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A Different Perspective On Women Reservation

By Ashok Yadav

06 June, 2009

Contrary to the popular perception, the women reservation in legislature will seriously damage the women liberation movements that are current today in India. The various women groups committed to struggle for equality, honour and liberation of women from patriarchal system, family & society must oppose the concept of women reservation in legislature. To understand this the experience of SC/ST reservation in legislature is very useful.

Dr Ambedkar fought for separate electorate but the Poona Pact forced joint electorate system on dalits. Under the joint electorate system the protagonist of dalit rights Dr Ambedkar himself lost the election from a reserved constituency. Poona Pact or the system of joint electorate in which fifteen percent seats were reserved for SCs in legislative bodies and where the common population consisting of brahmins, the upper caste and the OBC elect a dalit candidate from their constituency, effectively checked the growth of independent and talented leaders in dalit community. Original, independent and talented dalit leaders lost their brilliance once they entered electoral politics because they had to curb their rebellious character so as not to displease his or her electorates which consisted mostly non-dalit castes. That is why Kanshi Ram termed these SC MPs and MLAs as nothing but the stooges of brahminical system and famously called the age that started from the date of signing of Poona Pact as “the age of stooges” i.e. “chamcha yug”.

Dalit MLAs and MPs have done little to advance the cause of dalits because they cannot afford to antagonize the caste hindus as they have to get elected. By winning good number of SC reserved constituencies in assembly and parliament elections the parties paying lip service, or we may even say working contrary to the dalit welfare, claim that they stand for dalit interests.

It is a hard fact that it is not the dalit MLAs and MPs who have taken forward the dalit cause. Rather they have harmed the dalit cause because instead of serving their community they have served their political masters. If dalit movement has come of an age in India it is not due to SC reservation in legislature but due to SC reservation in education and job. The dalit intelligentsia consisting of government employees, bureaucrats, teachers, professors, writers etc organized themselves into BAMCEF and then asserted dalit rights with a form and content that was never seen before. From BAMCEF emerged DS 4 and from the latter emerged Bahujan Samaj Party.

The experience of SC reservation in legislature is crucial in assessing the proposed women reservation in legislature. The women will not have separate electorate system and they will be elected by votes of both men and women. Any woman candidate giving a challenge to the predominantly patriarchal, casteist and feudal set up would alienate not only the men but the conservative women also, who vastly outnumber the progressive thinking women, who would constitute her electorate. So all women politicians, aspiring to enter assembly and parliament through reserved seats, will have to compromise and curb her core ideology. The women activists having entered electoral politics will cease to be activists for women cause and, instead, will serve their political masters. They will not have an independent politics of their own which is so crucial for emancipation of women from patriarchal bondage. No political party in the country has any radical agenda for social change. All political parties are content with maintaining status quo in the society and system. Women liberation is closely linked with breaking status quo of our society which is so much anti-women besides being anti-dalit bahujan. The social justice parties have reduced themselves to permutations and combinations of castes to win elections and form government. The left parties believe in economism. Their belief is that once economic system changes everything will change including family, society and state. In short, the women have nothing to gain by becoming a part of the political system that stands for status quo.

The women activists agitating for women reservation in legislature should learn lessons from the experiences of women politician of this country. For many years Indira Gandhi remained prime minister of this country and wielded almost unrestrained power. She nationalized the banks, ended the privy purse of the erstwhile kings, liberated Bangladesh, imposed emergency, declared India a secular & socialist country by inserting these two words in the preamble of the constitution of India and tested atom bombs in Pokhran. There are many credits in her name including waging struggle against old guards of the congress party and dividing the congress party to her benefits. But she never seemed a representative of the exploited and oppressed Indian women. She never took any concrete practical step to ameliorate the conditions of Indian women. She never was a voice of the dumb Indian women. When she was prime minister, in Delhi itself, lots of dowry deaths occurred, but she was unable to do anything. The same thing can be claimed against the stock of the present day women politicians. Just as dalit movements, led by independent dalit activists & intellectuals, throw a challenge to the dalit MLAs & MPs, so the independent women movements led by independent women activists will indeed be a challenge to the women MPs & MLAs. Dalit/OBC/tribal/minority movements constantly expose their community people who are active in the parliamentary politics with the result that the latter turn against the movements of their own community people. How can one claim that the same thing will not happen in the case of women movements? In short, the proposed 33% reservation to women in legislature will go against the women liberation movements.

The important question in this regard is that why ideologically different BJP, Congress and the left are united in their support to the women reservation bill. The reason of their united stand on the issue lies in their common upper caste mentality which is wary of the caste question. The politics of hindutva and class struggle converge on one point of their opposition to the caste question. The caste question poses challenges to left, right and centre alike. The policy, programme, strategy, tactics, ideology of these forces have all been severely disturbed by the caste question. The success of their projects lies in how much they are successful in putting the caste question under the carpet.

The principal contradiction operating in Indian society is caste contradiction in which on one side are men and women of the dalit, the OBC and the adivasis and on the other side are men and women of the brahmin and other upper castes. The primary cause of oppression and exploitation of Indian women is the caste system itself. The proponents of women reservation bill seldom acknowledge this. Their upper caste prejudices prevent them to appreciate that patriarchy in India is deeply rooted in caste system. Patriarchy and endogamy which are two main characteristic of caste system are deeply interlinked. The struggle of the lower castes against caste exploitation and system also consists within it struggle against endogamy and patriarchy. It is, therefore, the greatest champions of women liberation have been the leaders of anti-caste struggle. Jotiba Phule, Periyar, Dr Ambedkar and Dr Ram Manohar Lohia have been the tallest champions of women liberation in modern India. No other leaders from the upper caste background have equaled these social justice icons in their achievements for liberation of women. Of course names of great social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar from upper caste background are there but since they could not challenge brahminism in the same way as the social justice icons did they could not revolutionize the agenda of women liberation.

So the sharpening of caste contradiction and its eventual solution alone will remove the primary cause of women subjugation. The lower caste women go through far greater hardships and crisis in their life than their upper caste counterparts. They don’t have the same economic and social security which the upper caste women enjoy. This is indicated by the overwhelming presence of lower caste women among the rape victims. How can lower caste women remain immune from the general backwardness, illiteracy, poverty, economic hardships etc. of their caste and community? Similarly how can upper caste women remain aloof from the general prosperity, power and privileges of their caste and community? There are more disparities than similarities in the conditions of lower caste and upper caste women. The gender unity within the lower caste is indispensable in their fight against caste oppression and exploitation. The women reservation in legislature seeks to dilute and weaken the caste contradiction by bringing gender contradiction parallel to caste contradiction chiefly by refusing to give reservation to lower caste women in the overall women reservation. The women reservation in legislature will only intensify gender rivalry within the lower castes and ultimately harm the caste movements.

The women reservation in legislature will harm the caste movements in another way also. A large number of lower caste MPs and MLAs will be replaced by women candidates who will be raw in understanding politics. They will be most certainly be weak replacements of our male MPs and MLAs. What is happening today in the case of women panchayat representatives will also happen tomorrow in the case of women MLAs and MPs, most particularly those belonging to the lower castes. The overall performance of OBC, dalit and tribal MLAs & MPs will go down. The upper caste female legislatures being more educated, more articulate and smarter than their lower caste counterparts will certainly score points over them. The women reservation bill in the present form i.e. without reservation for lower caste women seems a ploy on the part of upper caste vested interests to prevent the falling number of the upper caste MLAs and MPs. So in all likelihood the women reservation bill is going to bring crisis in the lower caste movements. That is why the forces, wary of ever sharpening caste contradictions, despite their sharp mutual ideological differences on other issues, have united themselves to push women reservation bill without caring a whit for reservation for the lower caste women.


Social justice leaders are demanding in one voice for reservation within reservation i.e. reservation for lower castes in 33% women reservation. Previously they were against women reservation in legislature because they felt that the women of their castes and communities were not educationally ready to take the huge responsibility of an MP and MLA. Now when they see that women reservation in legislature has become fait accompli, they are demanding reservation within reservation. Instead of going for reservation within reservation they should out rightly reject women reservation in legislature. But their fear of being branded anti-women by the mainstream brahminical media prevents them from taking a clear and bold line. Instead of going for reservation within reservation in legislature they should demand reservation to women in education and job in all categories viz. SC, ST, OBC and General. In other words, 33% or 50%, whatever it may be, as per the outcome of debate and general consensus that may emerge among different women groups and political parties, seats should be reserved in education and jobs, within all categories for the female candidates. Reservation in legislature will produce women leaders of servile mentality whereas reservation in education and job will produce independent and free thinking women. Let them acquire independent and free thinking status and then enter legislature without the help of reservation. The women of India do not need reservation in legislature but reservation in education and job. The women of India must reject out rightly reservation in legislature and aggressively pursue reservation in education and job. It is a matter of great surprise that the protagonists of women reservation in legislature are maintaining complete silence on women reservation in education and job. The only explanation for their silence on this important issue seems to be that politics and status quo rather than real progress and radical changes in the condition of women of India are their concern.

However if women reservation in legislature has become fait accompli then the only option that remain for the social justice forces is to not budge from their stand of having reservation for women of SC, ST, OBC and minorities in the 33% reservation for women in assemblies and parliaments otherwise it will divert caste contradiction

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