Saturday, March 13, 2010

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

I am bewildered by the paucity of rational dissent to the Womens Reservation Bill. Why are metro-middle class citizens and the media – both sets who, recently and vociferously, pilloried the extension of caste-based reservation – why are they now cheering the introduction of gender-based reservation?

The injustices to – and the plight of – women in India troubles me a lot. But forget cheering this bill, even condoning it only panders to bourgeois yearnings; this initiative is not a substitute for (and indeed, is probably an enemy of) real measures required to create a just society.

In support, the politicians (either out of real personal conviction or cravenly submission to party diktat) and their tawdry cousins, the chatterati – are using various hyperbolic pronouncements (historical rationalization, grand social ideas, etc.) to obfuscate the obvious: identity politics and proportional representation are short-term and ultimately, chimeral solutions.

Reserving seats in the parliament or state legislatures for women will do only as much to better their lot as similar reservations did for scheduled tribes and castes (probably less, as this reservation is for elected office only, not government jobs). There will be a tiny minority that appropriates power and benefits and the huge majority will get little, if any, of the trickle-down.

The proponents are unintentionally aided by the theme of the main dissenters inside the parliament: this bill will become palatable with ‘sub-quotas’ in the mix. That is an unhelpful line, as it begins by conceding the merit of gender-based reservations – but it does bring to mind all of the let’s-exclude-the-creamy-layer slogans that the cheer-leaders of this bill made during the anti-caste-based-quota brouhaha.

There isn’t a dearth of legislation aimed at protecting or promoting women-specific causes in India: i.e. it is not as if the male-dominated legislative bodies have, to-date, been shy of enacting laws. The problem is that these laws have not yielded the desired outcome: and neither law enforcement nor changes in societal prejudices are even a likely – forget ineluctable – outcome of having more women in the legislature­­­­.

If our leaders were serious about bettering the cause of women – or disadvantaged individuals of any gender, caste, denomination, preference – they could do much better. The grievance redressal mechanisms have ossified and most steps from filing a complaint with the police to getting a judgment from the courts are daunting and inefficient – and sometimes illogical or perverse. More broadly, access and enabling better education to reach girls and women – or disadvantaged individuals of any gender, caste, denomination, preference – so that they can actually stand up for their rights as individuals (in their family, community, workplace, or any other group) is absolutely essential. And, as elected representatives, it is your duty to make that happen: whether you are a male or female, young or old, from the North or South or East or West, from whichever caste or religion, and from whichever political party and ideological conviction.


Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

The Adventure of Silver Blaze, Arthur Conan Doyle