HER WORLD Sunday, December 2, 2001, Chandigarh, India
  Reservation a must to alter male-dominated politics
We had invited readers to send entries to the question: Should women settle for less than 33 per cent reservation in Parliament and all other elected bodies? We would like to thank all the participants for their overwhelming and enthusiastic response. The following are the results...

WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE
Ludhiana girl’s hat-trick as mayor in Newzealand
Teena Singh
I
T must be the luck of the name Turner, apart from her own grit and vision of politics that helped Sukhi Gill Turner, wife of Newzealand cricketing legend; Glen Turner, to get a third term as Mayor of Dunedin Southern Newzealand consecutively.

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Reservation a must to alter male-dominated politics

We had invited readers to send entries to the question: Should women settle for less than 33 per cent reservation in Parliament and all other elected bodies? We would like to thank all the participants for their overwhelming and enthusiastic response. The following are the results (The best entry will be given Rs 750 as prize money. The nine other selected entries will receive a prize of Rs 500 each) :

First prize

Indian society has never looked at women’s participation in politics with sympathy and understanding. By virtue of their inequalities in the economic sphere, social position and political power, large masses of Indian women have become a virtual minority community. That is why they are continuously exposed to injustices. Enhancing the political status of women is thus an integral aspect of the overall problems of socio-economic change, to broaden the elite political structure. Constitutional rights and guarantees have failed to build a new social order, so as to help women to assert themselves in the corridors of power and position. A large mass of women continue to lack spokespersons who understand their problems and are committed to their cause.

Given such a scenario, 33 per cent reservation for women in various elected bodies becomes imperative. The increased participation of women is thus needed to alter the male-dominated structures of political processes. Political parties will have to introduce new strategies and tactics by making women’s rights functional and giving them due representation. Greater participation of women, right from the grassroots level, will help direct the rate and type of changes in the general status of women. Access to policy-making powers and facilities will enhance their social status. As proposed by the 81st Amendment Bill, the establishment of statutory women’s panchayats at the rural level will be a step towards greater political participation. Such measures are required for bringing about a change in the minds of the people to break the traditional attitudes which inhibit most women from articulating and participating in their own affairs. Only such transitional measures can ensure better co-ordination of various government services and programmes for women at the level of implementation.

Such a measure will not be a retrograde step from the doctrine of equality and democratic representation (as feared), but will go a long way in bringing about equality and democracy in a better way than the present system where inequalities only get intensified. 

Harbeen Sidhu, Chandigarh

 

II

A reservation of less than 33 per cent in Parliament and all other elected bodies is the right way to women’s political empowerment. It is an important key for the participation of women in politics and a major avenue to help women to come forward and demonstrate their abilities or capabilities. The real struggle is to achieve their participation in the decision-making process of governance. In the absence of participation by women in the political processes of the country in a big way, law tends to be so drafted as to be discriminatory against women.

On the whole, reservation implies active political participation, discussion of public affairs beyond domestic boundaries of husband and family, and more than that, motivation to participate. Mere reservation will not solve the problem unless women are given commensurate powers to function effectively as well as government’s action of imparting equality can be effective if women themselves become more aware of their rights and responsibilities. There might be a lurking fear that women are going to be mere puppets in the hands of powerful men politicians. Another scare is that distribution of seats will be on basis of a proxy lottery system and only those women who have political connections will be chosen. By and large, women still remain as powerless politicians because the real experience in current Indian politics is that the majority of male leaders practise the art of political manipulation and exploitation. Even the present set of elected women members at any level don’t have strong support from outside. The requirements of women from development are not the same as those of men. Unless women are brought into the decision-making levels directly, the problems that are of importance to them will never be tackled with the seriousness they deserve. Reservation wouldn’t be an ideal dream or part of the election manifesto of any male politician because it is the old struggle for women’s empowerment.

Oinaam Daniel Singh,
Chandigarh

 

III

During the past few years, the topic of reservation for women in Parliament has been haunting members of political parties and giving them sleepless nights. India has been independent since over 50 years now. During this time, a lot has changed, including the status of women. Sectors, which had earlier been male-dominated, have seen entry of women who are steeped with confidence and have delivered. Let’s face it, in some sectors women have outshone men in terms of performance.

Why not give a chance to the fairer sex in politics, which has, until recently, been a male-dominated field?

To include women in politics would be a great idea and it’s time to prove to the world that “The hand that rocks the cradle is also capable of ruling the nation.” No doubt it would bring a new set of people with new ideas, but then again it would be beneficial only if these women are educated and can augment the development of the nation.

Not everyone is capable of running a nation or a government. Who has forgotten the case of the Chief Minister of Bihar, Rabri Devi? It is beyond doubt that she is running the state, but we also know who the real power behind her is. Add to this the woes created by Mamta Banerjee. It would be unkind on my part not to mention the name of Jayalalitha, because of whom it would be better if women were to stay out of this dirty game.

Not that men are better politicians; but yes one thing is for sure that Bill or no Bill, only educated men and women must be allowed to run the nation. Only then will our nation progress.

Puneet Singh Jhawar,
Chandigarh.

IV

Branded as the weaker sex and deprived of education and opportunities for self-actualisation, women in the majority of cases, are trained to accept wifehood and motherhood as their sole occupation. Even professionally-qualified women are expected to sacrifice their career at the altar of marriage. No doubt, some gutsy women have stormed many a bastion of male privilege and exploded the myth of their inferiority convincingly, their sisters across country are subjected to the existence of bonded labour, contented to be the invisible hand behind the greatness of their sons or husbands. As a compensation for centuries of marginalisation, the idea of reservation of seats for women in Parliament and other elected bodies sounds good. But why just 33 per cent? Why not 50 per cent? After all women constitute 50 per cent of the human race. Considering the incalculable damage we cause to our womenfolk through crippling conditioning and socialising, reservation of seats would be like gifting a deadly weapon to an untrained child. How can an ill-equipped, sheltered and protected person be entrusted with the onerous job of being a public leader? How can a person who enters the Parliament on the crutches of reservation be expected to make quick decisions, judge intricate situations and form policies which have on them the stamp of a visionary? A leader who is not conversant with the labyrinthine world of politics will be vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation—a mere puppet at the hands of her masters, the male-heads of her family. Worst of all, reservation will promote mediocrity at the cost of merit and hence be a retrograde step in the fast-paced 21st Century.

We in India have already suffered much because of reservation. Protective discrimination, as it is termed in legal parlance, it is an exception to Clause 15 of the Indian Constitution. Instead of providing props of reservation to women crippled by female foeticide, malnutrition, illiteracy and dowry, we should create an environment which is conducive for the full flowering of their latent potential. More than these crumbs of favour as charity, she deserves to be treated as an individual in her own right, who can be groomed to grace the highest position with dignity and make a world of difference in any field—not in politics alone. Let’s nurture them to be Rani Laxmibais, Razia Begums, Sarojini Naidus, Vijay Laxmi Pandits and Indira Gandhis.

Neelam. S. Prabha,
Amritsar

 

V

Why do we make no attempt to rid our Constitution this absurd word? What is the use of reservation after all? Is it not a toy in the hands of the powerful? Do the nations which do not consider reservation not survive?

We Indians are shrewd followers of the principles which benefit us the most. How easily we mould things for our benefit. Shrewd politicians on the one hand are the staunch supporters of the reservations as it enhances their vote banks, while on the other hand, they oppose the issue in suppressed voices.

There is no need of any reservation for woman as she is the pivot round which the whole world revolves. She is Durga, Shakti, Kali. Our scriptures do not mention reservation, let alone reservation for women. They consider a woman as an Ardhangini. She is given the status no one on the earth can deny. She is an equal partner in every walk of life.

Our Constitution has already provided us with a sufficient number of unwanted reservations. If everything changes with time, why no amendments are being made to get rid of these unscrupulous reservations? We have already lived 50 years with the reservations, so we should now experiment with a society devoid of all the reservations, irrespective of caste, creed and faith. Was there any reservation for women in the pre-Independence era? If Laxmi Bai, Sarojini Naidu, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit and many more such women could show the world womenpower, why they cannot do so in free and liberal India today? Do we want to create the likes of Sonia Gandhi, Rabri Devi, projected by the political parties only to enhance their share of power? Do we want kathputlis in order to increase the strength of the respective parties they are elected for?

There is absolutely no need of any sort of reservation in any field for anyone. We only disgrace a woman by calling her abla. We should do away with these prejudiced practices provided by our Constitution. By keeping the quota of reservations everywhere we ourselves are contradicting our democratic definition of equal rights.

If reservation has to be exercised; it should be done in the family planning. A law should be made so that every family must have a female child. If they do not conceive a girl; they should go for an adoption; so that the tilting of the natural balance caused by illegal abortions of female foetus may be reduced. Many crimes against women can be curbed if we change our thinking about the girl child being a burden. There has been a sharp rise in crimes against women after Independence. The reason behind it is the excessive protection being provided to the women by our Constitution in the shape of laws in her favour. No reservation can achieve any purpose if a woman herself is not willing to fight for herself. She, who knows her power and has the strength to prove it cannot be suppressed. Woman, the maker of man, doesn’t exist because men want her to exist. She is the centre of the universe. She needs no reservation as she is the maker of the universe. Hum Se Hai Zamana; Zamane Se Hum Nahin.

S. Zulka,
Chandigarh.

VI

Without proving your calibre and coming forward under the garb of reservation is like asking for alms. Numerous women have surged forward in almost all the fields with their own grit and courage, showing their worthiness and outpacing men, without any reservations fixed for them. The political scenario in our country is also changing gradually and steadily with more and more women shedding their inhibitions and asserting their views. Women shall become more aware of the outside world and instead of prioritising their households alone, they would come forward and easily claim 1/3rd of constituency seats in the open.

Without any Bill, there are already silent reservations for women in the society as front-office workers, nurses, nursery teachers, airhostesses and numerous other jobs. Over the last five decades, why has our country not progressed beyond being a ‘developing country’? Mainly because reservation, in many cases, admits, puts and promotes incompetent persons to high posts. Such people,without any concern or capability, have brought our system to dooms. Similarly, if the Bill on reservation for women in Parliament is passed, we are scarce likely to get eligible contestants but more prone to get incompetent representatives or effigies being promoted through the backdoor.

Reservation has been propounded in Parliament to boost the participation of women in the political field. Undoubtedly, in panchayat elections, this reservation proved a boon in active and result-oriented contribution of women.But in cities, it is almost impossible to allow the fruits of reservation to percolate down to the level of those who are really deserving. To abet and attract worthy women like striving war widows, social reformers, officials like Kiran Bedi towards this male-dominated and mismanaged field, a Bill should definitely be passed, but women should settle for much less than half of the proposed percentage. Let us, the women, prove our worth without the alms from the men who treat the Parliament as their fiefdom.

Anshula Gupta,
Chandigarh.

VII

The idea of women’s reservation is an attractive one. It has passionate supporters and critics both inside and outside Parliament. But is it a way to improve the lot of women? Would it not amount to giving more power to men, who will manipulate their wives to seek tickets on reserved seats? How can the status of women be improved? Numerous questions are still seeking their answers.

The matter of reservation has been passionately discussed. It was Rajiv Gandhi who had mooted the idea and it has been raised by every government that came to power subsequently. Only educated or powerful women can fight elections and come to Parliament, but what about the poor and downtrodden women? Can social evils like rape, Sati, bride-burning and discrimination against women be stopped by having more women in Parliament? Reservation may not have a desirable effect on the general mass of women, because to remove these things, a movement is needed at the grassroots level. No Parliament member, whether man or woman, has been able to introduce far-reaching changes in society. It must be a sign of the times that instead of doing anything positive on the grounds which requires a great deal of effort, we have taken to cosmetic measures like asking for reservation for women. Even today, incidents of Sati are heard, dowry has become a fashion and brides are frequently burned if they are not able to satisfy the demands for dowry. Nothing has been done to prevent any of this. Yet reservation for women in Parliament is touted as the panacea for all ills, with the assumption that if there are more women, the country would move in the right direction. But we have politicians like Laloo Prasad Yadav who foist their wives as leaders as soon as corruption charges against them begin to hurt. In such a scenario, reserving seats for women is a retrograde step. We have to empower people like Ela bhatt and Medha Patkar who are really doing something at the grassroots level, rather than creating more seats which the sophisticated and genteel ladies can warm in Parliament without caring for the poor women. Today we have quite a few women in Parliament. What have they done for women? Nothing substantial. Having more seats in Parliament is no guarantee that the lot of women will improve. If we look at social reform movements in history, we find that the changes were not inspired by reservation of any kind. Child marriage and widow remarriage have been removed by reformers. Theirs was the sincere way to improve the lot of women. Present-day members of Parliament have no such courage to go against the established norms of society and to propose such changes. What they are all worried about is their own perks such as free housing and telephone connections.

The problem is that once reservation is implemented, it is going to be very difficult to go back to the previous system. We have to see what is the best way to initiate social reform, so that women in backward areas are able to change their lives. To do this, perhaps, reservation of seats in Parliament is not the right way. If it is the question of improving the lot of women, instead of reservation, non-government organisations should be encouraged. What is required is action at the grassroots level.

Kapil Verma,
Panchkula.

VIII

No self-respecting person, much less a woman,wants to be considered as handicapped and doled out a concession in the form of ‘reservation’. It is in our national interest that we build a society which is merit-oriented and not reservation-oriented. The concept of reservations tends to negate and dilute the democratic spirit/values/principles wherein law of equality reigns supreme. By giving reservation to women, we are introducing an inferiority complex in them and unnecessarily making them conscious that they are weak and need help. Whereas the fact of the matter is that Indian women are strong enough to meet the challenges of life on their own steam and rise to the top positions on their own merit. At present, they are doing well in all the fields be it the business world or political arena, academic field or the scientific field. They have proved their mettle in the sports world and registered their presence in defence forces/ police. You name a profession and they are there. Our foreign Secretary too is a woman! They have shown that they can do anything and everything that men can do and that too better than them. They have overtaken men in every field, including politics. We had a woman PM and have had women CMs.They have passed the stage of being given any reservation, in fact such a gesture may be taken by our confident sisters as an insult to their sense of pride.

The “reservation culture” is weakening our administration and promoting inefficiency on a large scale. Sooner it ends, the better it will be for our nation. Why has the Bill for 33 per cent reservation of seats not even been introduced in the Parliament so far? Because there are reservations about this reservation Bill in the minds of our MPs. There are apprehensions that only beneficiary of this bill will be our women belonging to the elite/upper section of our society. So there are demands of reservations within reservation .

I am, however, of the view that our strong- willed women should, on their own, reject the idea of reservation for them and launch a nation-wide campaign to put a stop to all kinds of reservations practised for the last 50 years, if we want to attain the status of a developed country. Reservations are doing more harm than any good.

Onkar Chopra
New Delhi.

IX

The very term reservation shows a helplessness, a certain lack of the required talent and skill. It places the person coming under it on a lower rung. How many of us feel comfortable in going to a doctor who has done his MBBS under the reserved quota? We have seen in many cases, the incompetence and lack of confidence of the reserved quota officials. A certain looking down is seen in the manner of others where the word “reserved” is used in careers; so keeping these things in mind, should we go for reservation?

Clamouring for reservation merely shows our lack of confidence, but in what way are we inferior? When we pit our brains against those of men, we glide far ahead, while the squeaking and creaking of the other side is quite audible. The dedication, the sincerity, the integrity of women has been acknowledged and acclaimed even from times when men deemed it fit that they remain housebound to suit their own purpose. Had it not been so, why would Wordsworth have said- A perfect woman, nobly planned/To warn, to comfort and command?

Reservation is only for the frail creatures who wilt under hard work where challenges surface. In no case, should such of the species be given reservation. Why deprive a perfectly competent man who needs the job more than she does?

There should be no reservation at all for any caste class or gender. Reservation does not imply competence—it is merely the greased wheels on which a straggler is pushed. Hence there should be no reservation for women.

Padma Jha,
Solan.

X

Seriously, reservation is unique to our country because every political party promises more and more reservation of seats to specific vote banks with obvious motives. Our purpose is not to discuss the merits and demerits of the policy of reservation. Rather, it is to debate how much reservation is required for an effective presence.

Firstly, will more women representatives in the government bring about radical changes for the betterment of the people? Agreed that a lot remains to be done in the matter of development of women and it has been largely ignored by the consecutive ruling parties. There are many other issues besides women’s issues which have to be addressed. In the context, such issues need the presence of sagacious, unprejudiced mature minds which may belong to both men and women.

Next, who are going to elect the women representatives? If it is the electorate, then the women elected are going to be in power one day and gone the next. This would hardly allow one to make a lasting contribution in any field. And then, how fair are elections anywhere?

Again, if women are to be elected to any judicial or executive body, it again depends on the mindset and attitude of those who are going to elect and sadly, our society is not advanced to the extent of admitting that women can have an identity of their own. The few women who have made a mark in political life have had to go through great hardships. Why, the very idea of such a reservation for women going through so many repeated unanimous rebuttals in the Parliament is proof enough.

The level of maturity needed to view women as a human being in her own right and respect her is simply absent in a majority of the population, including women. We first have to get out of the years of conditioning and grow truly emancipated in our thoughts and attitudes.

We do not have to put the cart before the horse merely to give our honourable PM (who no doubt is one of the few emancipated mature people) a chance to fulfill his promise. Reservation should not be abandoned, but let us start with a step and not a leap, lest we fall into a mire.

S. Sivaraman,
Chandigarh.

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WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE
Ludhiana girl’s hat-trick as mayor in Newzealand
Teena Singh

Sukhi Gill TurnerIT must be the luck of the name Turner, apart from her own grit and vision of politics that helped Sukhi Gill Turner, wife of Newzealand cricketing legend; Glen Turner, to get a third term as Mayor of Dunedin Southern Newzealand consecutively. She has created history as the first woman to be elected as a Mayor. In Newzealand, there are no chief ministers or governors. The mayor’s is the highest office and s/he is in charge of the well-being of a city, a district and its people. This history was repeated third time over on October 13, 2001. The lady has unshakable convictions and principles and is highly admired by people. In her words: “Local government is not just about sewage and potholes, but also about the general well-being of the community”. Is our mayor listening? She has always been focused towards a “clean and sustainable development”. She created popular support by opposing the sister city link with Shanghai because of China's record of human rights abuses. She chose human rights, instead of business opportunities. It was the question of putting Dunedin's interests and her personal principles before and above “wallet politics”. Her Chandigarh-based parents Squadron leader Jasbir Singh Gill and Premjit Kaur’s Dolly became the dolly-catch for Glenn.

The newspapers around the world covered their love story and wedding. People could not believe the dignity with which Glenn Turner went through a Sikh marriage, wearing a pink turban. He had said: “Anything for Sukhi”. After a four-year-long whirlwind romance around the globe, Glenn had to convince Jasbir of his family values and his ever-lasting love for Sukhi, before getting the latter’s blessings to marry his daughter in 1973.

For Sukhi, it was only Glenn or else no marriage ever. “She was always a brilliant student”, says her mother Premjit. Passing out of All Saints Anglican School, Nainital, Sukhi joined Sophia College, Mumbai. She spent just one year there, before winning a scholarship to do her graduation from Bethany College, West Virginia, USA in history and political science. Mumbai also introduced her to Glenn. Premjit wondered what Glenn found in her “girl with spectacles.” “I fell for her mind,” Glenn says. Life for some begins after 40. After a lifetime of being a dedicated wife and mother to Glenn and their two children Natasha, now 24, and son Shaan, 22 years old, Sukhi could be well be Newzealand's nominee to the United Nations or the next Newzealand Ambassador to India. They could well be one of the most-photographed and written about Newzealanders. Sukhi has kept up the magic of the Orient and is always alive to the country of her in-laws. Be it her introducing Indian food and spices or making her father do the ardaas at the opening meeting of her Council or by wearing a Sari for a Scottish Ball at Castles, Larnach. Despite her Indianness, Sukhi adopted and became a true Newzealander from the moment, she took the oath of citizenship, after her wedding in 1973. To note, she did not take a lifetime to show her allegiance to her in-laws’ nation and was elected on merit and not as a bahu of a riyaasat (pun intended). Sukhi has been very socially involved citizen of Dunedin. From being a member of local kindergarten committee, she went on to becoming the highest polling candidate for her children’s school board trustees. She was Vice-president of the Federation of University Women, Otago, Established Neighborhood Support Group and was a member of women’s, environmental network before becoming the first citizen of Dunedin. “I was always interested in politics, especially in the politics of change. “The negative effects of the restructuring of Newzealand Society in the 80s and 90s really dismayed me and thus I joined the Green Party of Aotearoa in 1993”, she says. In her first attempt, she got elected to the City Council. It was the first time in 27 years that an incumbent mayor was defeated and Sukhi won by 2410 votes to become the first woman Mayor of Dunedin, to be re-elected in 98 and again in 2001 for a further tenure of three years. Hats off to Sukhi who is called ‘The Ludhiana Girl’, ‘The Nainital Girl’, ‘The Mumbai Girl’, ‘The Chandigarh Girl’ and ‘The Indian Girl’!

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