c994d02922b4f232d0dcff70499775a7084fa52a From Proposal to Progress The Women's Reservation Bill and Its Path to Reform
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From Proposal to Progress The Women's Reservation Bill and Its Path to Reform

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The Women's Reservation Bill, officially known as the Constitution 108th Amendment Bill, 2008, is a significant piece of legislation that aims to reserve one-third of the seats in state legislative Assemblies and Parliament for women. The bill proposes a sub-reservation for SCs, STs, and Anglo-Indians within the 33% quota. This initiative seeks to empower and provide greater representation for women in the political sphere.

The history of the Women's Reservation Bill dates back to May 1989 when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi introduced the Constitution Amendment Bill, advocating for one-third reservation for women in rural and urban local bodies. While it was successfully passed in the Lok Sabha, it failed to gain approval in the Rajya Sabha later that year.

In 1992 and 1993, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao reintroduced two Constitution Amendment Bills, numbered 72 and 73, which reserved one third of all seats and chairperson posts for women in rural and urban local bodies. These bills were successfully passed and became law, leading to almost 15 lakh elected women representatives in panchayats and nagarpalikas across the country.

Subsequently, in September 1996, the Deve Gowda-led United Front government presented the 81st Constitution Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha, seeking to reserve seats for women in Parliament. Although the Bill did not receive the necessary approval in the Lok Sabha, it was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee chaired by Geeta Mukherjee. The committee presented its report in December 1996, but the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

The Women's Reservation Bill faced numerous challenges and hurdles throughout the years. In 1998, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government attempted to pass the bill in the 12th Lok Sabha, but it did not receive enough support and subsequently lapsed. The bill was reintroduced in 1999, 2002, and 2003 under the Vajpayee government, but its progress remained stalled.

Finally, during Manmohan Singh's UPA government-1 in 2004, the Women's Reservation Bill gained momentum. The government included it in its Common Minimum Programme and tabled it on May 6, 2008, this time in the Rajya Sabha to prevent it from lapsing again. Several recommendations made by the Geeta Mukherjee Committee in 1996 were incorporated into this version of the Bill. The legislation went through the necessary processes, receiving approval from the Union Cabinet in February 2010 and eventually passing in the Rajya Sabha with an overwhelming majority of 186-1 votes on March 9, 2010.

However, despite its success in the Rajya Sabha, the Women's Reservation Bill was never taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha and eventually lapsed in 2014 with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. It is essential to note that bills introduced or passed in the Rajya Sabha do not lapse, meaning that the Women's Reservation Bill is still active and can be revisited in the future.

The Women's Reservation Bill holds immense potential in transforming the political landscape by providing women with equal opportunities to participate in the decision-making process. Its passage would enable a more inclusive and representative democracy, promoting gender equality and empowering women to actively contribute to policy formulation and governance.

One of the primary reasons for the opposition to the bill comes from political parties opposing quota-based reservations. Critics argue that reservations based solely on gender undermines the principle of meritocracy and may lead to token representation rather than substantial empowerment. Some also argue that reservations for women would deny opportunities to other marginalized sections of society.

Over the years, numerous politicians, activists, and women's organizations have championed the cause of the Women's Reservation Bill. Prominent political figures such as Sonia Gandhi, the former President of the Indian National Congress, have consistently supported the bill and called for its passage. Women's rights organizations like the National Alliance of Women, All India Democratic Women's Association, and National Federation of Indian Women have also been at the forefront of advocating for the bill's implementation.

The Women's Reservation Bill seeks to address the deep-rooted gender inequality in Indian politics. Despite comprising roughly 48% of the population, women have traditionally had limited representation in legislative bodies. Proponents argue that increased women's representation would lead to more inclusive policies, better social dialogue, and enhanced governance.

Several countries worldwide have implemented some form of gender-based reservations in politics, including neighboring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. These countries have seen positive outcomes such as increased women's political leadership, empowerment, and attention to issues affecting women and marginalized communities.

Efforts to pass the Women's Reservation Bill have faced significant hurdles, with political gridlock and disagreements hindering progress. Some political parties have voiced concerns about how the bill may impact their existing vote banks or internal power dynamics. However, there is a growing realization among many that gender equality in politics is essential for a thriving democracy and a more equitable society.

The bill has also received significant support from women across various sectors, including grassroots leaders, professionals, and everyday citizens. They argue that the bill would bring about a transformative change, breaking traditional patriarchal barriers and challenging deep-rooted gender biases.

In recent years, discussions around providing reservations for women have gained momentum, creating renewed hope for the passage of the bill. As Indian society becomes more aware of the need for gender equality and women's empowerment, there is increasing pressure on the government to take affirmative action and ensure that women have equal representation in politics.

The Women's Reservation Bill (WRB) has received the green light from the Union Cabinet in a significant meeting led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Prahlad Patel, the Minister of State for Food Processing Industries and Jal Shakti, confirmed this exciting progress on X (known as Twitter), but later deleted the post. 

Reacting to the development, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh expressed the party's long-standing demand for implementing women's reservation. He warmly welcomed the reported decision of the Union Cabinet and eagerly awaits the details of the Bill. Ramesh also highlighted the importance of open discussions and building consensus before implementing such measures, suggesting that these discussions could have taken place during the all-party meeting prior to the Special Session. He emphasized the need to avoid operating under a veil of secrecy and instead promote transparency and inclusivity in the decision-making process.

Ultimately, the Women's Reservation Bill signifies the ongoing struggle to establish equal representation in Indian politics. While its journey has been marked by obstacles, it remains a crucial piece of legislation that has the potential to transform the political landscape and empower women to take their rightful place in decision-making bodies. The bill acts as a symbol of progress and reflects the aspirations of countless women who seek equal participation and a more inclusive democratic system.


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