‘Already two generations of women have lost out their chance at equality, and if this stretches, it will be sad’.
Though the Narendra Modi government has passed the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam 2023 bill at a special and inaugural session of the new parliament building as a powerful and indispensable tool for eliminating gender inequality and discrimination this week, ensuring 33% reservation to women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies besides in the NCT-Delhi, a long crusader of the new Act is disappointed despite the euphoria.
When women lead policy and governance, it is more representative and inclusive, Rami Chhabra, who had extensively worked for pushing the bill, and although happy that it will be a reality finally, said. The 85-year-old former journalist, however, did not hide her disappointment as she told The Sunday Guardian: “The Modi government has the majority. They have done a great thing and many are overjoyed. But all you have done is taken the sole sour wine and put it in a new bottle.”
“The same old arguments have again been raked up only by different actors, instead of things getting going, let the action get going… but it doesn’t get going as you have also added a twist. And as we see the devil in the details, so instead of being a game changer, it’s a clanger,” she said. “For, you are talking about the 2026 census, then delimitation. The last time the delimitation got into such crosshairs complicating compromises that I’m afraid we will not just miss 2024, 2029 but much more. This is procrastination of an extraordinary nature.”
She also raised the North-South divide that was raised in Parliament, “which was ignored by a brute majority now, but it would not be ignorable during implementation. If delimitation is according to population, then there will be protests from the southern states. It’s like a never-never boat here it seems.”
“Already two generations of women have lost out their chance at equality, and if this stretches, it will be sad,” said Chhabra, who proposed a solution that the government could just bring in a Constitutional Amendment and implement it right away in 2024.
Whipping the nail on the head, she said the “euphoria is cosmetic and we cannot accept these decades away implementation”. “We should discard the whole route through SC/ST. In the 21st century we should be upfront going into the Constitution Amendment and proclaiming that women deserve equal rights and we are giving them. I am not talking about reservation but representation, equal representation. Give women the level-playing field in politics they deserve.”
She talked about removing the brackets as not just the population has exploded, but states have been bifurcated, new ones are in existence. “Increase representation with double or triple member constituencies and make representation of women greater in doing so. This government has every means to address the issue in great depth and in a way that would be immediately meaningful,” she said.
In her monograph “India@75: Affirmative Legislation For Women’s Substantive Political Representation”, that she now calls “a closed chapter”, she asserted: “We need to choose whether we wish to continue to push on a dead-end path that places men and women either in conflict or in cohorts for corruption. Or, do we pick up alternatives that harmoniously and seamlessly achieve gender justice–and much more?”
Providing solutions, she reiterated: “Bifurcation of every constituency within existing boundaries and populations, but with geographical and administrative coherence is ideal—it will bring parity in one swoop. It will also downsize all constituencies in the country to manageable proportions making a substantial difference to governance. Not only the precedents for the proposed changes exist, but also the example of quick action within the year.”
“The Parliament has the necessary powers to make these changes. The government has the requisite majority along with the goodwill and support of the Opposition to women’s cause.”
“If the Special Session of Parliament could debate and pass the bill finally, it can also take up the creation of a Double Constituency Act-2023 alongside the Constitution Amendments to Articles 80/81/170 which would be a national game-changer, also a world-exemplar.”
“With every section of society ready to see the Durga-Saraswati-Lakshmi avatar in the women of today, you need to back it up with the power she needs to speak in a firm voice to put her perspective across,” she said.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said. “As far as the implementation of the proposed reservation for women is concerned, a new Article 334-A is inserted into the constitution. It intends that after the Bill is enacted and after the Bill comes into operation, whenever the first census takes place and the relevant figures for that census are published, a fresh delimitation exercise shall be undertaken for providing the reservation.”