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Indian government introduces bill to reserve one-third of parliamentary seats for women | Women’s News

Analysts say the chances of the bill passing Parliament have increased as opposition to it has waned over the years.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has introduced a bill to reserve one-third of the seats in the lower house of Parliament and state legislative assemblies for women.

The controversial bill has been pending for decades due to opposition from some political parties in the heartland and needs to be approved by both houses of Parliament and a majority of state legislatures to become law.

Its resumption on Tuesday comes months before general elections scheduled for May 2024, when Modi will seek a third term. Analysts say the chances of the bill passing Parliament have increased as opposition to it has waned over the years.

“It’s a historic moment, it’s a proud moment for us. For many years, there have been many discussions on the Women’s Reservation Bill after its introduction in 1996,” Modi told Parliament on Tuesday before Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal presented the bill. bill to lawmakers.

“There were not enough numbers to pass the bill and the dream was not realized. It seems that God has chosen me for these sacred works,” he said, adding that more and more women should join the country’s development process.

Asked about the bill, opposition leader Sonia Gandhi of the Indian National Congress party called it “ours,” referring to her party’s long-standing demand for its passage.

Women make up almost half of India’s 950 million registered voters, but only 15 percent of Parliament and about 10 percent of state legislatures, putting the world’s largest democracy at the bottom of the global list regarding gender parity in legislative assemblies.

Meghwal said the 542-seat lower house currently has 82 women members and if the bill is approved, the number will rise to at least 181.

Subhashini Ali, a former Communist Party of India parliamentarian, told Al Jazeera that tabling the bill was “a very, very long wait”.

“We constantly fought for this and I’m very happy about it,” she said. “Democracy is about expanding and broadening representation. »

Congress spokesperson Shama Mohamed told Al Jazeera that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party could have introduced the bill earlier since the ruling party included it in its election manifestos in 2014 and 2019.

“I must say it will be a victory for the Congress Party if the bill is finally passed,” she said, asserting that her party gave the country its first female prime minister, the first female president of the Parliament and the first female president.

“Reservation for women in popular politics was introduced by Rajiv Gandhi when he was Prime Minister… In 2010, it was passed by the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of parliament) and as we did not have the figures in Lok Sabha (the upper house of parliament) lower house), we could not pass it,” she said.

Successive governments have sought to address this imbalance since the mid-1990s by attempting to pass a law reserving one-third of seats for women at the national and state levels. The bill was first presented to Parliament in 1996.

But it was repeatedly blocked by the Hindi heartland parties, with some of their lawmakers aggressively disrupting proceedings and grabbing and tearing up copies of the bill before being physically escorted from the chambers.

Opponents of the move say reserving seats for women will only benefit educated, urban women and deprive their disadvantaged rural counterparts from the so-called backward castes.

They want a quota of women from these castes within the overall quota for women to ensure what they say is true gender balance.

Activists and analysts, however, say the leaders of these parties are patriarchal and oppose the proposal because they fear losing power to women if a third of the seats are blocked.

The strength of these parties has declined over the years, however, and the latest proposal is unlikely to face as much opposition, analysts say.

Tarushikha Sarvesh, who teaches women’s studies at Aligarh Muslim University, told Al Jazeera that the introduction of the bill was a positive move.

“But there is a need to monitor how it is worded to include the different views and concerns of women,” she said. “This time, the atmosphere seems more favorable for the passage of the bill, but we need to be attentive to the realities of gender, caste and community.”


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