The Women’s Reservation Bill has, justly, invited much interest and celebration. The passionate supporters and opponents are legion, but I’ve struggled hard to find a nuanced perspective on the entire matter, until I read Pratap B Mehta’s op-ed in the Express (here).
I think the op-ed is spot on, and captures what may distress people – who strongly support women’s rights and empowerment – about the Bill. I liked this para in particular:
“The third issue is a normative one. We know that in terms of how power operates in society the idea that we are free and equal as individuals is a fiction. All kinds of hierarchies of gender, caste and class characterise the operations of power, and in a healthy polity these need to be redressed. Affirmative action is often necessary in this context. But Indian politics has been dangerously close to enshrining other normative propositions that are dangerous for democracy. The first is the equation of identity with reason, where the assumption is policies track the identities of those who promulgate them. This is often true as a matter of fact, but legitimating it into an organising principle is detrimental to the idea of public reason. It needs to be asked whether it befits a free society to restrict the choice of candidates available to particular constituencies based on particular identity. While it could be argued that de facto this choice is restricted for a whole host of reasons anyway, there is still a great deal of difference between a de facto reality and a dejure acceptance of a principle that it should be restricted.”