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Would women's reservation become gateway for backdoor entry for the savarna elite?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has declared that his party would reserve 33% seats for women in Parliament and state assemblies, as their representation "is very low". He went a step ahead and suggested that he would also ensure that 33% women are taken into the Union government's various services.
These announcement may be considered great by some, but they also sound an alarm bell. The Congress had earlier also said that, if voted to power, it would pass the Women's Reservation Bill.
In yet another promise, Rahul said, his focus would be to strengthen government spending on education, taking it to 6% of the Gross Development Product (GDP), which is definitely a welcome step. He also talked about the minimum income scheme. Then, he spoke of the need to strengthen the Forest Rights Act (FRA). Then, he is known to have written against the current roaster policy.
These are welcome announcements. The Congress appears to believe these announcement would be catchers, just as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MNREGA) was a decade ago.
Though it is good that Rahul is speaking on various issues, leaving out monotonous Rafale and "chowkidaar chor hair", which may not impress everyone everywhere, there is a need for the Congress to respond to issues emerging out of these announcements.
Indeed, Rahul may be very forthcoming on various issues, which is quite gratifying, but he and his party are playing with various other issues, which they think are 'complex'. The Women's Reservation Bill is one such complex issue.
Significantly, even social justice parties have not really been "pro-women" in this regards; the Congress record on this is dismal, to say the least. The Congress, like other parties, never acknowledged that women are as diverse, heterogeneous and different like their male counterparts.
But one must recognise: Woman or man is not the primary identity of a person, as some might make us believe. The primary identity of an individual in our part of the world is caste, followed by religion and region. Woman is part these three identities.
A woman faces discrimination not just for being a woman, but also because she happens to be an Adivasi, a Dalit, or belonging to a particular religion. In today's India, Muslim women face much bigger threat for preserving their identity.
So, when Rahul suggests passing Women's Reservation Bill, does he accept that we should ensure a proportional representation of women in Parliament as well as in government jobs? When I say proportional, it means, women's heterogeneity based on caste, religion and gender must be respected.
Otherwise, women's identity would pave the way for backdoor entry of the savarna elite or strengthening the status quo in favour of the Brahmanical hegemony in our system.
How is the Congress going to reserve 33% for women? Would it be proportional 'adjustment' for all sections? Rahul should also commit 52% OBC reservation and constitute an All-India Judicial Services with quota on similar lines as UPSC services provide.
Equally important is Congress position on 10% quota for 'poor savarnas' of Rs 10 lakh annual income variety.
Will the Congress do away with this variety, and if it is really interested in helping poor savarnas, would it constitute a panel like Mandal commission to find out which communities are under-represented among savarnas in government services and which are over-represented?
Let there be state-wise surveys and a decision on that basis. It is an issue of providing representation.
I do not say this without any historical context and have seen it at different places. It is visible in seminars, in conferences and in political parties, when women and feminism become elite savarna women's club without any respect for diversity in terms of class, caste, region and religious identities.
Attempts are made to tell us that women of the world are same without any other barriers, ignoring the fact that violence on women in Mujaffarnagar happened because of their being Muslim, and that India's 'collective conscience' hasn't yet woken up to provide them any hope of justice. The state has failed, political parties have failed, and except a few among human rights defenders, majority don't even want to remember what happened.
After 'Nirbhaya', we have not seen any outrage, as if things have improved and issues have been sorted out.
I do feel that women across the spectrum have been denied justice, but it is also a fact that many have also 'wisely' not challenged their own caste and class privileges. Frankly, these women should have been reading Dr BR Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule and EVR Periyar in order to become a factor in demolishing caste system.
Unfortunately, not many of them would quote or understand them, as caste gives you lot of privileges, and therefore allows some of these women to become 'torch bearers', unknowingly or knowingly.
Parties like Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) should clarify their position on this issue and not confine merely to just opposing it. There is a need to develop a vision document based on the thoughts of Phule, Dr Ambedkar and Periyar, and engage with thought leaders, Ambedkarites, social activists, and not party propagandists.
Unless the Bahujan movement and parties adhering to social justice come out with their vision document on the issue of representation of India's Bahujan communities in all sectors, including Parliament, judiciary and elsewhere, we will not reach anywhere, and women's reservation will only remain a ploy to keep vacant seats fixed for the Biwi, Bahu, Beti brigade.
The Congress is doing what is important for it; it is trying to reach out to its wider audience, though 'januedharis' in the party are still powerful and have the capacity to thwart any good attempt.
Yet, it is essential for BSP and SP to come up with this vision document for India, which can be used for the annihilation of caste and provide space and justice to Bahujan women, who include Dalit, Pasmanda, most backward communities and Adivasi women.
If they fail to do it, they cannot blame the Congress for protecting Brahmanism alone; they will have to share the blame.
---
*Human rights defender. Source: Author's Facebook timeline

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