The Women Reservation Bill(WRB) has undergone a roller coaster ride ever since its inception by the Deve Gowda government in 1996. Many a time, the bill has been introduced in the parliament without getting passed due to lack of political consensus. The bill seeks to reserve 33% of seats in parliament and state legislatures to women. The proponents of the bill argue that such a move would contribute to the overall empowerment of women. Women have been historically deprived in India. They were considered subservient to men through long periods of our history. The proponents believe that increased political participation of women would help them fight the abuse, discrimination and inequality that they still suffer in the society.
The opponents however argue that only the women from elite groups would be able to take advantage of the reservation. The disadvantaged sections of the society would continue to be marginalized. So they propose quotas within the quota. Some others argue that such a move is only a populist move and could never really contribute to the empowerment of women. They cite examples of how certain women like Jayalalitha and Mayawati were able to achieve political success even without any reservation. They rather prefer fighting against societal ills such as dowry harassment, female foeticide, domestic violence than passing such symbolic measures.
Given these opposing arguments, it is highly unlikely we would achieve any consensus in the near term. The government should go ahead and pass the bill without any hesitation. They certainly have the numbers to pass the bill given that the main opposition party supports the bill in its present form. One only needs to take a look at how similar reservations in the Panchayti Raj (via 73rd constitutional amendment) have gone a long way in empowering and improving the status of rural women.This is a golden opportunity for the men of this country to correct some of the prejudices that they hold against women.