Women’s reservations and the sub-quota tangle
by Mahesh Chandrasekaran on 02 Aug 2009 5 Comments

Some months ago, a bill to provide women reservation of 33% seats in Parliament and State Assemblies was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. One reason cited for the proposed measure was/is that though women comprise nearly 50 percent of the population, they have a meagre representation in the legislatures.

If that is the reason, shouldn’t at least 60 percent seats be reserved for persons between the ages of 25-40, as they constitute that percentage of the population and are also inadequately represented? A study might reveal that short men forming a substantial portion of the population are under-represented in parliament and based on “population proportion” logic, there ought to be reservation for them too.

However, leaders of caste groups (such as JDU, SP etc) have -

A] Termed the proposed measure as a conspiracy to weaken/finish off the backward castes / class; and

B] Demanded within the women’s quota, a sub-quota for women of SC/ST/OBC/ Minorities, mischievously called ‘weaker sections’ (implying that the ‘rest’ belong to some ‘stronger sections’).

Demand ‘b’ is justified on the ground that if there were no sub-quota for SC/ST/OBC/ Minorities, ‘Upper Caste’ women will dominate the women’s quota. It is worth examining whether there is any truth and logic to this demand, in the light of the following facts / questions:

- SC/STs already have seats reserved for them in Parliament and state legislatures. Providing them an additional sub-quota in the women’s quota would amount to increased reservation. Also, SC/STs can contest ‘unreserved’ seats and thus win additional seats.

- Currently, there is no religion-based reservation in India, hence there cannot be a ‘quota’ for minority women? ‘Minorities’ currently includes Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists, and in some states, Jains. Which seats will be reserved for them and on what basis?

- In five states (J&K, Punjab, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland), Hindus are in a minority. Would they be officially treated as minorities in these states and be entitled to electoral quotas? If so, would there be a sub-caste quota for Hindus? If so, for which castes and in what proportion?

- Similarly, there is no reservation for the Socially & Educationally Backward Classes (euphemistically called OBCs). The NCBC list has over 2500 castes. Which seat will be reserved for which caste and on what basis? Would the ‘creamy layer’ be excluded? Moreover, the NCBC Act says and the Supreme Court has also repeatedly said that the OBC-caste list should be reviewed and revised on the basis of empirical evidence. Surely, that needs to be done first to exclude the dominant and super-powerful castes who have forced their way into the Central/State lists.

- The demand for caste/communal quotas in women’s reservation has come from the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal United, which rules Bihar. For the major part of the last three decades, UP and Bihar have been ruled by these outfits that claim to represent only the interests SC/ST/ OBC/ Minorities (though they get votes from other citizens as well). In Tamil Nadu, this situation has prevailed for almost a century. Currently, in Tamil Nadu, 233 of the 234 MLAs belong to the SC/ST/BC/Minorities. In the circumstances, is there any logic in the claim that the SC/ST/BC/Minorities women will not get tickets? Further, is there any logic in categorising these dominant, super-represented groups as “weaker sections”, “backward”, or deprived?

- In the North-East, in Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, & AP, 94.70%, 85.50%, 84.70%, & 63.70% of the population comprise Christian-tribals. The MPs/MLAs elected from these states are invariably Christian-tribals. Can it be said that they are underrepresented in their own legislative assemblies? Surely, Hindus who are a clear minority in these states qualify for the sub-quota.

- In the 2009 elections to the Lok Sabha, the Congress in Karnataka gave all 28 tickets to the SC/ST/BC/Minorities, and yet an utterly mischievous campaign has been launched that if reservation for women is provided in Parliament/Lok Sabha, women of the alleged ‘Upper Caste’ would consume all tickets! (1)

- Suppose the major parties (Congress & BJP) were to give all tickets to “upper caste” ladies, what is there to prevent the caste outfits (JDU/SP/BSP) from giving all tickets to the SC/ST/BC/Minorities? Surely, there is no restriction.

In the case of reservation in jobs/education seats, there is at least the alibi that the SC/ST/BC/Minorities have been deprived of “education” for long and hence need reservation to compete. [This argument should not apply to Christian Scheduled Castes or Tribals as the church is the leading provider of school, college and professional education in the country]. But even if one accepts this hugely concocted grievance as true, how it is preventing the SC/ST/OBC/ Minorities from contesting seats in the legislature?

Ms. S. Fatima (SP MLA) writing in the Pioneer (“Quota within quota can’t be denied” 27 June 2009) claims there are only two members of the ‘minority’ community in the 403- member UP Assembly. The SP has six women MLAs in the Assembly, and two out of six makes it 33% in the SP camp alone. This confirms the point that there is nothing to prevent caste/communal parties from giving all tickets to the ‘weaker sections’! (2)

More amusing is her claim that “if there is any…dilly-dally, the women may not need reservation. They will come to the forefront on their own without any reservation…the way they are already doing well in education”! This raises the question – when something can be easily achieved by effort, what is the need for women’s reservation in legislatures?

Equally amusing is her claim that “reservation for women” will cleanse politics of criminal elements. She cites the example of criminal contestants of the BSP being defeated in the recent polls, but conveniently doesn’t mention that the BSP is run by a lady who probably decided who should get tickets!

Of all arguments, the one that takes the cake is that SC/ST/BC/Minorities women are oppressed in their homes, hence a sub-quota is needed in the women’s quota! An amazing solution for a deprivation within the confines of one’s home!

One can go on about the hate and malevolence that forms the basis of the campaign against the so-called “upper caste” women. But the constitution does not recognise anybody as “upper caste” and there is no evidence that anyone has sought such a status in independent India. Thus one is left wondering who the Upper Castes are! Or is it yet another conspiracy to portray a section of the society as perennial wrongdoers and further divide society?


1] No tickets, Brahmins cry foul (K Shiva Kumar (expressbuzz) 02/04/09)
2] Quota within quota can’t be denied (Daily Pioneer 27/06/09)
3] No of women in UP LA (BSP – 9/216, SP – 6/89, BJP - 5/48, Cong - 1/19, LD – 1/9)

The author is an independent researcher

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top