Image source - https://bit.ly/35WlNBH

This article is written by Eleen Garg, student if Amity Law School, Delhi (affiliated to GGSIPU).

Introduction

Eleanor Roosevelt said, If women want to be in politics, they need to grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros.” There has been a long and near connection between masculinity and politics. The traditional male attributes have been appreciated the most throughout history of politics. The equitable development of all genders of the society is a sine qua non for a complete and peaceful order. Nonetheless, in India, even after 73 years of independence, women remain oppressed in various sects of society. Women, since ancient times, have been perceived as birth-giving factories and servants to men. In the Rig Vedic period, they enjoyed equal status to men. The situation, however, did not remain constant, and it was in the later period when women were tormented, belittled and discriminated against. The essence of these problems can be traced back to the patriarchal establishment of the governing bodies. Moreover, the patriarchal system owes its origin to the issue of gender disparity in India.

Indias deplorable situation is illustrated by the fact that it dropped four places from 2018 and was ranked 112th in the 2019-2020 World Economic Forums Global Gender Gap Index. The abysmal performance of India manifests the colossal disparity between two genders of the society. In this context, this article will focus on the efficacy of legislation adopted to promote women’s political involvement. The objective of this post is to analyse the status of women in politics. It initially studies the history related to the political participation of women in Rig the ancient India. Subsequently, it proceeds to analyse what led to their betterment in the independence period. What was the state of mind of Lawmakers that prompted them to grant women the coveted right to vote? It later on studies how the government responded to the societal pressure to introduce women in politics. How far has the situation changed since independence? This article is an attempt to answer all of these questions.

History and political participation of women in India

History is looked upon as an authentic record of the rationalised experience of humankind. History, being comprehensive enough, includes all aspects of the life of the human community and hence historical study forms the best introduction to the study of human nature in different ages. It was believed, and this belief persists, that history is the school of politics. Precisely for this reason, the history of Greece and Rome has been regarded as valuable. It is therefore important to explore the past of women’s political involvement in ancient India.

In the Rig Vedic period, women held an honourable position and were found to be necessary for the decision-making process. The husband and wife were considered to be Dampati symbolic of an egalitarian society in which the relationship between men and women was focused on mutuality and dignity in their respective spheres of life. They were equally involved in sacrificial rituals, and women were placed on an equal footing with men in the folk assemblies. Women were not considered silent participants and had a significant impact on the decision-making process in the village. The situation, however, did not remain constant and the position of women deteriorated over time. The downfall started from 300 BC when women were characterised as fickle-minded who could easily be won by handsome men. They were equated to Shudras and manifested as entities to seduce men. Consequently, the Indian ancient society was found wanting in establishing the footing equality of woman with a man.

The struggle for womens political participation can be traced back to the 19th-century freedom movement. In 1905, participation in Indian National Congress (INC) was open to women. Annie Basant created history in 1914 and became the first woman president of INC. The freedom movement of 1917 witnessed the participation of women in large numbers. Gandhi Ji appealed to all to participate in the freedom movement and raise their voice against the injustice done by the British. Soon the movement that was per se against the British, evolved, and women began to raise their voices against their exploitation at the households. Women from conservative families, upper or lower caste, major or minor, all came to the fore. They participated equally with men in the Indian National Freedom Movement, but the number of women who acquired power, position or membership in political bodies was less than men. At the meeting of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in 1922, of the 350 delegates, only 16 were women, and the number fell to 5 in 1940. Furthermore, women who were politically active and influential came from affluent and advanced families. They were often sponsored by their rich husbands or family members who belonged to Congress. 

Women, therefore, have been obtrusively discriminated against since ancient times. Freedom movement, which witnessed the massive participation of women, never had an impetus to inculcate women in politics. It is fair to argue that the status of women in the pre-independence period was lacklustre. This lacklustre status of women gives birth to a question. Has there been any improvement in the status of women in the post-independence era? What has the government done to incorporate women into politics? The subsequent section of this article attempts to answer these questions. 

Women, Politics and the Indian Constitution

Before independence, many women activists played crucial roles as leaders, and the foundation established during the freedom movement enabled them to participate in decision-making processes of Independent India. It provoked, in the minds of the lawmakers, to give a prominent role to the significant and future class of society, a privilege by ensuring reservations in local governments. The Government of India, accordingly took various legal, social and economic steps to enhance political participation of women. Susceptibly, India granted its women the right to vote in 1947, the year in which it achieved independence, compared to the US, which took 144 years to do likewise.

  • Women and the Constitution of India 

The principle of gender equality has been given adequate attention by the Indian Constitution in its preamble, fundamental rights, fundamental duties and the directive principles of state policy. The Constitution empowers the State to undertake positive discrimination in favour of women by way of, inter alia, pro-women legislation, creating reservations for women in different sectors of the society. In this context, Articles 14, 15, 15(3), 16, 39(a), 39(b), 39(c) and 42 of the Constitution are of specific importance. The fundamental concept behind these laws is to preserve the balance of community and to boost the role of women in society and to ensure their advancement in different spheres of life. 

  • Article 14: “It prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”
  • Article 15: “Article 15 (3) bestows power upon the State to make special provisions for the benefit women and children.”
  • Article 16: “It creates equal opportunities for all people in employment matters. No citizen may be denied job on grounds of religion, race, sex, good, place of birth or any of them.”
  • Article 39: “Article 39(b) provides for fair pay for equal work for both men and women.”
  • Article 42: “It guarantees just and humane condition of work and maternity relief.”
  • Women’s participation in State and National politics. 

In a society where women are always required to abide by the opinions of men and are denied any freedom of choice, the mere provision of rights has never proved to be adequate. The below table reflects the sordid condition of womens political participation at the national level despite the existence of aforesaid provisions.

Terms of Lok Sabha 

Percentage of Females to Total Seats 

1977-80

3.5%

1980-84

5.3%

1984-89

7.7%

1989-91

4.4%

Source: Parliament of India

The table above demystifies the negligible and indefinite contribution of women to politics. While the period 1984-89 registered a higher percentage relative to the other periods in the table, the following year again recorded a massive decrease, thereby dismissing the stately figures of 1984-89 as mere coincidence.

Therefore, the combined pressure of law and society compelled the government to introduce 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments in December 1992 to bestow women with more significant role in politics. These amendments added two new parts to the Constitution; namely, 73rd Amendment added Part IX titled “The Panchayats” and 74th Amendment added Part IXA titled “The Municipalities”. These amendments gave legal recognition to the Panchayats and Municipalitiesafter 43 years of independence. The Article 243 (D) of the Constitution, added by way of these amendments, mandates reservation of one-third of total seats and one-third of offices of chairpersons for women at all levels of State/District level, thereby providing them with an opportunity to be a part of governing bodies. 

The governments decision proved to be successful, and the beneficial effects in the form of increased political participation of women at the State level were perceptible. The following table takes into account five states and compares the 1995 and 2018 figures for elected women members.

Name of the States 

Percentage of Women elected in 1995

Percentage of Women elected in 2018

Rajasthan

33.26

56.49

West Bengal

35.23

50.77

Haryana

33.37

42.12

Tripura

33.33

45.23

Himachal Pradesh

35.72

50.13

Source: India today, May 15, 1995 and Ministry of Panchayati Raj Government of India

The above table manifests the profound change in the role of women in politics over time. They are being elected in unprecedented numbers as a consequence of the changes brought by 73rd and 74th amendments to the Indian Constitution, which mandates allocation of at least one-third of total seats to women. These reforms implemented a new governance structure in India, known as the Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI). 

Politics has been changed by the overwhelming number of women PRI introduced into the political system. It is also a qualitative distinction because these women influence State’s policies through their expertise in civil society governance. Consequently, the State becomes responsive to issues of literacy, health, poverty, discrimination and gender injustice. Additionally, elected female leaders are often more conscious of the problems that an average woman would face in her everyday life, thereby assisting in the formation of better legislation for women.

However, contrary to the aforesaid, womens participation in National level politics has been meagre. The statistics on the participation of women in parliament demonstrate a dreadful state of affairs. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union report, as of 1 July 2017, India ranks 149th in the list of 193 countries in terms of women’s representation in the Lok Sabha. The current parliament consists of 78 women MPs out of 462 MPs, constituting 14.44% of the parliamentarian population. This implies that 9 out of every 10 parliamentarians are men. In the 17th Lok Sabha elections, the largest party BJP, gave women candidates only 53 out of 437 tickets, while the Congress fielded the largest number of women candidates, i.e., 54 out of 450 tickets.

The situation would have been different if the government had considered the adoption of the Women’s Reservation Bill (108th amendment). In 1996, the United Front Government of HD Deve Gowda, recommended a similar reservation of 33% of the seats in the Lok Sabha and all State Legislative assemblies for women through the aforementioned bill. However, when the bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1998, a Rashtriya Janata Dal MP snatched it from the speaker and ripped it to pieces Subsequently, the bill was re-introduced in 1999, 2002 and 2003 and it was in February 2010, when the bill was passed by Union cabinet, a week before it was passed in Rajya Sabha, but it has been lying in the cold storage since then and still awaits a nod from Lok Sabha. 

The arduous path to the coveted revolution 

Usually, the governments create a reservation for women and consider the step as adequate to revolutionise the status of women in politics. However, what we need is a holistic approach to counter various barriers that women face in getting successful nominations. Such barriers include lack of financing, weaker professional links compared to male counterparts, household responsibilities. 

An active campaign, which needs tremendous funding, is one of the most effective methods to win elections. For instance, the Aam Aadmi party alone spent a massive amount of Rs. 21.06 crore on its 2020 Delhi Assembly elections campaign. The parties often give tickets to affluent candidates who can spend massive amounts on campaigning for the party. Men, usually finance their own campaigns opposite to women who depend on their husbands fortune, which results in denial of opportunity to contest election for underprivileged, albeit, capable women. Moreover, the conservative ideology of the parties to give women a ticket to contest elections has served as a barrier to their political participation.  

Beyond financial constraints, women face numerous social and cultural challenges. Under the blanket of patriarchy, women face myriad issues, inter alia, character assassination, gender stereotyping, backlash from the families. These factors have only worsened their status in politics. The common people of India have also contributed towards this evil cause. According to the Amnesty India report, women politicians in India face a higher degree of abuse compared to their U.K. and U.S. counterparts. Further, the report points out that every one of seven tweets targeted at women politicians was sexist, misogynistic, casteist slur.  

 There is a lot to be done, therefore, than to develop mere reservations. The need of the hour is to transform the peoples outlook towards women politicians and make them aware of the superlative changes that women can bring in politics. The underrepresentation of women in politics has given rise to misogynistic policies. For instance, Section 6 of the HINDU MINORITY AND GUARDIANSHIP ACT, 1956 gives father the right to be the natural guardian of a minor child. As a result, the father would have the ultimate authority to make all legal decisions about the child’s life, and the decisions of the mother are subject to the approval of the father.

The recent contentious decision of Madhya Pradesh High Court would further corroborate the feminist argument. The Court granted bail to a man accused of ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’ on the condition that he requests the complainant to tie him a rakhi. Inextricably, nine women lawyers filed an appeal against the MP HCs impugned judgement in which they sought for setting aside of order. They argued that the Court had undermined the victim’s suffering and therefore the imposition of such an absurd condition for bail trivialises crimes against women. One could not eliminate the idea of a different judgement if the judge had been a woman. Consequently, the adverse consequences of the lack of women in key sectors of society, such as politics and the judiciary, are evident. 

Conclusion 

India is a welfare state, and its legal and Political system has grown expeditiously over the last few years. However, the poor structure of Political system of India has marginalised women, who constitute 49% of the total Indian population. The first part of this article explained how women held an honourable position in the Rig Vedic times. However, due to the backward ideology of some notorious people, the whole community was mischievously transformed into a misogynistic society, and then came the patriarchy which bolstered the hopes of an early wave of feminism. Though the freedom movement did push for a bona fide transformation but the impetus to revolutionise the societal beliefs was not just sufficient. The lawmakers felt the need to inculcate women in decision making process and accordingly, 73rd and 74th amendments were introduced, which considerably altered the status of women at State level politics. The one-third reservation of seats proved to be a blessing, however, India failed to learn from its own preaching and is yet to introduce a similar coveted pro-women law at the National level. The PRI system prima facie looked promising and delivered as per expectations. But, the need of the hour is to transform the society’s conservative ideology towards women and create a women friendly law that would assist in achievement of common good. 


LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join:

Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more amazing legal content.

Did you find this blog post helpful? Subscribe so that you never miss another post! Just complete this form…

LEAVE A REPLY