No, this is yet another charade By RAJEEV SRINIVASAN Regular as clockwork, every now and then the Indian Parliament makes a big to-do over women’s rights. Much hot air is generated and much time, and money, are wasted. At the end of all this, nothing much happens, but the sound bites generated are used to appeal to women voters in the next election. A new, hot idea: increase the number of seats in Parliament by 33 percent and give those to women. This option appeals instinctively to all politicians, because none would lose their lucrative sinecures, and the taxpayer will pay for hundreds of new MPs. Each gets Rs. 3 crores ($685,000) a year to spend on their constituencies, in addition to crores of rupees spent on maintaining them and assorted hangers-on. We are attacking the wrong problem. The reason there aren’t more women in Parliament is the same as the reason why there aren’t more educated, scholarly, idealistic men in politics: it has become a refuge for scoundrels and criminals; no decent person can hope to win. The word kakistocracy, rule by the very worst people, leaps to mind. That is the problem. In Scandinavia, where this problem does not exist, there are indeed plenty of women lawmakers. The rationale behind the reservation of seats for women is also suspect. If there are more women MPs, will the lot of women magically improve? In states with woman chief ministers, has this happened? Consider Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh: all with current or past women chief ministers. Women are not particularly better off there. Kerala, where women are in fact better off, has not had a woman chief minister nor a preponderance of woman MPs or MLAs. So there is no correlation either way. Moreover, the prime minister of India being a woman for a considerable period did not help women all over the country. Thus, the premise behind creating more sinecures for women is flawed. It will merely help the men behind the scenes: observe the quasi-chief-ministership of Rabri Devi in Bihar. There is another bill related to violence against women. On the face of it, it is laudable: allowing poor battered women some recourse. But the ground reality is that there are widespread abuses of existing well-meaning provisions. There is a veritable epidemic of fake dowry cases and fake rape cases, where (usually wealthy or middle-class) women misuse women-friendly laws to accuse and harass innocent men. Women’s rights is a nice slogan, but where’s the beef? The law of unintended consequences guarantees that all these good intentions will lead straight to hell. What we need is not more regulation, but less. But try telling that to the dirigiste statists of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), whose models are the Soviet Union and China. Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Goa. ……………………………………………………………………. Yes, and reserved seats will help By SUGRUTHA RAMASWAMI It is interesting that two popular feminists are opposed to this bill—Madhu Kishwar and Gail Omvedt. They want the political system to reform itself such that it includes more women. While that course would be ideal, the high level of criminalization of Indian politics will make such a wait eternal. While Indian women, over the years, have been flooding the educational institutions and the workforce at all levels and in all professions, they have seen their numbers in the elected bodies actually decline. Even the self-proclaimed progressives have done precious little. It is amusing when Brinda Karat, who supports the bill, lamely says that communists never fielded enough women in the various polls, only because the party contested very few seats. The larger presence of women is not only to empower women, and bring about legislations that meaningfully address women’s issues. The larger benefit is having the unique contribution that women bring to the table by way of perspectives and problem-solving skills on all issues—women-related or otherwise. In business, bureaucracy, science, and technology, this uniqueness of approach brought by women has immensely enriched all areas—marketing, advertising, administration, human resources, public relations, innovations, diplomacy, finance, economics, and strategic planning. Left to the devices of natural evolution we are bound to continue to see only small numbers of women MPs. Such women will have to make it on the terms set by men, and think and behave like men in order to play the same game. In such small numbers, these women will not have the critical mass or muscle to pull in more of their kind into the arena. When the numbers are increased, even if only by decree, there will be a visible change in the way women take control of the game, and start setting their own rules. Perhaps they will break through the criminalization and create a saner atmosphere in legislative and executive bodies. Going by our experience with reservations in panchayats, it is true that some women candidates may become proxies for their menfolk. But, over time, women as a larger group will be able to carve out and define their own identities and influence. Let us remember the group of Rajasthani women from panchayats who impressed Bill Clinton with their knowledge and enterprise. And also those tribal women in Madhya Pradesh who demanded that they be seated in chairs, when, invited to a meeting, they saw that the arrangements included chairs for men, and carpets on the floor for women. Reserving 33 percent of the seats for women in both the general as well as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe pools will do the trick; there’s no need to increase the seats. More women in politics will make a big difference. Sugrutha Ramaswami is an IT professional in New Jersey.
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