The thirty-three per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state Assemblies remains an unfulfilled promise of the governments, which have been talking of empowering women time to time. From the governments of Prime Ministers HD Deve Gowda, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh each introduced the Bill once or more. Only the tenure of Inder Kumar Gujral did not see such an attempt, but that was essentially a continuation of the same United Front government that had done so under Deve Gowda, with a change of PM. As the Modi government has entered in the second lap with absolute majority, one hopes to see the Bill is again gaining traction. Though reservations in India have had a mixed track record, and continue to be a source of contentious politics, they have also played a role in challenging age-old social barriers. Nevertheless, pleas to modify reservations, such as limiting it to one generation of beneficiaries, rigidly excluding the more affluent “creamy layer” among them, and exclusion from highly technical disciplines, are all worthy of debate. But what is undeniable is that the status of women in India, who as a category far surpass the numbers of any other group facing discrimination, continues to lag well behind the global norms. From the womb onwards, women still have it rough in the world’s second most populous nation. Despite anti-sex selection laws, and some improvement in recent years, the gender ratio remains skewed with fewer female than male births. Programmes like the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign championed by the PM, as well as a growing number of individual success stories, are also gradually stigmatising discrimination. The latter include women fighter pilots, auto rickshaw drivers, sporting stars, CEOs, entrepreneurs and many more. However, attitudinal changes in society take a long time.
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