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Reservation for women in state legislatures and Parliament: History, need, and the current bill

Constituent Assembly
Idea of equality was ingrained in the women of newly independent India. The Constituent Assembly debates reflect women were opposed to women’s reservation. Dakshayani Velayudan, the only Dalit woman member of the Constituent Assembly, had said, “Personally, I am not in favour of any kind of reservation in any place whatsoever”

By this time, there was a growing disillusionment among women that politics had started reflecting the same biases as the society at large. An exhaustive report of a government appointed committee, titled ‘Status of Women’ and submitted in 1974, was the first to recommend reservation for women in state legislatures and Parliament.

In 1983, Karnataka became the first state to introduce 25% reservation for women in panchayati raj institutions. The National Perspective Plan for Women (1988-2000) supported a 30% reservation for women — the first time the figure of one-third came in any government document. In 1988, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi decided to introduce reservation in panchayati raj institutions, but a constitutional amendment bill was blocked by Opposition in 1989

The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were passed in 1992 paving the way for reservation in panchayati raj institutions. A parliamentary committee headed by Geeta Mukherjee recommended 33% reservation for women in legislatures, following which the Women’s reservation bill was introduced in 1996, 1997 and 1999 but could not pass the parliamentary muster. The closest it came to being passed was under Congress-led UPA which introduced the bill in Rajya Sabha in 2008 and passed in 2010. However, it was not passed in Lok Sabha. The main opposition to the bill was from Mandal parties which demanded a quota for OBC women, popularly called quota within quota

Need for Reservation

Constituent Assembly had 15 women out of 389 members

In the first general elections held in 1952, 24 women (4.4% of total strength of Lok Sabha) were elected to Parliament

This number has increased to 82 (barely 15% of the Lok Sabha strength) in the current Lok Sabha. This is the highest number of elected women in Lok Sabha

According to a 2019 report of Association for Democratic Reforms, none of the state assemblies have more than 10% women

Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam is the 128th Constitution amendment bill. It will need to be passed by both Houses, with two-thirds members present and voting, and one half of the state legislatures

Reservation will come into effect only after completion of census and delimitation exercise

Freeze on delimitation will end in 2026. This means 33% reservation will come into play only in 2029 LS elections

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