On Women's Day, MPs pitch for women's reservation

On Women's Day, MPs pitch for women's reservation

MPs spoke at length on the Women's Reservation Bill - a step towards political empowerment for women in the world's largest democracy - passed by the Rajya Sabha last year but is awaiting a Lok Sabha nod.

Bharatiya Janata Pargy (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj initiated the debate in the Lok Sabha, amid opposition from politicians of Hindi belt who demand a similar quota for women from backward castes and minorities.

She said India was proud to have four women on high seats and named President Pratibha Patil, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Speaker Meira Kumar and herself as the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha.

"We Indians tell the world proudly that four important posts are held by women. But then we are asked other question what is the percentage of women representatives in parliament. We hesitantly say it is 10 percent. This imbalance hurts," she said.

Sushma Swaraj said that women needed to be politically empowered and this could be done by reserving seats for them in legislative bodies.

"I request everybody here to arrive at the consensus and let's pass the bill," she said, suggesting to the speaker that she call an all party meeting after the state elections to build a consensus over the issue that has been pending for the last nearly 16 years.

The speaker agreed to the suggestion and at the end of the debate said the "reservation is much required".

"After the state elections, let's meet and arrive at the consensus. I am sure some way out will be found," she said, wrapping up the nearly one-hour debate.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is also the leader of the house, said "this session we have not been able to get get the bill".

"But it would be highly appreciated if some initiative is taken by you (the speaker). Let's commit ourselves to pass the bill. We can fulfil our commitment," he said.

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, Janata Dal-United chief Sharad Yadav and the Rashtriya Janata Dal's Raghuvansh Prasad Yadav opposed the bill in its present form, saying they were not against the reservation but there should be a similar provision for the women of lower castes and minorities.

Congress' Girija Vyas said the men need not to feel insecure if more women get elected to parliament after the bill is passed. "We will not sit over your heads. We want your support and be part of the nation building and development efforts," she said, inviting  laughter from MPs.

Nationalist Congress Party woman MP Supriya Sule said the reservation was "not for us born in fortunate families".

"It is not for me, it is not for Priya (Dutt) or Girija ji. It is for the bottom of the pyramid. Women reservation is one step forward towards gender equality in India," she said.
Some 20 MPs, including Left leader Basudeb Acharia and Trinamool Congress Kakoli Gosh Dastidar spoke in favour of the bill that was passed by the Rajya Sabha last year March 9.

The government is reluctant to bring the legislation in the Lok Sabha knowing that numbers in the lower house doesn't favour it; parties opposed to the bill in the present form - the JD-U, SP and RJD - together have numerical strength of 46 MPs.