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Women Reservation Bill: Attempt To Stifle The Voice Of Muslims


15 March 2010

By Navaid Hamid

Every new day has its own significance and if one goes into the history of human evolution, one finds that a good number of dates have left a mark on the history of civilisations. Some dates have dramatically changed the course of history while others have shamed humanity.

If we scrutinise the "9th of March" in the history of civilisations, we get the glimpse of its impact on human history. It was on 9th March 1496 when the Jews were expelled from Austria. State of Naples banned kissing in public with death for the offenders on this day. On this day in 1841, the US Supreme Court ruled that blacks are free. Same day in 1893 witnessed the killings of thousands of Arabs by Congo cannibals. The Russian Bolshevik Party became the Communist Party on the 9th of March 1918 and in neighbouring Ukraine, mobs massacred Jews of Seredino Buda on the same day and year. This day in 1935 saw the launching of a new air force by Adolf Hitler. It was on 9th March 1945 when America started a fresh offensive against Japan and Tokyo was carpeted with 2,000 bombs killing more than 80,000 residents. In the year 1956, this day saw the military might of USSR suppress popular demonstrations in Georgia. It was again 9th March but of the year 1959 which saw the debut of the Barbie doll in the American markets.

With the passage of the Women Reservation Bill by the upper house of the Indian Parliament, 9th March 2010 would also be remembered in the Indian history for a number of reasons.

This day would be remembered for the historic decision to take Indian women from the confines of home to the house to legislate to play their role in defining the destiny of this young nation for many generations to come.

Out of 7906 total members elected to the Lok Sabha, 542 women got opportunity to reach the lower house of Indian Parliament since 1952. WR Bill has provision to have 33 percent reservation for fair gender out of the total strenght of 543 which would be 181 after it becomes law. The total strength of the members in 28 state assemblies stands at 4109 and the Bill has provision to reserve 1370 seats for women in these state assemblies.

The day would also be remembered for railroading an important legislation to safeguard the interests of the privileged classes which have felt the heat of a silent social renaissance in Indian society in the wake of the implementation of the Mandal report and for trying to negate the fruits of social justice which Other Backward Classes have started enjoying as a result of the implementation of the Mandal Report.

The day would be also be remembered for gagging the voices of the sanity and banning frank and free discussion and the right to vote according to one's conscience with threats of disqualification from the membership of Rajya Sabha coupled with the stick of whips issued to members thus making a farce of democratic values.

Thus the day would also be remembered for the exposure of the misuse of the whips, in the highest decision making body of Indian democracy, by the leadership to persue their dictated agenda by imposing censorship on the voice of dissent.

The day would also be remembered for the use of Marshals, for the first time in the history of Indian democracy, to evict the dissenting members from the Rajya Sabha. One can disagree with the procedure these members have adopted for opposing the bill but it has also to be seen in the context of the insistence to follow the concept of `might is right' too. A frustrated minority has no other option but to react in a manner which might, some time, seems to be indecent and uncivilised.

The day would be also be remembered for the famous quote of Arun Jaitely, leader of the opposition, that the majority of the upper house, Rajya Sabha, is in favor of the Women Reservation Bill (without sub-quotas for Other Backward Classes and SCs and STs) because they sincerely desires the empowerment of the Indian Women. What he failed to mention was the elitist character of the present Rajya Sabha where privileged classes dominate as far as the numerical strength is concerned. With this farce the nation has witnessed another live demonstration of `might is right' after the demolition of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya by goons of the ideology, to which he belongs, in 1992.

Is it not true that unde the provision of the current Bill, women would get reservation only in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas (State Legislatures) and not in Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and State Councils (Upper House of State legisltaures) in several states where they exist.

Every citizen wishes to know from the pushers of WRB, why reservations for women have been confined to Lok Sabha and State Legislatures only.

The day would also be remembered for the misuse and exploitation of the issue of gender justice by members of the elite and privileged classes who control national parties from Right to Left, who are hell-bent to deny just rights and share in decision-making to the underprivileged and minorities. These privileged men and women have successfully imitated and copied the maneuverings of the white elites of the United States who have exploited gender discrimination by clubbing it with racial discrimination and thereby decimating Afro-American groups.

This day would also be remembered for ignoring the hard fact that during the last 60 years, national polity has failed to honour the promises and assurances of none other than the stalwarts of the freedom struggle, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, given in the Constituent Assembly to the minorities after Muslim members Begum Aizaz Rasool and Hafiz Tajammul Hussain moved amendments to exclude Muslims from the provisions of reservation in May 1949, that the nation would give fair justice to the minorities.

Who can deny that Muslims are the most decimated community today, educationally, economically and politically. Their women face double edge of discrimination, in comparison to women of other religions, being a muslim and bieng a women. Just 14 muslim women succeeded in reaching to Lok Sabha and that constitutes mere 2.5 percent of the total elected women members in the history of last 60 years.

If we scrutinise the position of Muslims in corridors of power, we would find that muslims have less than one third of their due representation in the Lok Sabha.

In West Bengal which is under the rule of an ultra secular Left alliance for close to three decades, the condition of Muslims is worse because of the deliberate attempts of the Left leaders to exploit the issue of security to deprive the Muslims of WB of their educational, economical and political rights. Sachar Committee pointed out the plight of the Muslim of West Bengal. The percentage of Muslims in the WB state legislature stands at around four percent while they represent over a quarter of that state's total population. It was amusing to hear the fractured and distorted argument put forward by female face of the CPM in the Rajya Sabha Mrs. Brinda Karat that the women reservation at the local bodies level had indeed empowered Muslim women as 10 out of 50 women elected in Hyderabad Municipal Corporation were Muslims. What she failed to mention was that all these seats are predominantly Muslim-dominated. How can a municipal corporation seat having around 5000 or so voters be compared with sprawling assembly and Parliamentary seats.

It is also history that for two consecutive terms, in the state legislature of Madhya Pradesh, where Muslims constitutes about nine percent of the total population, the representation of Muslims in the state legislature was nil.

Even in Delhi, the capital of the nation, where the Muslim population stands over 12 percent of the total population, their representation is just seven percent in state legislature. Out of Delhi's seven members in the Lok Sabha, Muslims have none in spite of the fact that Muslims constitute more than 27 percent of the total voters in the North East Delhi Parliamentray constituency.

This day would also be remembered for the true exposure of Muslim representatives in different political parties and their lack of courage by remaining mute spectators when history was inked with legislative provision to shrink the political space for the future generations of the Muslim community in a democratic nation.

Sacchar Committe have pointed that majority of the seats reserved for the SC and ST's have muslim concentration and with the reservations of women, without sub-quota for muslim women, the options for muslims would be limited to just 45 percent of the general seats and these might be those seats which have marginal percentage of muslim electorates.

In May 1949, two Muslim representatives had sealed the fate of the Muslim community by moving amendments to exclude Muslims from reservation, the year 2010 witnessed indifferent attitude of most of the 20 Muslim representatives in Rajya Sabha towards safeguarding the democratic interests of their coming generations.

Who can deny that during elections, secular political parties deny tickets to Muslim aspirants on the ground that winnabilty is the deciding factor and not a candidate's religion.

It is an irony that a stalwart of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's stature was asked to contest from the Muslim-dominated constituency of Rampur and the national icon Azharuddin was morphed into a "Muslim candidate" in Moradabad during the last general elections. The examples of Maulana Azad and Azharuddin, undoubtly exposed the weaknesses of our secular polity and democratic process and the prejudices Muslims have to face during hustings.

This day would also be remembered for the second constitutional provision in the history of young India which would shrink the share of Muslims in the fruits of power after the imposition of the religious restriction on Article 341 of the Indian Constitution way back in 1950 in the shape of a presidential order that defined that only believers in a certain faith were entitled to reservation.

No doubt, the Bill in its present form, would further alienate Muslims and create deep mistrust and frustration in the minds of younger generations. The day when this deep distrust and sense of frustration would be further cemented, for which the foundation have already been laid, that would be one of the saddest in the history of the evolution of a strong, vibrant, secular and inclusive India. To avoid that we needs to shed our arrogance and evolve a way to create trust and convey a message of care and inclusiveness to all, irrespective of their numerical strength for an integrated strong nation.

It is for the polity of the nation now to decide how they wish to register "9th March" in the history of the evolution of a vibrant India.

Navaid Hamid is Secretary of South Asian Council for Minorities (SACM) and member of National Integration Council
 

 

 

 

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