Nari Shakti Vandam Adhiniyam, 2023 (128th constitutional amendment bill) standing for 1/3rd women in Parliament & State Assemblies is now an Act of the Parliament. Rather, it is the first law to be tabled and subsequently passed unanimously by both the Houses in the new Parliament building.
27 years of trials and tribulations; Machinations and maneuvering; Pragmatism and politics; and, finally, ice breaks and jinx shatters.
Everybody is now on the tenterhooks as to how the respective States act or counteract.
In a society characterized by sati system, babies killed for being baby girls, girls beaten for wearing jeans, child marriages, we feel proud to have marched ahead of the colonial and regressive practices and patriarchal mindsets.
Ramayana had a sweeping influence on Indian culture and in the same vein mother Sita had left no less influence on the very idea of Indian womanhood - suffering, endurance and sheer traditionalism.
History of women rights movements back in 19th century with Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chander Vidhyasagar, Jyotiba Phule, Keshav Chander Sen and Swami Dayanand Saraswati belling the cat of women discrimination. Anyhow in pre-independence era Sarojini Naidu, Kamla Nehru, Annie Besant, Sarla Devi Chaudhrani played an important role in the crusade of women rights.
However, after 1947 Indian Constitution granted equal rights and opportunities to females, gave women right to vote. Panchayati Raj institutions saw 1/3rd reservation for women and reservation for SC/STs 1/3rd were reserved for women SCs/STs. Seventy-third amendment breathed into life a realm of new politics.
Political reservation for women has been a pretty good slogan to woo women voters. And political parties have been using it as a ball to score runs of the every opportunity and the Indian Parliament has more or less acted as a fertile pitch for political batsmen to shoot boundaries
PM Narendra Modi is on the centre stage right now. Whatever he says he does. May it be uprooting of Article 370 in JK. Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. And now 1/3rd reservation for women with ‘quota within quota’ for SC/ST women. Riding tigers with courage, conviction and commitment has been his brand and style of politics.
India finds a proud space in the sun along with countries like Rawanda, Bolivia, Sweden, Spain, Argentina, New Zealand, Norway and a number of other democracies where women reservations are working effectively and writing new realms and equal opportunities for all.
There are some questions regarding ‘Nari Shakti Vandam Act’ flying thick and fast on media and social media platforms. Let me try to dive deeper into them, one by one: -
Talks of reservation for OBCs and minorities: Premature and pugnacious. Although, there is neither any such past practice nor any constitutional/legal means to achieve it. Vested interests have tried to, just out of vogue and reasoning, de-track the national bandwagon. And the habit with politicians remains that more they trumpet about an issue, lesser they intend to do it. It would have been better if, firstly, we are able to put our heads together to work out a plausible formula for political reservation for OBCs.
Is it a post-dated cheque; Political naysayers have been amusing people and pressure groups over terming the Bill as a ‘post-dated cheque”.
Article 82 and Article 170 of the Indian Constitution empower the Parliament and the State Legislatures, respectively, to carry out delimitation. The President of India appoints a Delimitation Commission, and its orders come into effect after being approved by the President. The report of the Commission is tabled in the Parliament. But no changes can be suggested or instead therein. Moreso, report of Commission cannot be questioned in Courts too.
Section 8 of Delimitation Act, 2002 spells out for readjustment of seats on the basis of the census figures as ascertained at the census and determining number of seats to be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
In simpler words, the implementation of the reservation provision is contingent on two pre-requisites — a Census and a delimitation exercise immediately after it, to be carried out by Delimitation Commission.
And a plain reading of 84th Constitutional amendment of 2002 read along with 42nd amendment makes one clear that next delimitation in India will be based on the population of the first census conducted after the year, 2026.
This dispels the rigmarole of haze around.
All said and done, Mr. Amit Shah is on right side of law and legal jurisprudence while informing Lok Sabha that the “delimitation process” to decide which constituency is to be reserved for women will be “transparent” and will be carried out by a Delimitation Commission (the one to be set up after 2026).
Has J&K and Puducherry been left out? No. A series of newspapers and online platforms have put out pink stories regarding it. Although, Nari Shakti Vandam Adhiniyam does not specifically include union territories of Puducherry and J&K. We need to bear in mind,
Firstly regarding J&K it has been professed from Parliament as well as in Supreme Court too that its UT status is purely temporary. Once it gets back statehood, this amendment applies to J&K.
Secondly, Article 239A of Indian Constitution applicable to UTs of Puducherry and J&K, itself gives the power to the government to reserve umpteen number of seats for any category including women.
Thirdly, UTs of Puducherry and J&K cannot be aloof from the national mood and sentiment. Their assemblies can themselves enact a law on their own.
And, fourthly, Union Government can also, if required, bring in an amendment and include these two UTs too within the purview of the law.
May I conclude with a quote, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement”
(The columnist practices law at J & K High Court and can be readily reached at firstname.lastname@example.org/@ pathania_rs/)