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Women reach end of quota tether

New Delhi, Dec. 16: A Parliament gherao, an indefinite hunger strike, a march with black flags. Women’s organisations are not ruling out any of these options to strike out openly at the Manmohan Singh government.

The reason for their anger is the Centre’s decision not to table the 33 per cent women’s reservation bill in Parliament’s winter session, which ends on Tuesday.

“We are ready for an aggressive form of action,” said a Left woman activist.

“The women are ready to go to jail. We have done enough of petitioning,” said Annie Raja, leader of the CPI-backed National Federation of Indian Women.

The United Progressive Aliiance has pushed through the thorny other backward classes quota bill in the teeth of protests from doctors, but clearly lacks the same resolve on the women’s bill.

“Sonia Gandhi is on record saying the men in her own party do not want the bill,” Raja said.

The bill, which reserves a third of Parliament and Assembly seats for women, has been hanging fire since 1996. Despite its assurances of getting the bill passed, the UPA government has failed the test every session for the last three years. Even Sonia has not been able to get the men in her party to take an aggressive stand in favour of women’s reservation.

The leader of the Lok Sabha, Pranab Mukherjee, told the House this week the government would get the bill enacted before its tenure was over. To the women, his statement sounded more like a cry of despair from the government than an assurance.

Parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has held out hope that the bill would be tabled in the next budget session.

The women, however, believe that the UPA government, like its predecessors, is taking them for a ride. “Congressmen are inciting Lalu Prasad (the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief and railway minister who scuppered the bill’s tabling last month),” a woman activist said.

The women’s bodies, who have repeatedly petitioned all political parties, feel betrayed.

“We must have met them more than a hundred times. The Prime Minister assured us the bill would be brought in this session,” an activist said.

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