June 14, 2009

Women reservations: Another policy waiting to be misused

The Government of India seeks to pass the Womens Reservation Bill which will result in 33% reservation of the Parliament seats in the Lok Sabha for women. While I am all for the upliftment of women who have traditionally played second fiddle to men in India (I'm talking of the larger Indian society here), I am not sure reservation is the right way to get there. I say that because reservations in the past have been misused. Deserving persons miss out. I say that from personal experiences, where I have seen people take advantage of their caste status to get benefits. Some of these are people I know well.

One of my friends mentions that this move will only benefit upper class women in urban areas who can contest elections on their own individual credentials. Those for whom this policy is meant - the sparky rural woman who has leadership potential but looses out due to male chauvinism - will find it difficult to get a seat. In all probability, political parties will ration this quota among women who already got elected to Parliament leaving less seats for the ones that need upliftment.

Reservations is curing the symptoms of gender inequality. The malaise is much deeper. Today the average rural woman is mostly dependent on her husband due to economic and social reasons. The only way this can change is if women come together in small communities to work, educate themselves, and have their own support system which can incentivise them to be independent. Empowerment is a long journey. The flipside of the current system is that this will lead to more reservations, where women will ask for representation within the current womens quota for backward castes. It will lead us nowhere

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