As I stood before the esteemed members of the Lok Sabha, I was filled with a sense of purpose and responsibility. We were there to discuss a matter of profound importance, one that has the potential to reshape the future of our nation – the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, commonly known as the Women's Reservation Bill. This proposed constitutional amendment seeks to reserve 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women, a monumental step towards empowering women in the political sphere.
Even before my time, when the nation gained independence from slavery, many ordinary women from various regions had said that our constitutional rights should be protected. However, those visionary women from ordinary families who played their roles in the nation's independence, who were far-sighted, knew that if ordinary women were not given a chance, it might become a challenge for them in the years to come. Today, I salute those visionary women.
In 1971, during the government, a committee was formed - Status of Women in India and when the committee shared its report in 1974, in its 7th chapter, it is recorded that the Bhartiya Jan Sangh had said that women should be given constitutional guarantees, and they advocated for reservations. Today, I express gratitude to those visionary thinkers of the Jan Sangh.
It is an honor for BJP karyakartas that the Bharatiya Janata Party became the first political party in this nation to provide reservations to women in their organization.
In the course of this debate, we have witnessed claims and counterclaims regarding the authorship of the Women's Reservation Bill. They say success has many fathers and failure has none. So when the bill came, some people called it 'our bill', some people said they wrote letters on it, some people said they set the entire constitutional framework. A respected women leader gave her speech in the Lok Sabha, and I want to thank her for clarifying two things.
Firstly, it is crucial to acknowledge that one special family is often credited for the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution. However, she clarified in Parliament that this work was done by P.V. Narasimha Rao. It's essential to recognize those who contributed to these vital amendments, and Narasimha Rao's name rightfully deserves a place in that history.
The Women's Reservation Bill has been a contentious issue in Indian politics for decades. One of the key points of contention is the duration of the reservation. The Modi government has proposed that the reservation will continue for 15 years and seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation exercise, ensuring a long-term impact. In contrast, the Congress party's had proposed a women's quota for only 10 years. They wanted to snatch the rights of women after 10 years. I express my gratitude towards Hon'ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji and the Law Minister, who didn't allow this desire of the Congress to become a reality.
In addition to addressing the reservation duration, it is essential to clarify certain constitutional provisions and legal aspects. Some have suggested including quotas for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and minority communities. However, it's important to remember that reservations based on religion are explicitly prohibited by the Indian Constitution.
I urge everyone to scrutinize the facts and recognize the government's efforts to empower women through constitutional means. Our commitment to the Constitution and its dignity remains unwavering.
Political representation is a fundamental aspect of women's empowerment, and the Modi government has taken steps to increase the participation of women in politics. Moreover, by advocating for women's participation at various levels of governance, the Modi government is ensuring that the voices of women are heard in decision-making processes.
Narendra Modi's government has embarked on a transformative journey to empower women in India. Through comprehensive policies and targeted initiatives, the government has addressed critical areas such as education, healthcare, political representation, economic empowerment, and gender equality. The results speak for themselves, with significant reductions in dropout rates, improved healthcare access, increased political representation, and enhanced economic opportunities for women.
Let us not forget the substantial budget allocations for women's development. The increase in these allocations demonstrates our government's dedication to helping women grow. Under PM Modi's leadership, the dropout rate of girls in schools has reduced significantly. This underscores our commitment to empowering women not only politically but also through education and economic opportunities.
As India continues to progress on its path towards women's empowerment, it is crucial to recognize the positive impact of these initiatives. While challenges persist, the government's unwavering commitment to gender equality and women's empowerment serves as a beacon of hope for millions of women across the country. Through education, healthcare, and political and economic opportunities, women in India are experiencing a newfound sense of agency and empowerment, contributing to the nation's growth and development.
If we look at this bill from the perspective of the dignity of our Constitution, then Goddess Lakshmi has taken a Constitutional form through it. It symbolizes the economic empowerment of women, a vital step towards women's self-reliance and self-determination.
This bill is not a political tool; it is a means to empower the women of our nation.
In conclusion, let us remember that this is not about taking credit or shifting blame. It is about recognizing the historic opportunity we have before us – the opportunity to empower women, strengthen our democracy, and shape a brighter future for India. The time for action is now, and I implore each one of us to walk the talk and support 'Nari Shakti' in its truest form.
(The Author is Union Minister, Govt of India)