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Women's Bill: 14 years of roadblocks, ruckus and torn papers

March 09, 2010 20:36 IST

The 14-year-old journey of the Women's Reservation Bill was marked by high drama and roadblocks in each of its outings in Parliament, before the historic measure finally cleared its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday. The battle for greater representation to women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies was routinely punctuated by frayed tempers and war of words, which sometimes got physical, as different governments since 1996 tried to get the Women's Reservation Bill passed in the Parliament without success.

The Bill also lapsed each time the House was dissolved and was later reintroduced by the government of the day. The path-breaking Bill, greenlighted by the Rajya Sabha after some hiccups to create legislative history, was first introduced in the Lok Sabha by the Deve Gowda government on September 12, 1996. Snatching of papers from presiding officers and ministers and scuffles became a familiar scene each time the Bill made its way to the Parliament, before it was aborted.

The opposition to the Constitution Amendment Bill, to reserve one-third of seats in the legislatures, hit a nadir on Monday when some opposition members tried to attack Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari and disrupted the tabling of the Bill.

The opposition to the Bill had its own share of lows when Janata Dal - United veteran Sharad Yadav, a critic of the legislation, asked in June 1997, "Do you think these women with short hair can speak for women, for our women".

In the Bill's previous foray on May 6, 2008, a resolute government introduced the legislation in the Rajya Sabha yet another time, amid high drama and scuffles between members.

With Congress parliamentarians providing protective cover, Law Minister H R Bhardwaj introduced the Bill in the midst of Samajwadi Party members trying to snatch its copies from the hands of the minister. SP members stormed the well soon after the House resumed at noon, in an apparent attempt to stall the introduction of the Bill, which they had been opposing along with the Janata Dal - United.

However, the disruptions could not dissuade the government from going ahead and introducing the Bill. As agitated SP member Abu Asim Azmi and his party colleagues tried to snatch the Bill copy from Bhardwaj, Congress members intervened and Renuka Chaudhary, then the women and child development minister, repulsed the attempts by pushing Azmi away.

Expecting trouble, Bharadwaj was seated in the middle row of the treasury benches flanked by two women ministers, Kumari Selja and Ambika Soni. On top of it, Congress women Parliamentarians Jayanti Natarajan and Alka Balram Kshatriya guarded Bharadwaj from SP members.

Top leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition Jaswant Singh, were witness to the high drama. Several Lok Sabha lawmakers were also seated in the gallery.

'Take back the Women's Reservation Bill' chanted SP members from the well of the Rajya Sabha.

After the Bill introduced by the Deve Gowda government on September 12, 1996 failed to get approval in the Lok Sabha, it was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee chaired by Geeta Mukherjee, which presented its report to the Lok Sabha on December 9, 1996. Atal Bihari Vajpayee's National Democratic Alliance government re-introduced the bill in 1998 the 12th Lok Sabha.

When Law minister M Thambidurai rose to introduce the bill on July 13, 1998, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Surendra Prasad Yadav went to the well of the House, snatched it from Speaker G M C Balayogi and tore it to bits.

The NDA government re-introduced the bill in the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999. It moved the Bill again amid pandemonium in 2002 and Left parties and the Congress give assurances to support the bill if it is taken up. The Bill was introduced twice in Parliament in 2003 and after an all-party meeting, BJP spokesperson Vijay Malhotra said, "We want the Bill passed in this session itself, with or without consensus".

In May that year, at an all-party meeting, Speaker Manohar Joshi announced deferring of the Bill. Protesting MPs rushed to the well of the House during Question Hour, saying they would never allow the Bill to be passed in the present form. Just before the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, Vajpayee blamed the Congress for stalling the Bill and said the BJP and its allies would pass the legislation after getting a decisive mandate in 2004 elections.

In 2004, the UPA government included it in the Common Minimum Programme, which said, "The UPA government will take the lead to introduce legislation for one-third reservation for women in Vidhan Sabhas and in the Lok Sabha."

In 2005, the BJP announced complete support for the bill. Subsequently, it yielded to the objections of Uma Bharati and several others within the party, who stressed on quota within quota for women, on the basis of caste.

In 2008, the government tabled the bill in the Rajya Sabha so that the legislation does not lapse. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, and Personnel recommended passage of the Bill in December 2009. The Bill was cleared by the Union Cabinet on February 25, 2010.

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