In order to fully appreciate the importance of the Women Reservation Bill that has passed the high house of Indian Parliament, you must understand something of India’s history. Indian society was caste-based for thousands of years. It took the passage of the Constitution of India in 1949 to begin to break down the rigid class system that favored men over women.
Today, larger cities in India reflect greater freedom for women, but old beliefs die hard. According to India One, the Women Reservation Bill guarantees that 33 percent of seats in Indian Parliament will be filled by women. Various sources consider this to be either a triumph for feminism in the country or an errant method of forcing the old guard to change without giving them the chance to discover the error of their ways. Some would credit counseling the old to a reasonable political process, while others see it as a show for violent force.
Women Reservation Bill: Driving in the thorn, rather than removing it?
That’s what one blogger says of the Indian Parliament situation. “A thorn in the foot” should be plucked, he argues – not driven deeper. While the Women Reservation Bill’s stated goal is to correct historical wrongs, his argument is that it only serves to raise the animosity between men and women. He asks whether it is true that only women can “represent the needs of women the best” and asserts that Parliament is “not intended as a demographic mirror of society.”
While he does not appear to be against the principle of women’s rights in India, the writer does suggest that reservation fails to address the need for “new mechanisms for the social, political and economic advancement of women.” He does not address whether these new mechanisms would include access to same day loans.
And you don’t think women if Parliament could lead the way there? Really?
The blogger then sides with a merit-based system for Parliament, rather than simply a candidate’s sex or something else comparatively superficial. That’s one of the few things he has to say that I agree with, something that American politics frequently gets wrong because voters get stuck on images television and popular media have cemented in their minds.
But who is to say that the women who come into Parliament as a result of the Women Reservation Bill will not be qualified? Yes, the reservation sets seats aside for women, but it is possible to ensure that the right women make the post. The blogger calls for “a culture of respect for an individual, irrespective of gender,” but perhaps sometimes you should break some eggs and throw them in the obstinate faces of the establishment. In a land where women have been oppressed for far too long, it could be the only way to make a cake.
“Fighting injustice with injustice”
Combating the root of the beliefs that subjugated Indian women is an ideal path, but old mules can be hard to teach. What the blogger writes off as mere political maneuvering could actually make a difference. It could also throw the country into turmoil, as he suggests. It will be interesting to see if the time has come for certain old ideas to die – but should they die a natural death, rather than at the end of a Women Reservation Bill’s sword?