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Has Legal Framework Turned a Blind Eye towards Under-representation of Women in Indian Politics?

The underrepresentation of women in politics wins its spot both in our Constitution together with international law obligations

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Smriti Irani, Indian Politician. Wikimedia Commons
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New Delhi, August 17, 2017: Where women empowerment in India is given due importance with subjects ranging from ‘Triple Talaq’ to ‘Beti Bachao’, the scenario of women in Indian politics is grim. One recurring question always occurs to the minds of the general public, “Do men only talk about the issues or are they willing to share the power with their female counterparts?”.

The figures are as appalling as the whole scenario. The average proportion of women’s representation in the world stands approximately 22%, while in the case of India it is only 11.8%. Nations like Saudi Arabia, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Rwanda,  Somalia, Iraq, Ghana, and Fiji rank above India. To bring light in the Southern Asia, Afghanistan (54), Nepal (48), Bangladesh (92) and Pakistan (90) rank much higher than India.

A study conducted by the Inter Parliamentary Union indicated the 149th rank of India in the record of 193 countries keeping in view the women’s representation in the lower or single house of parliament. Moreover, Rajya Sabha has the representation of women scantily at 11.1%, mentioned The Wire.

In 1993, the parliament also passed the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments which led to a one-third reservation for women so as to ensure fair representation of women in local bodies. Additionally, more than one-third of the total seats for women were reserved in the legislative bodies like Delhi and Bihar.

In spite of the objective and purpose of the amendments made by the government, there has scarcely been any development concerning the issue. This was also given a thought in the recently-held civic polls in Mumbai and Delhi.

In the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, only 15 by all of 113 unreserved constituencies were acquired by women. Likewise, 138 out of 272 constituencies were reserved for women in the Delhi’s municipal corporation election. Tickets proposed by political parties to women in unreserved constituencies: BJP (2), Congress (6), and AAP (7).

The tickets given to women candidates in reserved constituencies were given not to the grassroots volunteer who toiled day and night for the parties growth, but for their spouses or male relatives.

ALSO READ: Women Wing Feels Cheated by Aam Aadmi Party on Ticket Distribution

The underrepresentation of women in politics wins its spot both in our Constitution together with international law obligations.

Among the purposes explained in the preamble of Indian Constitution,

Article 39A:  State must guarantee that opportunities for obtaining justice are not withheld to any national citizen for reasons of financial or other impediments.
Article 46: inflicts a responsibility on the state to guard weaker sections against social inequality and all forms of prejudices.
Article 25:  all persons are fairly and equitably granted the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subjected to morality, health, and public order.
Article 14: secures the right to equality as a fundamental right, which mandates the equal opportunity for everyone that is also reflected in Article 15(3).
Article 7: binds states to take steps to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life and to secure women’s eligibility as that of men to contest elections to all public bodies and that they must have the ‘right to participate’ in participating and implementation in government policies.

 

Considering all this, it is horrifying to see the narrow-minded and biased approach in the Indian politics on problems of representation of women. On one side, they buttress the inclusive representation and hypocritically on another side, they exhibit an evident indifference to women’s representation. This can be attached to the understanding that women don’t exist or simply put: It’s a no woman’s land.

There can be umpteen reasons for women’s low representation in Indian politics, varying from implicit masculinity of conventional politics to hurdles like family and marriage and the prevailing socio-economic and political policies.

ALSO READ: Gender Pay Gap: Why are Women Less Paid than Male? 

Exerting a lead from global backgrounds, there are many formulations that can be fostered to ensure fair representation of women. For example, European countries like Sweden have the ‘zipper’ system that mandates the party candidate lists to double between one male and one female candidate. This is done to ensure that every three candidates must include one woman. In democracies like US, New Zealand and Australia, there exists a soft quota system based on the grounds that gender equality will prevail gradually with the pace of time without the need for provisions. In Latin America, legal candidate quotas are the most preferred system.

The equal partnership of men and women in every sphere of life is not only a necessity for justice and democracy but also an ordained situation for peaceful human existence. An active portrayal of women in decision-making framework is the need of an hour.

 


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Triple Talaq Now Banned In India

While most Hindu personal laws have been overhauled and codified over the years, Muslim laws have been left to religious authorities and left largely untouched.

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India
Indian Muslim women talk while walking through a market in Ahmadabad, India. VOA

India’s government on Wednesday approved an ordinance to implement a top court ruling striking down the Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce.

The government decision came after it failed to get approval of Parliament a year after the court ruled that the practice of triple “talaq” violated the constitutional rights of Muslim women.

Most of the 170 million Muslims in India are Sunnis governed by the Muslim Personal Law for family matters and disputes. The laws include allowing men to divorce by simply uttering the Arabic word “talaq,” or divorce, three times — and not necessarily consecutively, but at any time, and by any medium, including telephone, text message or social media post.

Muslim
Triple Talaq continues to plague lives of  women, VOA News

The government will have another six months to get Parliament’s approval for the ordinance to become law. But in the meantime, suspects can be prosecuted using the ordinance.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that nearly 22 countries, including neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the practice and appealed to the opposition to approve the Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill.

India’s Muslim Law Board had told the court that while they considered the practice wrong, they opposed any court intervention and asked that the matter be left to the community. But several progressive Muslim activists decried the law board’s position.

Muslim
Muslim women hold placards during a protest against a bill passed by India’s lower house of Parliament last week that aims at prosecuting Muslim men who divorce their wives through the “triple talaq,” or instant divorce. VOA

After the Supreme Court verdict, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government introduced a bill criminalizing the practice and it was approved in December by the lower house of Parliament, where his party commands a majority. But it couldn’t get the approval of the upper house, where the opposition controls the majority of seats.

The main opposition Congress party is opposing a three-year prison sentence for the offenders and wants a parliamentary committee to discuss the issue to reach a consensus. It favors a lesser sentence.

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In India, triple talaq has continued with the protection of laws that allow Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities to follow religious laws in matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption. While most Hindu personal laws have been overhauled and codified over the years, Muslim laws have been left to religious authorities and left largely untouched. (VOA)