It’s been ages since the proposal of Women Reservation Bill in Parliament. With several years bygone and despite innumerable heated arguments over its necessity, the bill still remains closed shut in the cold store with no looming prospect of it ever seeing the daylight. And thank God for that!

Yes, that’s right. Call me whatever you wish to but, while being a great proponent of increased female participation in the political process, and for more women in Parliament, I really don’t see how reservation is the best way to achieve these goals.

In fact, in my view, the Women Reservation Bill is probably the worst way ever.

Let’s just pause for a moment and see how the Bill would actually work. To achieve 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament, a proportionate number of constituencies all over the country would be reserved for women on a rolling lottery basis. So, even if a male MP had nurtured his constituency for years on end, if it ended up on the reserved list he would be kicked out to make way for the ladies.

Even if we ignore this how unfair this is to men who may lose out for no fault of theirs, there is a real danger that this measure would actually push women into a kind of sexist space where they could only compete against other women. (Do you believe for a second that many women would be awarded seats in the general category over and above the 33 per cent sanctioned to them? No, I didn’t think so either.)

So, what we would see is sandwiching of women in Indian politics, the equivalent of asking the women folk to cram into the ladies compartment while the men took over the rest of the train.

Is this really what we want 60-odd years of Indian parliamentary democracy to come down to: the creation of modern-day enclosures for women, a protected space, where men are kept out by law?

All this, to just ensure that exactly 33 per cent of Parliament comprises women?

If that is our goal, surely there are easier ways of achieving it than by challenging the essential theory of our liberal democracy and by amending the Constitution of India. If all political parties are agreed — as they say they are — that women are under-represented in Parliament and that these numbers need to increase then what prevents them from amending their own party constitutions to institute a 33 per cent reservation for women candidates at all levels?

That’s right. Nothing. Every political party could implement this without any trouble at all. And it would be a darn sight easier than bringing through an amendment to the Constitution of India. And yet, no political party — not the Congress, not the BJP, not the Left, not the assorted regional outfits — is even willing to discuss such an obvious measure, let alone implement it. Doesn’t it make you wonder about their commitment to female empowerment?

So is this just a way for the patriarchal political system to tell women in the nicest possible way: “Hey, you couldn’t possibly compete with us boys, so why don’t you go off and play on your own.”

Frankly, it’s hard to believe that women are falling for this, no actually begging for this to become a reality, especially when I suspect that most of these seats will be reserved for female relatives of powerful male politicians.

So across the country, we will see the unedifying spectacle of women from powerful political families entering the system on the basis of this dubious measure. And soon all political power will be concentrated in a few hundred families who control the system on the basis of sheer numbers. The boys will get dynasty. The girls will get reservation.

How can this be anything but disastrous for our parliamentary democracy?

And as for those who insist that it doesn’t matter which women enter the system, because the entry of more women will only benefit the female of the species. I have just two words to say to them: Mayawati; Jayalalitha.

I really don’t think I need say any more.

Charu Sharma
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