Women's bill will impact caste struggle in India: Experts

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 10, 2010 09:10 hrs

's participation in politics, the historic bill to reserve 33 percent of seats for them in parliament and the legislatures will impact the country's political scenario, the patriarchal system and the caste struggle in rural India, experts say.

Bibhu Mahapatra, consultant of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project on Legal Empowerment, said: 'The 73rd constitutional amendment, passed in 1992, gave constitutional recognition to local self governance and reserved 33 percent seats in panchayats for women. This encouraged lakhs of women to enter public life by giving more opportunities to them.'

'The Women's Reservation Bill will have a similar impact. It will also impact the caste struggle. Today, there are questions asked about who is more marginalised within the Dalit community and that is because more women are in the forefront in politics,' Mahapatra told IANS.

The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha after a lot of furore Tuesday. The Lok Sabha, which has seen protests on the issue for the last three days, is expected to pass the bill before it takes a three-week break beginning March 16.

Said Kamal Mitra Shenoy, a sociologist at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU): 'In the beginning, there may not be much impact on the caste struggle because the more dominant will field their candidates into the political arena.'

'But with time, women will definitely be empowered because of the bill as it will have its effect on patriarchy and change the gender dynamics. You won't just have the wives and daughters of political leaders being fielded,' he maintained.

Shenoy said the idea of a quota within quota - that is, reservation for women from backward classes within the women's reservation - will not do any good.

'There is no reservation for other backward classes (OBCs) in parliament, yet there is a lot of OBC representation there. So, reservation within reservation is not really needed,' he explained.

Mahapatra said the bill will also encourage political parties to re-invent themselves.

'It will have a stimulating effect on the political parties. Parties like the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have very little women's representation, but now they will have to rope in more women,' he said.

Ranjan Sharma, a Delhi-based sociologist, said: 'More women would also mean that there will be a sobering effect on parliament. You will most probably not have so much hooliganism. Similarly, it will have a civilising effect on the political parties.'

While Shenoy said the actual effect of the bill will be seen after 15 years, Mahapatra opined: 'In the next elections, the predictions and calculations will be different because we will not just take into account the SC/ST vote banks, but may be also the inclinations of the women segment.'