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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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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy
Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy. Pixabay

An all-out war of words broke out last week between the BJP and the Congress on the 1975 Emergency. Observing June 26 as a ‘black day’, several BJP leaders targeted the Congress at events held across the country to highlight the Emergency’s excesses. Leading the charge with a sharp attack on the Congress was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Addressing BJP workers in Mumbai last Tuesday, the prime minster said the country still refers to June 26 as a ‘dark period during which every institution was subverted and an atmosphere of fear was created’.

Without naming the Nehru-Gandhi family, Modi said the Constitution was misused at the behest of one family. He further went on to say that the mentality of the family had not changed even now after 43 years of the Emergency. ‘Whenever the family feared loss of power, it keeps shouting that the country is in crisis,’ the prime minister added. Expectedly, the Congress hit back with equally sharp criticism of the Modi government, equating Modi to Aurangzeb. It alleged that the prime minister was even crueller than the Mughal emperor as Modi has “enslaved democracy” in the country for the past 49 months with an “undeclared emergency”.

The 21-month period from 1975 to 1977, when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency, was indeed a dark chapter in India’s democratic history. This was the third national Emergency – the first one was in 1962 when China invaded India and the second was in 1971 during the war with Pakistan – and the only one to be declared citing the “internal disturbances”.  During the 1975 Emergency, opposition leaders were arrested, civil rights curbed, elections postponed, anti-government protests crushed and press censored. It shook India to its core as the freedom to liberty, dissent and express ceased to exist. All this is well-known and in public domain. Therefore, what was so special about the 43rd anniversary of Emergency that the BJP observed as ‘black day’?

Bringing back memories of the Emergency days was clearly aimed at striking at the Congress’s weak spot. It was also meant to neutralise Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s frequent ‘murder of democracy’ gibes directed at the Modi government. This was not entirely unexpected in a pre-election year; neither was the Congress’s equally sharp response by likening Modi to Aurangzeb. As 2019 general elections approach, not only the political exchange between the two parties will gather momentum, but over the next 10 months, election-driven rhetoric, name-calling, inane allegations and historical debates will increase. Reminding Congress of the Emergency is just the beginning.

Congress on Friday promised to create one crore jobs across the southern state
Congress- wikimedia commons

While terming the Emergency as an ‘aberration’, the Congress has never expressed any remorse about the dark chapter in its history or condemned it. Claiming that during Emergency, Mrs Gandhi targeted the rich, black marketers, hoarders and zamindars is no justification for curbing civil liberties and press freedom and neutralising the opposition. The hesitation to admit Emergency as a major mistake has denied the Congress an opportunity to reassert its commitment to democratic values, though it was the primary builder of democracy in India after independence.

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977. Since then, the Congress has ruled at the Centre several times without resorting to emergency measures. On the contrary, it has shown its commitment to democratic order and liberal values far better than the current BJP-led government. The Emergency of 1975 and the violations of civil liberties and press freedom were all real. But its parallels can be drawn with the contemporary situation, which is marked by erosion of institutional independence and integrity, rising intolerance and increasing mob violence which stems from the ideological support of the ruling party.

The right-wing assaults on constitutional institution and individuals’ democratic rights are for real, though there is no Emergency in force in India today. While conventional opposition leaders and parties have the liberty to become more than conventional Opposition and there is also the rising wave of resistance to right-wing assaults on individual rights and institutions, it is also true that there are whiffs of Emergency sentiments in the air and the strains of the Emergency doctrine and pulsations of fear are quite obvious. The Congress is not entirely off the mark when it accuses the Modi government of ‘undeclared emergency’ as the freedom of the media, people’s freedom of expression and their right to live without fear have come under new kinds of threats.

There is no overt press censorship but the government has tried to muzzle and manipulate the media through various means. A section of the media has either caved in to the fear of administrative power or fallen for the lure of money-power. Apart from the media, there have been sustained attempts to weaken and misuse other constitutional and non-constitutional institutions, including the judiciary. Interestingly, all this is happening when the BJP is in power and questioning the Congress’s commitment to the principles and practice of democracy, while the BJP has diluted its own commitment to the philosophy of parliamentary democracy, liberal values and press freedom.

This is quite surprising because while the taint of Emergency continues to haunt the Congress, the BJP, despite its proud status of a party whose leaders were at the forefront of the struggle against the Emergency 43 years ago, is not deterred to misuse the levers of power against its political opponents, ‘difficult’ sections of the media, and independent or ‘inconvenient’ voices that question the government on various issues. With scant regard for critical debate and plurality of views under the current ruling dispensation, what we are seeing now is some kind of a role reversal. Mrs Gandhi subverted institutions to retain power. The BJP is trying to do the same by weakening the same institutions.

Also read: India sends Emergency Fuel Supplies to Sri Lanka

The Emergency should serve as a warning to political parties: threats to democracy and people’s constitutional rights – either directly or indirectly – create resentment and negative public opinion against government. The Emergency created a unity among opposition parties that never existed before and became the cause of Mrs Gandhi’s defeat. It is too early to say whether the Modi government’s attempts to misuse democratic institutions for his party’s narrow interests and the right wing attacks on institutions and rights of citizens will help create similar kind of opposition unity, which will determine the outcome of 2019 elections. (IANS)