) to be reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes.

3. Reservation of seats to cease to exist or expire after 15 years of the commencement of the constitutional amendment.

4. To select women candidates through a system of rotation, by which one third of the total number of constituencies to be reserved for women candidates, will be determined through a draw of lots.

5. To consider extending the reservation to Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils of States, without making any definite provisions within the scope of the current Bill.


1. There are divergent views on the reservation policy. Proponents stress the necessity of affirmative action to improve the condition of women. Some recent studies on panchayats have shown the positive effect of reservation on empowerment of women and on allocation of resources.

2. Opponents argue that it would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit. They also contend that this policy diverts attention from the larger issues of electoral reform such as criminalisation of politics and inner party democracy.

3. Reservation of seats in Parliament restricts choice of voters to women candidates. Therefore, some experts have suggested alternate methods such as reservation in political parties and dual member constituencies.

4. Rotation of reserved constituencies in every election may reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.

5. The report examining the 1996 women’s reservation Bill recommended that reservation be provided for women of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) once the Constitution was amended to allow for reservation for OBCs. It also recommended that reservation be extended to the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils. Neither of these recommendations has been incorporated in the Bill.


As in India there are several reservations like SC, ST and OBC etc. is already present from its independence. However in 1996 a talk of another reservation bill called women’s reservation bill was debated to introduce. However it is not applied till now. By the women’s reservation bill we can easily prevent discrimination of women’s from our society by applying the women’s reservation bill. Some leaders like “Lalu Prasad Yadav” and “Mulyam Singh Yadav” are not in favour of women’s reservation bill because they think that there are already several reservations like SC , ST and OBC etc. some people thinks that they are right while some other are not in favour of this bill.

By passing this bill we make women’s more responsive and hardworkers. Along with this there is increase in participation of Indian women’s.

Lawful Representation

“There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequal’s”.

– Aristotle

The Constitution of India is a progressive document that guarantees equal rights for both sexes, and entitles women to enjoy economic, social, cultural and political rights on an equal footing with men (Article 325). It proceeds to consider the appropriate use of legislation to redress inequality and prevent the

Further infringement of women’s fundamental democratic freedoms and human rights. Under Article 15 (3), the State is thereby empowered to make “special provisions”, legislative or otherwise, to secure women’s socio-political advancement. Indian case law has already interpreted the Equal Protection provisions to allow for affirmative action for women. In addition, India is a signatory to a number of international agreements that support proactive state measures for women’s political development:

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1. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was ratified by India in 1993. Article 3 discusses appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full advancement of women. Beyond this, Article 7 affirms that signatories should take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country. It recognises that, unless countries take active steps to promote this integration, women will never be able to fully enjoy the basic human rights guaranteed in international law.

2. The Inter Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) Universal Declaration on Democracy (1997) asserted that “the achievement of genuine democracy presupposes a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of the affairs of society in which they work in equality and complementarily, drawing mutual enrichment from their differences.”

3. The Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), 1995 affirmed that women’s persistent exclusion from decision making was substantially hampering the achievement of democratic transformation, women’s empowerment and achieving the goals of sustainable development. The BPfA therefore endorses affirmative action for women in the political spheres. Under the Constitution and other national and international Commitments, the State is thereby under an obligation to protect and promote the human rights of women, including the right to political equality, without any discrimination on the basis of sex.


  1. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/Opinion/Columnists/Mythili-Bhusnurmath/Women-demand-one-third-reservation-in-Parliament/articleshow/4949634.cms
  2. http://archive.idea.int/women/parl/ch6b.htm
  3. http://www.iwdc.org/resources/fact_sheet.htm
  4. http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=0&sid=4&srchmode=1&vinst=PROD&fmt=3&startpage=-1&clientid=129893&vname=PQD&RQT=309&did=1823009961&scaling=FULL&ts=1257869802&vtype=PQD&rqt=309&TS=1257869857&clientId=129893&cc=1&TS=1257869857&cfc=1


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