Rajya Sabha debates women’s bill – finally

New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) After frenzied opposition and repeated disruptions, the Rajya Sabha Tuesday evening finally debated the historic women’s reservation bill in the run up to a vote on the legislation reserving one-third seats for women in parliament and state legislatures.

Amongst those who spoke were Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Arun Jaitley, Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) Brinda Karat, Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Satish Mishra and Jayanthi Natarajan of Congress.

Opening the debate was Jaitley, who said his party ‘unequivocally’ supported the women’s bill but added that the privilege of supporting it had been diluted by ‘some of the most shameful incidents in India’s parliamentary history’.

The leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, who spoke after the constitution amendment bill was put to vote by Chairman Hamid Ansari, said he had a feeling of being a party to history in the making when he came to the house.

Karat, a vocal supporter of the bill, said women’s reservation in parliament and state legislatures would change the ‘culture of the country because women today are still caught in a culture prison. In the name of tradition, stereotypes are imposed and we have to fight these every day’.

These stereotypes will also be broken by the bill, said Karat, who believes the entry of a larger number of women in legislatures would make for ‘more sensitive politics’.

‘The women’s reservation bill will ensure that women of Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Other Backward Classes, poor women and Muslim women would benefit from it,’ Karat said, addressing concerns that the bill would benefit only some sections.

Congress leader and spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan also refuted critics demanding a special quota for Dalit women, saying Dalits and tribals would continue to get reservation under the bill.

A triumphant Natarajan said no other party ‘had the courage to deliver the promise (of reservation for women) to the people of India’. She said Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had not lagged behind in supporting measures for women’s empowerment.

However, Bahujan Samaj Party’s Satish Mishra said his party would not be able to support the proposed legislation in the current form. He wanted the prime minister to reserve 50 percent of all seats in legislatures for women in line with their population ratio.

Shivanand Tiwari of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) created a minor stir in the house by speaking in favour of the bill, which has been opposed vocally by a section of his colleagues led by party president Sharad Yadav.

The AIADMK’s V. Maitreyan pointed out that the bill was a great tribute to the Indian housewife who he said had proved to be better financial managers of the household ‘than all the finance ministers of India’.

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