The Rajya Sabha passed the women’s reservation Bill unanimously on Thursday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that the unanimity will instil confidence among the public.
The Constitution (128th Amendment) Bill, or the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, and its six clauses were passed with all 214 members present in the Upper House voting in favour of them. “A historic achievement,” said Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar after passage of the Bill. The members welcomed the announcement of the passage of the Bill by thumping on the desks.
Amendments moved by some Opposition members against the provision that the law will come into force only after a census and delimitation exercise were defeated in a voice vote as none of the members demanded a ‘division’ on the amendments.
The Lok Sabha had passed the Bill a day earlier, on Wednesday.
A total of 72 speakers participated in the debate that was marked with poetry and couplets. The debate was moderated by a series of women who took turns to be in the Chair. The key issues raised by the Opposition included the delay in bringing the Bill and the lack of separate reservation for Other Backward Class (OBC) women within the 33% reservation. The Treasury benches countered these arguments with measures taken by the Modi regime to support women.
After passing the Bill, the House adjourned sine die.
Not an act of generosity
Countering the ruling party speakers who heaped credit solely on PM Modi for bringing the legislation, the Opposition members slammed the BJP for showcasing the Bill as an act of the Prime Minister’s benevolence towards women. They also criticised the title of the Bill - Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam. “You have named the Bill as if it is a divine blessing. It is no divine blessing, it is our constitutional right,” Congress MP Ranjeet Ranjan, who opened the debate for the Opposition, said. She also slammed the government, saying that while it is now showing unusual devotion to women, it was silent when women were being paraded naked in Manipur and women wrestlers were sitting in protest at Jantar Mantar. The government, she said, stands exposed considering they did not deem it fit to invite President Droupadi Murmu for the inaugural function of the new Parliament, a charge which was repeated by many Opposition speakers.
BJP members hit back by listing out the schemes for women initiated by the Centre, including the Ujjwala scheme. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the gender ratio has improved and the Centre has opened the gates for women in Army schools.
Why the delay?
“Why did it take the government nine and a half years to bring this legislation and why is the government pushing its implementation to 2029,” were the common issues raised by the Opposition speakers. Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge said when the Centre is capable of taking instant decisions such as demonetisation, nine and half years’ delay in passing a Bill supported by every party was unacceptable. “This is the correct time,” said Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal in his reply and Ms. Sitharaman said the Bill was thoughtfully crafted. BJP MP and lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani said the Bill will stand the legal scrutiny of the Supreme Court.
Trinamool Congress MP Dola Sen in her multilingual speech where she switched between Hindi, English, and Bangla, complemented the Congress government in Karnataka and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) governments in Punjab and Delhi for pro-women schemes. AAP MP Sandeep Pathak too made it a point to praise the efforts by the past Congress governments to bring in the legislation. The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) MPs also demanded the Centre to amend the Bill with a provision for reservation for OBC women MPs within the 33% reservation, a point that got the support of non-INDIA bloc parties including the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP).
Regional parties showcase schemes
Regional parties used the debate to talk about women representation within their party platforms and also about the pro-women schemes run by their respective governments. Ms. Sen asserted that the Union government should take lessons from Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee rather than deploying empty platitudes such as calling women “devi” (goddess). A YSRCP spent minutes detailing the percentage of women at various levels in his party.