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


Yaquta said...

Am surprised by the almost blatant assumption that the Women's Reservation Bill's sole purpose is to better the lot of women in India. The author would benefit from looking at this through a wider lens.

Perhaps the idea of including women in the fray into one of the key decision making bodies in India would add elements into decision-making that would perhaps lead to more practical, sensitive and even maybe out of the box and better decisions (forgive me if I sound biased, these attributes are not the sole prerogatives of women, but diversity. Would have argued the same had it been an all-women's body and we were talking of male inclusion).

If only he had his wife read and critique it, he may not have ended up with such a one-sided analysis!

Nikhil Prasad Ojha said...

There's no need to assume either motivation - the bill lays down a clear "Statement of Objects and Reasons" which talks of 'political empowerment', 'eliminating gender inequality and discrimination'.
Read it - it's at page 5 of the bill

And alas, even if it were for "diversity" - that favourite smokescreen of liberals - enforcing it through reservation? Terrible idea: a poor solution for a non-existent problem.

Yaquta said...

You strengthen my argument! The most obvious benefit has not even been inunciated in the objectives as defined by our predominantly male body of leaders.

Makarand said...

I too have arguments on both sides of the reservation issue. However, if pushed - I must say that I am in favour of reservations for women in legislative bodies.

I think we can all agree that there is a lot that needs to happen to end all forms of discrimination against women. I also know that mere legislation does not work - one has to look at changing mindsets. That is the only sustainable way of bringng in equity - easier said than done.

When we debate the (de)merits of reservation we have a precedent to look at and evaluate - reservations for women in all three tiers of the Panchayat Raj Institutions. That process is now over 15 years old, or three terms old. It has had its fair share of problems like 'no-confidence motions', 'sarpanchpati' phenomenons etc. However, it is also undeniable that in large parts of rural India (not so much in urban municipalities strangely) women leaders are emerging. Its a slow process but it is happening. After all we are talking of overturning hundreds of years of discrmination. I dont want to get into the discussion whether women are more sensitive / less liable to be corrupt etc. Let us assume that they too would have a fair share of bad apples (we can see some of our women CMs to see how they too can 'compete'in the corruption stakes with their male counterparts). So what? This is not a male prerogative.

To me reservations holds out a chance for women to get a voice - that itself is a good enough incentive. After all what do the voiceless women have to lose anyway.

Let us give reservations a fair chance. Who knows? In a few decades we may reach a stage where reservations are no longer required. That is what Dr. Ambedkar wanted for caste reservations before his so called followers destroyed the concept.

Give it a chance. We have tried it all. Why not try this..

vedsen said...

Reservation at the best of times is only a way of substituting injustice with inefficiency.

It would be much more worthwhile to see more initiatives that would ensure education, jobs, livelihood and skills for women at the lowest end of society.