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Reservation: A Milestone Towards Gender Equality

In this paper, I have raised a fundamental question – ‘How far reservations have been successful in bringing gender equality? And is reservations enough for bringing gender equality in India?’

Nowadays women are visible in every sphere of life, they are reaching the level which they were always denied. In their journey to empowerment, there have been many helping hands which helped them to reach their desired level, and one such helping hand is ‘reservations’. In this paper, I have raised a fundamental question – ‘How far reservations have been successful in bringing gender equality? And is reservations enough for bringing gender equality in India?’

According to the 2011 political census, the sex ratio in India was 940 females per 1000 males. This census report shows a satisfactory picture if compared with 2001 census, in which the sex ratio is 933 females per 1000 males. The 2011 census proves that slowly and gradually we are moving towards the aim of gender equality. Gender equality is one of the crucial subject in our contemporary priority list. It has been a subject of great concern and state has been making all such efforts to achieve this goal. Both at the national as well as at the local level, steps have been taken by the government to sow the seeds of gender equality, and to make it grow rapidly into an evergreen forest. There are various measures taken by the government to foster gender equality in India, the list is too long. One such measure is ‘reservations’.

Reservation is an idea that is deeply contested. Some argue that affirmative action as a policy is designed to remedy injustices that a few identifiable groups have suffered. While others opposed this policy of affirmative action. Reservations are ‘help’ offered by the system and a fundamental right. The correct term used for reservation in the Indian constitution is representation. It is not given to anyone in his/her individual capacity. It is given to individual as a representative of the underprivileged community. It is a democratic principle to provide representation to the castes hitherto remained unrepresented in the governance of the country.

The Indian constitution recognizes three main beneficiary groups of reservation policy: Schedule caste (SC), Schedule tribe (ST) and Other backward classes (OBC). Apart from this, there are other beneficiaries of the reservation policy such as the Women, the Muslims and other religious groups. This paper primarily focuses on the women beneficiaries. This paper throws a question – How far reservation has been successful in bringing gender equality?

Equality rights are formally guaranteed in Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Indian constitution. The general principle of equality and non discrimination is no where defined in the constitution. Article 15 (3) of the constitution permits the state to made ‘special provisions’ for women and children. The Supreme Court has interpreted this article to allow for all forms of affirmative action for women, including reservation. Both men and women were considered to be different. Women are totally different from men in terms of physical strength, characteristics, they are weaker, subordinate and in need of protection. This is the protectionist view regarding women. Ratna Kapur says that, “in this approach any legislation or practice that treat women differently from men can be justified.’ Hence, reservations for women are justified under this approach.”

India is a diverse country, a multicultural land. It is difficult to give every group a representation and recognition. Our constitution makers also wanted that the fruits of development should be enjoyed by each and every group and, each and every individual, and the reservation policy fulfil’s this dream to an extent. Historically, women are the most disadvantaged group. Their world is limited to the four walls of the house. Their primary task is to serve the family and to look after the children without dignity. They are unpaid laborer who has to work 24×7 without any reward. Keeping this in mind, the reservation policy was enacted and special privileges were given to women.

The demands for special concessions and privileges to women are matters of right and not of charity or philanthropy. When reservation for women in panchayats was announced, some people supported it but some others said that it would generate a spirit of denigration. At the panchayat level, 1/3 seats were reserved for women by making the 73rd amendment in the Indian constitution. Later on, a separate clause was added reserving 1/3 of seats of the SC and SC women within the SC and ST quotas. This means that if there are 100 seats in a local body, of which 23 seats are reserved for the SCs/ STs, then 7 or 8 out of the 23 seats would be reserved for SC/ST women.

The question which I posed in the beginning of this article, Is reservation policy is serving the goal of gender equality? One argument to this is that women representation in politics will be a first step towards women empowerment. The Women Reservation Bill is crucial for women development. Apart from this, there are several arguments against the women’s bill. The first argument in that the political parties are talking in favor of the women’s bill only to appease & entice their voters. In some political parties there is no quota system for women. In December 1998, the congress party introduced 33% women’s reservation in the party. The present Delhi government i.e. the Aam Admi Party government had also failed to represent women within the party organization. Every ministerial post is held by a male member, none of the post is represented by a woman in this government.

Apart from political representation, the policy enabled women to get access to educational and employment benefits which were denied to them. Article 15 (2) of the Indian constitution proclaims that “no citizen shall, on the grounds only of religion, race, sex, place of birth or any of them be subject to any disability, liability, restitution”. As mentioned earlier Article 15(3) also empowers the state to make special provisions for women and children. The Supreme Court in the Girdhar Gopal Vs. State case held that this clause should be confined only to those provisions which are beneficial to children and women. The court said that sex is a sound classification. It permits the state to make discrimination in favor of women and children. Seervai is of the opinion that the state is allowed to discriminate in favor of women. This was also the decision in D.Motiram Vs. the State of Bombay. Thus, the provision of special maternity leave for women workers is not discrimination. Reservation for women has been provided at the centre and state legislatures.

Article 21 (A) – Right to Education, proclaims free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6 to 14 years. This Article empowers every child whether boy or girl free and compulsory primary education. Article 16(2) reads: “no citizen shall, on the grounds only of religion, caste, sex or any of them be ineligible for or discriminated against in respect of any employment or office under the state”.

Apart from the fundamental rights, the directive principles also talks about women empowerment. Article 39 (1) ensures that the citizens, both men & women should have the right to an adequate means of livelihood. It should secure to every individual worker a wage, which is enough to maintain him at a reasonable standard of living at any particular point of time. Clause (3) of this article also secures equal pay for both men and women.  Article 42 of the directive principles directs the state to make provisions for just and human conditions to work and for maternity relief.

Regarding education, seats have been reserved for women in all education institutions and a fairly wide range of scholarship has also been provided for them.  In Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the council had proposed to reduce deprivation points to urban women, transgender candidates and those from reserved categories applying for graduation and P.G courses. Later on the university’s academic council increased the deprivation points from 10 to 12 after several student groups protested.

Reservation has led to the achievement of gender equality. But the picture is not yet clear. Despite affirmative action the problems which women were facing still continue. The fact cannot be denied that reservations has led to gender equality, it empowered women. But in practice the government has chosen to enact reservations for women in very few instances. The Women’s Reservation Bill which mandates 33% reservations for women in Lok Sabha and in State Assemblies has since lapsed. It’s not that by reserving seats for women the job ends. The government has to ensure that the policies are reaching to those people who really need them.

There are categories among women also. The benefits of reservation are enjoyed by those women who are themselves privileged within the category, which is referred as creamy layer. The 73rd Amendment Act has also empowered women but in reality, in the name of women, men are exercising power. In some rural areas women are acting in favor of men. They are doing those things which they are asked to do. Despite reservation the mentality of people have not changed. They still view women as weak, inferior, irrational, unfit for politics, ignoring all the phenomenal achievements made by the women such as Indira Gandhi, Kalpana Chawala, P.T.Usha, Pratibha Patil,Kiran Bedi and so on.

Reservation alone is not enough for gender equality, it has to be assisted by such other policies, programs and most important an enlightened mentality. We talk about women empowerment but we still continue to view women within the stereotype lens. Gender equality is vital for national development. Reservation has taken us one step up to achieve this goal, but there are numerous hurdles in this way which has to be crossed with the help of many such positive and empowering actions.


Constitutional Democracy and Government in India- Ruchi Tyagi

The Oxford Handbook of the Indian Constitution – Sujit Choudhary, Madhav Khosla and Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Edition – 2016, chapter – 40 , Reservations by Vinay Sitapati and chapter – 41,  Gender Equality by Ratna Kapur

The Indian Express, 28 May, 2016, written by Aranya Shankar

Young Article Library, Women Reservation Policy in India – Puja Mondal

Political Theory – Rajiv Bharagwa and Ashok Acharya, chapter on affirmative action by Ashok Acharya.

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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