Where have all the women gone? The land of disappearing women might ask this again upon looking at the two Houses of Parliament. India has been numbered 111 in a list of 189 countries ranked by the Inter Parliamentary Union according to the number of women representatives in Parliament. Among 544 members in the Lok Sabha, 60 are women, while 26 are women among the 241 members in the Rajya Sabha. Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh do far better, as does China. Clearly, elected women political leaders, either of the nation or of the states, are icing on a cake that does not exist.
Glib condemnation, however, will not help because there is a tangle of complicated issues here. Women are subject to innumerable forms of exploitation, torture, oppression and violence in India. But that cannot be directly related to the scarcity of women representatives in Parliament, because some of the countries far ahead of India on the list do not have a spotless record with regard to attitudes towards women. Neither is development alone an indicator, for Sri Lanka, with its human development indices far better than India’s, is the only neighbour with a lower percentage of women in parliament. It may be relevant that a tremendous resistance across the board, both overt and covert, has foiled the passage of the bill for the reservation of women’s seats in Parliament: that is certainly a clue to established politicians’ attitudes. But ideally speaking, why should women’s seats be reserved? They should seize them on their own steam. Perhaps the problem should be studied from other angles. If they wanted to, Indian women could do anything. Why do they not want to? It may be time to examine more closely this lack of interest to understand why India makes such a poor showing on the IPU list.