Image source : oxford human rights hub 

Affirmative Action (Reservations) is a perfectly legal way to help disadvantaged groups who have historically suffered some or the other form of discrimination. The basic aim of reservations is to economically empower the disadvantaged groups so that they have a level playing field. Ideally, Reservations are supposed to be reviewed every few years. As the disadvantaged group gains, the reservation quota should reduce. This is supposed to based on NSSO Surveys, Census data (currently not captured), HRD Ministry & most importantly in case of women, from the National Commission for Women (NCW) .

However, in India this particular system of treating Reservations strictly as a policy tool is broken. Affirmative action, time and again has been used for politics. No policy rethink has happened on the effectiveness of the exiting affirmative actions and how much have succeeded in eradicating discrimination against target groups.

Women in most part of world history have suffered discrimination and denied opportunities. Reservations could be considered a possible solution to correct this.

In India – 1/3rd of the seats in all local bodies are reserved for women as per constitutional amendments passed in 1993. Over the years, 16 states have increased this quota to 50% in panchayati raj institutions. In addition some states allow women reservations in Education for eg: Maharashtra gives 30% seat reservations in Govt institutes.

So, has reservations helped women to break a few glass ceilings. Honestly, there has been little research to prove policy effectiveness. In local bodies, there has been constant allegations that most of the seats reserved for women are contested and won by wives/female relatives of popular politicians of the area. Reservations in institutes might have helped but there is hardly any collated data. Although I can say that, it is good to see more women participation in local governance.

Feminists in India as well as all(including Men) policymakers need to look at reservations dispassionately. Providing reservations to half the population might not be the best strategy, except in certain areas like education. When the goal is to strive for social change – reservations can only a small part of the strategy and not a panacea for all ills.

The feminist movement in India is also badly divided, with far fewer grass roots organisations than needed, especially in Rural India where women have traditionally faced more discriminations. There is great divisions across political lines, lack of collaborations among organisations and lack of agreement of policies. Feminists have also been slow to include ‘Men’ who are supportive of the movement into their fold. Many detractors have also used reservations as a plank to bash feminists.

As a senior female professor had told me – There is still a perception of feminists being “Home breakers” in rural India, which was shocking to me. And all this has hurt the feminist movement.

Ultimately it is about economic empowerment & equal opportunities. Property inheritance by the daughter and increasing participation in political parties could be other ways. The NCW needs to be given more powers to investigate or even prosecute certain cases. An aware women “vote bank” which fights misogyny at all levels might help in the long run more than just reservations.

But the jury is still out on female reservations and the feminists in India need to think hard & smart on this.

Ravi Singh

Author: Ravi Singh

I am an MBA grad working as a Consultant in an IT firm. You will always find me with a book or a Kindle in my hand during my spare time. Topics of interest: Tech news, Foreign Policy & Economics. Wannabe Entrepreneur!!