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Efforts to Reserve India Parliament Seats for Women Postponed

  • Anjana Pasricha

In India, efforts to pass a controversial bill reserving one-third of seats in parliament for women have been postponed, following an uproar by some lawmakers. The Congress Party-led ruling alliance had hoped to pass the bill on International's Women's Day.

The vote on the Women's Reservation Bill, which proposes to set aside one-third of all seats in parliament and state assemblies for women, was due to take place Monday. But opposition from some lawmakers in parliament forced the government to defer the vote for one day.

Socialist lawmakers belonging to regional parties opposed the tabling of the bill. They tore copies of the bill when it was introduced. They also tried to tear out microphones, shouted slogans, and refused to allow a debate, forcing parliament to be adjourned.

The disruptions were not unexpected. Similar scenes have been witnessed in the past when earlier governments tried to introduce the bill. As a result the controversial legislation has been in cold storage for 14 years.

This time the Congress Party led ruling alliance had expressed confidence it could pass, because it is backed by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

But a handful of regional, socialist parties continue to strongly oppose the bill. They have said they will withdraw support for the government if it presses ahead with the controversial legislation.

Laloo Prasad Yadav is the leader of one of these parties, the Rashtriya Janata Dal. He says the bill will not help women who really need to be empowered.

Yadav says women who are poor, who belong to lower castes and minorities, are the ones who need reservations.

These parties are pressing for quotas within the reserved seats for women from backward classes. They are accusing the government of trying to pass the controversial legislation without a political consensus.

The government is defending itself against the charge. Law Minister Veerappa Moily says although the government has sufficient support to pass the bill, they want a debate before putting it to vote.

"A bill of this nature, particularly a very historic bill, and a very revolutionary bill, and you know it has a lot of implications. So that is why you cannot bulldoze it, there has to be discussion," Moily said.

The powerful head of the Congress Party Sonia Gandhi had hoped the passage of the bill would be a gift to the women of India on International Women's Day. She is among a small number of women in the male-dominated political sphere in India.