India's 'historic' women's reservation bill passed by lower house

Legislation that would required a third of members to be female politicians takes major step to becoming law

Indian MP Navneet Kaur Rana arrives to attend the special session of the parliament in New Delhi. AP
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India’s lower house of parliament has passed a “historic” bill that would reserve one in three legislative seats for women.

The women's reservation bill passed late on Wednesday and proposes 33 per cent of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house) and 1,370 of the 4,109 seats in state legislative assemblies are reserved for female politicians. It will also give sub-reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The legislation is unlikely to be implemented until after 2027, triggering allegations from the opposition that it is a political gimmick ahead of next year's national elections.

The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha with the support of 454 parliamentarians.

Only two members, Asaduddin Owaisi and Syed Imtiyaz Jaleel of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen, opposed the bill, saying it should reserve places for Muslim women.

It will now be tabled in Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, for debate on Thursday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who introduced the bill, officially titled Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, said he was “delighted” with the passage of the “historic” legislation.

“The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam is a historic legislation which will further boost women empowerment and will enable even greater participation of women in our political process,” Mr Modi said on X, formerly Twitter.

The debate lasted for eight hours and saw 60 members including 27 women take part. The voting process took two a further two hours, with members casting their ballots using paper slips.

Home Minister Amit Shah said that a census will be carried out to implement the bill after next year's elections.

The census will be followed by the demarcation of new boundaries for parliamentary and assembly constituencies.

Opposition parties have demanded that the bill be implemented immediately.

“It is the demand of the Congress to implement the bill immediately,” said Sonia Gandhi of the Indian National Congress, who led the debate.

She also urged the inclusion of the provisions for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other minority groups in the bill.

Schedule Caste are reserved categories for people belonging to lower caste in the Hindu caste hierarchy system. Scheduled Tribes are reserved categories for indigenous tribal communities. The Other Backward Classes are described as groups who are educationally or socially disadvantaged.

The bill was first introduced in Lok Sabha in 1996 but failed to win approval. It was later proposed in 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2008.

It was passed in Rajya Sabha in 2010 following two days of tense debate, with marshals escorting some of the opposition politicians. The bill then lapsed after failing to make it through the lower house.

The government, which is holding a five-day special session of parliament this week, met cabinet ministers late on Monday before introducing the bill.

There are currently 78 female politicians in the lower house, about 14 per cent of the 543 members. Most state assemblies are made up of 10 to 12 per cent women, the government said.

Updated: September 21, 2023, 4:41 AM