The Wave of Change: Women’s Representation in India’s Government
By Christian Coleman
The Women’s Reservation Bill in India, additionally known as the Constitution Bill (108th Amendment) and the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, is a proposed legislation recently aimed at increasing female representation in the Indian Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. This constitutional amendment has been a hot topic of debate and discussion spanning several decades of the country’s political history to benefit men independently. Notably, the Women’s Reservation Bill was first introduced in the Indian Parliament in 1996 by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda.
The bill’s objective, as it was introduced, is to promote gender equality in India’s political institutions by reserving a certain percentage of seats for women in the House of the People (Lok Sabha) and the country’s Legislative Assemblies. The bill proposed that approximately 33% of seats be reserved for women while being rotated in different constituencies. This would be done in a phased manner to ensure that female candidates would have a fair opportunity to contest elections if need be. Specifically, the bill contains six clauses and calls into question the present bias of women across the globe when women account for half of India’s 950 million registered voters. Although they account for such a large number, only 15% of parliament’s seats and 10% of state legislature seats consist of women.
Despite the apparent gender bias and disparity, the Women’s Reservation Bill received enough support to pass in late September 2023. Once the bill was passed with enough political noise, it was announced in a special session of parliament by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Relief has been an ongoing issue since the mid-1990s as policymakers sought to create laws to block the representation of women throughout parliament and state legislatures. When the bill finally secured the necessary votes and passed in the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of the bicameral Parliament, on September 21, it was preceded by the previous unanimous support in the Lok Sabha.
While its initial proposal resulted in delays due to opposition from various Hindi political parties, the debate over its passage was met with 72 speakers participating marked with subliminal messages to one another. This debate was moderated by a series of women in rotation to be seated in the principal Chair. Those not in favor of the bill raised arguments counter-argued by the Modi regime in support of female representation. These arguments resulted in the slamming of the Bharatiya Janata Party for showcasing the bill as an act of benevolence towards women from the Prime Minister and its title. Opposers felt that the bill’s official title disrespects religion as its Indian name translates to a ‘divine blessing.’ Congressional MP Ranjeet Ranjan criticized the government for being “silent when women were being paraded naked in Manipur, and women wrestlers were sitting in protest at Jantar Mantar (Bureau, 2023).” Furthermore, the opposition questioned why it took the government nine and a half years to bring the legislation to the forefront and why it is not considering its implementation until 2029.
The passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in India serves as a critical milestone in the ongoing struggle for gender equality to empower future women seeking candidacy. The call for more female representation to reach inclusivity and diversification in political institutions in India and globally. It is essential to recognize the knowledge and talent that women bring into legislatures by providing equal opportunities in decision-making roles.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, I’m Christian and I’m currently a graduate student in Washington, D.C. I’m most passionate about advocating for mental health, increasing access to higher education, and promoting equality in the workplace. Outside of education and advocacy I’m an avid book reader, traveler, and coffee lover!