Providing reservations to a particular section of community in government jobs and other institutions is generally the highlight of any political party’s agenda these days. Now there have been discussions about providing reservations to women in government jobs and democratic institutions like legislative assemblies and Parliament also. Sometimes one feels that basically the reservation issue is nothing but a populist policy of a government, but still it is necessary to discuss the rationale behind such a policy. Can reservations for women be an effective measure and do the women really require such special treatment? These are the points which need to be addressed.
It is nothing but a truism to say that the present status of women in the Indian society vis-à-vis the status of men is far from satisfactory. For centuries, Indian society like most of the other societies has been a male-dominated one. Perhaps the degradation of the status of women started in the later Vedic period, because in the Rig – Vedic period we have references to many women scholars like Matitreyi, Gayatri etc.
These women scholars might have been exceptions in the society, yet they did reflect upon the general attitude of the society and a relatively good status of the women. But in the later Vedic period the situation started changing drastically with the increased dominance of the puritan and obscurantist ideas. Women’s condition had reached it abyss by the medieval period with systems like “Sati”, “Parda”, polygamy, maltreatment of widows etc. entrenching themselves. Thus see in the historical as well as contemporary perspective, reservation for women seems desirable.
Reservation for women both in government jobs and democratic institutions – would amount to a positive discrimination. But it might foster a sense of inferiority complex among the women that they have been, as if were, provided with crutches to walk on, to struggle in the demanding world. Also, reservation for women, as we have seen in the cases of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other backward Classes, would become a populist tool at the hands of powers – that – be. In the circumstances the intention of every political party is to talk in terms of reservation only, instead of hitting at the basic cause of such an inequality between men and women.
Instead of providing any solution to this deep – rooted problem reservation for women may give rise to social, political as well as psychological tensions. Besides, it is debatable if more women will attend school, college and office merely because of reservation. There are many complex reasons behind the low representation of women in the socio-political and economic profile of the country which a reservation policy cannot hope to tackle, real leave overcome.
But the case for providing reservation to women as a means of providing opportunities to them in a male – dominated society is equally strong. In spite of the fact that the country is supposed to be “developing” in different walks of life the proportion of women to that of men in various fields of national activities remains highly disappointing. Even after almost fifty years of independence and eleven general elections, the 11th Lok Sabah is represented by about 40 odd women MPs in a house of 545. At present there is no woman chief minister in the country and even when there has been a woman CM in the past, it has always been an exception rather than the rule. Also in the other strata's of decision-making and policy implementation the representation of women is as low as ever.
Coming down to the common people the feeling is gaining ground that women should also be an equal partner in the income of the family (not to talk of expenditure!) This changing attitude towards women will get a good fillip once there are reservations for them in the job-market. For women having potential but lacking in proper opportunities such a policy would be highly beneficial.
One feels, however, that when one talks about reservation for women – whether for or against – one does so in the context of urban or at best semi-urban scenario only. Considering the condition of the rural women a policy like reservation, ad hoc as it is, will not have much of an impact. Since independence the government has failed to achieve one of the most important aims of the constitution makers – i.e. to provide compulsory education to all up to the age of 14. The lack of political and administrative will and apathy has resulted in a lack of quality education at all levels in the villages.
While the cult of public schools pro life rate in towns and cities, the impression of the collapsing building of a village schools being attended by a paltry number of students, sitting on the floor and getting “floored” by the outdated teachers has remained intact. The government has to evolve a long term policy consisting of free or subsidized education to the village girls, opening of all levels of schools within a reasonable distance and a compulsory fine to the teachers and parents in showing any complacence into eh education of their students and wards.
Naturally, before taking, such a tough measure the government will have to acquire a courage of conviction – a moral courage – to create a condition whereby the idea of the school – going girls and boys as a source of family income does not exist.
Thus, the upliftment of women, empowerment of women becomes a question of uplift of the society as a whole. Reservation for women can be a temporary sort of relief, as a means to clear the backlog as far as possible but the greater aim of achieving complete equality between men and women demands a much broader political, social and economic policy.