NEW DELHI: They dug in their heels and let their voices soar as they rallied for passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill by Lok Sabha in the monsoon session. Down Parliament Street on muggy on Thursday, thousands gathered. Saris took on a role of their own -- red-bordered West Bengal tangails and light Lucknowi cottons --- hung as banners hosting signatures from all over: Rajasthan to Assam, Haryana to Kerala. Leading lights Javed Akhtar, Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi powered the demonstration along with political leaders Brinda Karat, Jayanthi Natarajan, D Raja and a host of MPs from various states.
Organised by the Alliance for 33%, a conglomeration of more than a whopping 350 organisations across India, it was both a moment to celebrate and push the bill. No wonder it is said that labour pain is all about pushing the issue.
It is imperative, said the multi-party leaders, for the UPA to devise a strategy to ensure Lok Sabha passes the Bill. "Go by the rules of the House, we say: if marshals are required, use them," said Annie Raja, National Federation of Indian Women. Urging the government not to resort to namby-pamby tactics of politics of silence, she said, "The government promised to pass it in 100 days. It’s high time now. It’s not an easy Bill. It’s a bill for gender justice, of social reform. You can’t get away by simply letting it fall through between the gaps." Added Aidwa’s Sudha Sundararaman, "We’ve crossed half the well. If you don’t crossthe remaining half, you’ll fall right in."
Activists say it’s a now or never moment. "Right now, all powerful positions held by women: President Pratibha Patil, Speaker Meira Kumar, leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj, and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Strike now when the iron is hot. Pass the bill this session, and India leapfrogs ahead, stall it now and India slides back a 100 years. Is baar aar ya paar," said activist Ranjana Kumari.
Every time party leaders are approached, the refrain is, "Behenji hum apke sath hai". That's the chorus at the individual level, where party leaders such as Lalu Prasad Yadav distance themselves from the party's sentiment," says leading women’s activist Jyotsna Chatterjee. Akhtar cautioned against such elements who would support in public and sabotage the passage of the Bill for 33% reservation for women in Parliament. As Raja said, "Really, the issue is more about 181 men having to vacate their seats than 181 women getting into Parliament."
In fact, the most vociferous were Dalit and Muslim representatives, through whom naysayers are trying to split consensus on the Bill. "Please, we need no-one else to speak on our behalf," said Azra Abidi of Muslim Women's Forum. "We are clear that we understand our constitutional rights and our sharia rights. Pooh-poohing the quota within quota for Muslim women, she says, "You can see politicians are trying to complicate matters. right now we want 33% for women in general. That's it."
From Lady Sri Ram graduates to ragpickers, school students to sarpanchs from Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, from Kerala, Karnataka and Gujarat --- sons, daughters and husbands were all there to make their voice matter. "Had we known earlier about this rally, we’d have seen greater participation from our college," said LSR’s vice-principal Jayashree Deshpande. Facing Parliament House, a Bluebells student earnestly asked, "It will happen, won’t it?"
•Activists rally for 33% women's reservation
timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 29 July 2010