Affirmative Action and Women in India
The Indian Constitution promises equality to women in all spheres and makes specific statements reaffirming its commitment towards non-discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, class, sex, age etc. There are various institutions that have since been setup to promote this promise and also there exists a rich tradition of decrees and judgments enhancing the scope of this promise. However, because of the variations in complex inequalities and social conditions, India poses completely different levels of challenges. In this paper I propose to highlight some of the efforts made to enhance the participation, equality and non-discrimination of women in India. I will also delineate the resultant gains made in the direction of participatory citizenship and inclusive politics vis-à-vis women. I propose to examine India’s electoral affirmative action program, initiated in the 1990s, that started with the intention of bridging the gender gap in politics and also attempted to bridge the caste gap. The 73rd Amendment provided that one-third of the seats in all Panchayats, as well as one-third of the Pradhan positions, be reserved for women. Membership and Pradhan positions were also reserved for the two disadvantaged minorities in India, scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST), in the form of mandated representation proportional to each minority’s population share in each district. In addition to providing political opportunity to women it also provided a platform where experiment with social inclusion was made possible on a grand scale. Reservation policies clearly have a strong impact on women’s representation. There is evidence to prove that reservations introduce a cohort of women into politics who would go on to become effective members of political parties and mature as leaders in their own right. Another aspect that has remained critical to the success of any affirmative action for women in India is of violence against women. Violence has been disempowering women and has been negating the gains made by various other initiatives. Ranging from sex selective abortions, caste based atrocities; dowry deaths and the prevalence of diverse discriminatory practices pose challenges to establishing an inclusive and egalitarian society. Struggles against such ‘routine violence’ has not in any way discredited the need to go beyond “women’s issues” (violence, reproduction) and provide women’s perspectives in all the challenges that women from depressed classes face in urban and rural areas, including issues of development, ecology, and religion. My paper will attempt to expatiate upon the above mentioned and related aspects.