WE – the women and men of India from various organizations, working for the rights of women irrespective of caste, class and religion – demand that the Women’s Reservation Bill, mandating 33 per cent reservations for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, be passed in the Lok Sabha without delay. The passage of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha has been a significant step. However the Bill cannot become the law of the land unless it is passed in the Lok Sabha and endorsed by at least 15 state assemblies.
Ensuring reservations for women in the panchayats and urban local bodies has facilitated the entry of millions of women across the spectrum into the public arena. Today, women from all castes, classes, religions and regions are actively discharging their responsibilities as sarpanchs, panchayat members, zilla parishad chairpersons, block development officers, mayors and in innumerable other capacities in different states of India. These women have faced tremendous hurdles in their bid to participate in elections and assume leadership positions. Today they have emerged triumphant and are role models for their community and country. While their presence has great symbolic value, these women have also been able to bring to the fore many important social and gender concerns and agendas. This positive example needs to be strengthened and replicated at all levels.
Women’s representation in Parliament is vital on grounds of social justice and for the legitimacy of the political system. Like class and caste, gender is a social-political-economic category, with the three aspects intersecting seamlessly. Empirical evidence demonstrates that ‘women’ as a category have been subjugated over the years, accorded a lower status and deprived by society in every manner possible.
We believe the argument that the Bill discriminates against Dalits and OBCs is misleading. As far as the representation of Dalit women is concerned, the Bill provides for 33 per cent seats for women in the existing 22.5 per cent SC/ST quota.
With regard to the representation of OBC women, it needs to be understood that even without the aid of reservations, OBC representation in the state assemblies and Parliament has increased significantly, especially after the Mandal Commission’s recommendation came into force. In the present Lok Sabha, 30 per cent of the 50 women MPs - 15 in all - belong to the OBC category. It needs to be reiterated here that in constituencies where a male OBC candidate can win, so too can a female OBC candidate. Therefore, the Women’s Reservation Bill will not see a decline in OBC representation with Parliament or the state assemblies, it will merely ensure a larger number of women among the OBC members.
While the gross under-representation of Muslims in Parliament and state assemblies – both men and women -- needs redressal , this can hardly be resolved within the ambit of the Women’s Reservation Bill. The Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations have emphasized the need for minority reservation in education and employment, and we would strongly recommend the immediate provision of 10 per cent reservation in educational institutions and in jobs for Muslims belonging to the backward classes.
As women we stand in solidarity with Dalits, OBC communities, Tribals, Muslims and with all secular forces in the fight for the advancement of all communities. We also stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all the women in the country for the advancement of their rights.
We call upon all political parties in Parliament to come together and ensure the smooth passage of the 33% Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha without delay. We appeal to all progressive forces to strongly and vocally support the cause of women’s rights and equality in India. Please sign this petition and circulate it widely.
More than 30 organisations met in Delhi on July 14 2010 to discuss the future course of action regarding the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill. It was decided that a demonstration will be organised at the Parliament Street on July 29, 2010 from 11am to 2pm. People will gather at 10.30am at Jantar Mantar and then march to Parliament Street. From 12 noon onwards, there would be a two-hour programme comprising speeches, performances by cultural groups etc in support of the Bill.
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