India’s Parliament has approved landmark legislation reserving a third of the seats in its powerful lower house and state legislatures for women to ensure more equal representation, ending a 27-year that the bill is stalled amid the lack of consensus among political parties.
But the wait is still not over, because the new law will not apply to the national elections next year.
It will be implemented in the 2029 national elections after a new census and adjustment of voting districts after next year’s polls, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in a debate in the upper house of Parliament of India on Thursday evening.
The lower house of Parliament approved the legislation on Wednesday with a vote of 454-2, and the upper house passed it unanimously, 214-0, on Thursday.
India’s once-in-a-decade census was to be held in 2021 but has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All opposition parties supported the bill and said the delay in its implementation was an injustice to women. They demand that it be used in the next national elections, which will be held before May next year.
Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, said the new legislation could be implemented immediately and accused the Modi government of adopting a diversionary tactic. “This is not a complicated issue,” he told reporters.
Her mother, Sonia Gandhi, also a lawmaker of the Congress party, said that women in India have been waiting for this opportunity for years. “And now they’re being asked to wait a few more years. How many years?” he asked on Wednesday during a debate in Parliament.
Under the legislation, the reservation of seats for women will continue for 15 years and can be extended by Parliament. Only women will be allowed to contest 33% of the seats in the elected lower house of Parliament and the state legislatures.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government wants more women to participate in the country’s development process.
Modi was garlanded and offered flower bouquets by his party’s women lawmakers and other workers when he arrived at the party headquarters on Friday to attend an event where he was felicitated for the new law.
“Our party has been trying for the last three decades to ensure the participation of women in democracy through this law. This was our commitment, and today we have fulfilled it,” Modi said.
Dola Sen, an opposition lawmaker of the All India Trinamool Congress Party, questioned whether the government was serious about implementing the quota of seats for women by delaying it until 2029.
In the 1990s, India introduced a similar seat reservation – also set at one-third – for women in elections for local bodies.
Home Minister Shah said four attempts by three governments since 1996 had failed to pass the latest legislation in Parliament.
Women make up more than 48% of India’s more than 1.4 billion people but have 15.1% representation in Parliament, compared to the international average of 24%, Law and Justice Minister Arjun said. Ram Meghwal. In Indian state legislatures, women hold about 10% of the seats.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress party have been trying to draft legislation in Parliament to create gender parity and inclusive governance since 1996. They have faced opposition from regional parties, who argue that the seats reserved for women are cornered by the educated elite from urban areas, leaving poor and less educated women unrepresented.
But opposition to the bill has faded over the years, “giving way to broader symbolic politics where it is important to be seen as responsive to emerging constituencies – such as women,” wrote the Indian Express newspaper.
India is a patriarchal society where the social status of work done by women is often considered lower than that done by men. Men also generally enjoy more rights than women.