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" Assessing the Potential Impact of the Women's Reservation Bill on India's Democratic Landscape

Jan. 29, 2024   •   ANJALI SINGH


The Women's Reservation Bill was first introduced in Parliament in 1996 by United Front Government by then law minister Ramakant Khalap almost thirty years ago, marking the start of its legislative journey. Every succeeding administration between 1998 and 2004, the BJP led government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had tried to get the bill passed multiple times but unfortunately, this significant endeavour ultimately failed because of a lack of political will and consensus. According to The Wire (India), there are 15% of female members of the Lok Sabha, while 9 percent of women serve in state legislative assemblies.

A women's reservation bill signed by Droupadi Murmu, president of India, on September 28, 2023, called Constitution (One Hundred and Sixth Amendment) Act, 2023 so as to encourage more women to enter politics, also known as the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, seeks to achieve gender parity in the political sphere. Nonetheless, a number of problems cast doubt on the Bill's applicability.

Gender Equality in Politics

Nevertheless, women's quotas are a positive step. The proportion of women in the Indian parliament has gone up from 4.4 percent in the first Lok Sabha to around 15 percent in the current one, but it is still significantly lower than the global average of 27 percent and the Asian average of 21 percent for women in parliament. India ranks 141 out of 185 countries in terms of women's representation in parliaments, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s global ranking. Compared to Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, it ranks lower.

Structural Impediment is to women’s empowerment is the underlying issues that curbs their representative participation. Services involving distant postings, patriarchal arrangement and balancing family and professional commitment are some of the social factors that outcasts women completely to contribute at a larger level. Generally speaking, women are perceived as being given preference during appointments to 'soft' ministries such as social welfare, culture, and women's and children's development. Such gender biased mentality discourages the contribution and leadership of woman in major ministries.

The major parties, the Congress and the BJP, have fielded very few female candidates in the elections, which has much to do with the low numbers. The percentage of female candidates that the two parties fielded in the 2019 general election was 13% and 12%, respectively. At a time when the gender vote gap has reduced significantly, political parties, except from Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal, are reluctant to select female candidates.


(the data reflects party wise share of women legislator in percentage)

Main Features of the Constitutional Amendment

  • Reservation for women:

The act features articles 330A and 332A to the constitution and modifies article 239AA.

(1) Women are allotted seats in the Lok Sabha by Article 330A. In the People's House, women will have designated seats.

(2) As nearly as possible, women who are members of the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes shall be granted one-third of the total number of seats set aside under clause (2) of article 330.

(3) As nearly as possible, one-third of the total seats to be filled by direct election to the House of the People shall be reserved for women, including the number of seats reserved for women who belong to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Articles 239AA and 332A provide the same requirements for state legislative assemblies and for the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, respectively.

  • Commencement of reservation: The reservation will be effective after the census conducted after the commencement of this Bill has been published. Based on the census, delimitation will be undertaken to reserve seats for women. The reservation will be provided for a period of 15 years. However, it shall continue till such date as determined by a law made by Parliament.
  • Rotation of seats: Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation, as determined by a law made by Parliament.

The Drawbacks

Impractical approach

Even though the bill became an Act in 2023 after it cleared the Rajya Sabha hurdle, it is only after 2026 that the bill can actually be implemented. The Census that was to be conducted in 2021 has been delayed inadvertently, and no timeline has been given by the government about the next Census. As a result, even after the Bill has been approved by both Houses of Parliament, its actual execution is still up in the air. Even in the event that the Lok Sabha is dissolved, a measure that passes the Rajya Sabha does not expire. Therefore, one may question why the current government did not take up and pass the Rajya Sabha's previously passed.

A push to Pati Pradhan Tradition

The effectiveness of this bill is one question that hasn't been answered yet. The reservation has even resulted in an unofficial post known as "Pati Pradhan/Sarpanch Pati," which translates to "Sarpanch's husband." In certain situations, this person serves as the de facto leader and takes the important decisions. Therefore, it wouldn't be shocking if the Women's Reservation Bill had a similar outcome if it is put into effect.

Political legacy problem

The dynastic succession of MPs, MLAs, political families, and leaders sending their spouses, daughters, or mothers to serve as MPs or MLAs in order to perpetuate their alleged political legacy and political parties by awarding them tickets is another risky and unsettling tendency. This has to be stopped at all costs, since else ordinary women who possess the necessary qualities and wish to pursue careers in politics would have nothing to aim for.

Delimitation Concerns with the Act

The term Delimitation refers to the process of redrawing parliamentary or assembly seat borders to ensure an equal number of voters in each constituency. It is done every few years after each census to ensure each constituency has one representative in both the Lok Sabha and state assembly across the nation. Delimitation links population increase to the number of elected legislators in a state, ensuring that no delegates are overrepresented or underrepresented. The government has argued that by tying the reservation to the delimitation process, it will make reservation fair and transparent also more seats will be available for women overall and for men as well, since the delimitation process is anticipated to increase the number of seats in the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha. However, one of the primary concern is the potential cause of underrepresentation that is if delimitation is carried out on the basis of population states that have successfully implemented population control measures in particular the southern states perhaps like Telangana would face underrepresentation in parliament. On the other hand, states with higher population growth such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand would gain more seats in the parliament as compared to the south which would give rise to the issue of overrepresentation and becomes a barrier to efficiently allocate seats on basis of population. The government's decision to link the implementation of the Women's Reservation Bill with delimitation is a major concern for opposition parties.

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Way Forward

Reservation policies could be a good place to start, but fundamental problems that go beyond political representation must be addressed if gender equality is to be adhered permanently. The effectiveness of reservation policies may vary for women of different social, economic, and cultural backgrounds. Intersectionality—the overlapping of multiple forms of discrimination—needs to be considered. With the goal to build a more inclusive and equitable society, reservations for women in politics should be a part of a larger plan that tackles cultural norms, education, economic empowerment, and social transformation. Reservations quotas for women in politics may be a useful weapon in combating patriarchy and promoting gender equality.

Disclaimer: The author affirms that this article is an entirely original work, never before submitted for publication at any journal, blog, or other publication avenue. Any unintentional resemblance to previously published material is purely coincidental. This article is intended solely for academic and scholarly discussion. The author takes personal responsibility for any potential infringement of intellectual property rights belonging to any individuals, organizations, governments, or institutions.

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