Linking Women’s Reservation Bill to delimitation, census concern for the south: Kanimozhi

India ranks 141 among 193 countries in women’s representation, said Kanimozhi, pointing out that the country was behind Pakistan and Bangladesh

DMK MP Kanimozhi (photo: Getty Images)
DMK MP Kanimozhi (photo: Getty Images)

Ashlin Mathew

Amidst the ongoing debate in the Lok Sabha over the Women’s Reservation Bill, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) MP Kanimozhi questioned why the bill was being linked to the delimitation exercise, which is a "sword hanging over south India’s head".

Kanimozhi pointed out that when the UPA government introduced the bill, there were no conditions imposed. Quoting Tamil Nadu chief minister and DMK chief MK Stalin on delimitation, Kanimozhi said, “India is the only country that has not conducted the decadal census. If delimitation is going to be based on population census, it will deprive and reduce the representation of south Indian states. It will become like a sword hanging over our heads.”

“He [Stalin] has said he would support the bill, but has asked, ‘why should its implementation be connected to delimitation? It is a strange drama staged by the BJP, keeping in mind the 2024 elections. We cannot ignore the representation of women from the backwards classes either. He has emphasised the doubt in the minds of people of Tamil Nadu and other south Indian states about our representation being reduced. There is a fear that our voices will be undermined. There should be a clear clarification about this and we do not want our representation to be reduced anywhere,” said Kanimozhi.

She stressed that the BJP cannot brush the concern aside by stating that the numbers would be the same and other states would get more representation. “We want it to continue as it is. We want equal say in what is being discussed,” she added.

India ranks 141 among 193 countries in women’s representation, said Kanimozhi, pointing out that the country was behind Pakistan and Bangladesh, and that the bill can easily be implemented before the next Parliamentary elections.

“This bill is not a reservation, but an act of removing bias and injustice. If you do not remove the clause which says after delimitation, then there is no point. We do not know how long this inordinate delay will go on. The census and the delimitation can happen after 20 or 30 years. The wait can continue,” Kanimozhi observed.

She reminded Parliament that the bill had been languishing for 27 years and she had raised the issue multiple times. "In 2010, when the bill was brought by the UPA government, there were no conditions. The bill was to take effect immediately after it was passed. But clause 5 of the bill that has now been introduced clearly states, ‘the reservation of seats for women n the House of the People, in the legislative assemblies of the state and the national capital region of the Delhi will come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose and after the relevant figures for the first census is taken after the commencement of the Constitution."

This means that delimitation will be undertaken according to the data of the first census, which shall be conducted after the amendment becomes law. In effect, the upcoming general elections of 2024 or the various state assembly elections lined up for the coming months will not see seats reserved for women.

Kanimozhi wondered why there was a “veil of secrecy” around the drafting and tabling of the women’s reservation bill. “I would like to know what consensus was built, what discussions were held. This bill was brought shrouded in secrecy,” she said.

“We did not know why this session was called. At the all-party leaders meeting, there was no mention of this bill. But suddenly, the bill popped up on our screens. Is this how the government is going to function? Is everything going to be a surprise?” she asked.

Criticising the manner in which the bill was introduced during the special session of Parliament without mentioning it in the agenda, Kanimozhi wanted to know about the deliberations and meetings held around it. “I’ve raised the issue of the bill many times in Parliament. To all my starred and un-starred questions, the government’s answer was consistent. They said they have to consult all stakeholders and political parties and build a consensus before bringing in the bill. But it just sprang up on our computers like a jack-in-the-box,” she pointed out.

Taking a dig at the new uniforms for Parliament staff, Kanimozhi asked, "Like we are suddenly seeing lotuses blooming from the uniforms of secretariat staff. Is everything going to be a surprise like this?" The new uniforms for Parliament staff have lotuses on them.

Highlighting affirmative action, Kanimozhi said the election of India's first woman legislator Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy happened in 1927 in Tamil Nadu. “But nearly 100 years later, we still haven’t passed the bill. In 1929, Periyar passed a resolution at the Self Respect Conference in Chengalpattu, insisting on reservation for women in education, employment and politics,” said the DMK MP.

Talking about the history of the bill, Kanimozhi said it was introduced by the Prime Minister Deva Gowda's United Front government in 1996, with support from DMK. Late PM AB Vajpayee reintroduced it to Parliament, but it was the UPA government that passed the bill in the Rajya Sabha in 2010. On the delay in passing the bill, Kanimozhi said she spoke about the bill in the Rajya Sabha 13 years ago, and it is still being debated.

Questioning the name of the bill, Kanimozhi said, “Please stop the tokenism. This Bill is called Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam. We do not want to be saluted. We do not want to be put on pedestals. We do not want to be worshipped. We do not want to be called mothers, we don’t want to be your sisters or wives. We want to be equals. Let us climb down from the pedestal and walk as equals. We have a right to this country as much as you.”

Kanimozhi, who was heckled by a few of the ruling party members even before she began to speak, said she was reminded of what Periyar said when she sees and hears the BJP members heckling women.

“The pretence of men that they respect women and that they strive for their freedom is only a ruse to deceive them,” said Kanimozhi, quoting Periyar.

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