New Delhi: Proponents of the policy of reservation for women state that although equality of the sexes is enshrined in the Indian constitution, it is not the social reality. Hence a radical piece of legislation in the shape of the Women's Reservation Bill was required to give a new direction to Indian politics just like reservation for backward castes over 20 years ago changed political and social equations in the country.
Therefore, vigorous affirmative action was needed to improve the condition of women, activists and women from across the political spectrum, save a handful of dissenting regional parties, affirm.
They argue there was evidence that political reservation has increased redistribution of resources in favour of the groups which benefit from reservation. According to PRS Legislative Research that tracks legislative practices and procedures, a study about the effect of reservation for women in panchayats shows that women elected under the reservation policy invest more in the public goods closely linked to women's concerns.
A 2008 study, commissioned by the Panchayati Raj ministry, reveals that a sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive an enhancement in their self-esteem, confidence and decision-making ability by virtue of their empowerment.
Some opponents argue that separate constituencies for women would not only narrow their outlook but lead to perpetuation of unequal status because they would be seen as not competing on merit. For instance, in the Constituent Assembly, Renuka Ray argued against reserving seats for women: "When there is a reservation of seats for women, the question of their consideration of general seats, however competent they may be, does not usually arise. We feel that women will get more chances if the consideration is of ability alone."
This was a point that has been made by some women opponents of the bill even now.
Opponents also contend that reservation would not lead to political empowerment of women because (a) larger issues of electoral reforms such as measures to check criminalisation of politics, internal democracy in political parties, influence of black money, etc have not been addressed, and (b) it could lead to election of "proxies", or imemdiate relatives (particularly husbands) of female candidates, as it has happened in many panchayats, or village councils, across the country.
Opponents also say that the legislation will only end in empowering "elitist women" while leaving behind women from lower castes and minorities like Muslims.