Sir — How far will the India-Pakistan talks be productive' This question has been poking its ugly head ever since the idea of a fresh round of talks between the two countries was floated. Among the many reasons for this is the sudden declaration of the foreign minister of Pakistan to give up the issue of Kashmir. On India’s part, there has always been the oft-expressed desire to talk about trade and other commercial issues. However, the sticky issue of Kashmir — invariably raised by Pakistan — always made progress of such talks difficult. What could have made Pakistan alter its rigid stance so easily' Or is it an indication that there is some other issue which may thicken the curtain between the two countries again' Given that the offer to break ice has come from Pakistan this time, and without any obvious prodding by the United States of America, India has little option but to graciously accept the offer. But keeping an eye out for any hidden agenda shouldn’t harm.
Sangeeta Basu, Malda
Men on top
Sir — It was not surprising that the Central government, as is its wont, would once against fool women that the second-longest pending bill in Parliament would be passed in its original form in this session of Parliament. It was also not unusual that the political parties could not reach a consensus on the bill. The same drama which has been enacted before was repeated on May 6 this year also and till the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government remains in power, it will continue to be repeated every time the bill is brought before the house.
It is shameful for parliamentary democracy that despite purporting to be in favour of the women’s reservation bill, all major parties, including the BJP, the Congress and the left, reneged on their promise. The bill was once again stalled by unruly acts of some parliamentarians who, in spite of belonging to smaller political parties, could force their choice on the majority members. It will not be unfair to suggest that perhaps the apparently pro-bill members were in cohorts with the anti-bill members and engineered the furore in the house because they, any way, cannot see women having 33 per cent seats in the two houses. Had the prime minister been sincere in getting the bill passed, he could have done so in the manner the Prevention of Terrorism Act was cleared amid huge protests in Parliament. To avoid being blackmailed by a handful of unruly legislators who are capable of stalling the passage of a bill altogether, the suggestion to abolish the immunity of parliamentarians in the house should be considered. Perhaps then the government will have no excuse for not passing the women’s bill by a majority vote.
Madhu Agrawal, Delhi
Sir — Today, there can be no doubts about the fact that women are in no way inferior to men. They now occupy eminent positions in banks, industries, the media and so on by virtue of their intelligence, education and merit, and also do their work honestly. The argument that only their occupying of a reserved number of seats in Parliament and the legislatures will help improve the status of women is flawed. Seats do not need to be reserved for women. What is required is encouragement to women through free and subsidized education and the raising of awareness of their rights. Besides, reservation, if any, should be based on economic conditions of the individual and not on the basis of caste, creed, religion and gender. We have seen for the past five decades, reservation has only benefited select few families and given room to massive frauds. By women’s reservation, there is every possibility that only family members of politicians and their dynasties will get to occupy the seats in the legislature. Instead of worrying about women’s reservation, our parliamentarians should instead worry about ways to limit criminalization of politics and end corruption.
B.S. Ganesh, Bangalore
Sir — The male-dominated political system in the Indian democracy somehow does not want to share power with a potentially threatening women leadership. The women reservation bill has been pushed aside everytime the matter has come to Parliament for a vote. The practical problem facing the male legislators is the possibility that they will have to vacate 180 seats for the women representatives from their respective constituencies.
Women are undoubtedly as competent as men in political representation. However, the impasse has to be resolved. The best way to do it is to bring down the proposed reservation from 33 per cent to 25 per cent for both the general and scheduled caste/scheduled tribe categories. This formula might be acceptable to all parliamentarians.
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore
Sir — Why should anyone continue to insist on the passage of the women’s reservation bill' Panchayat seats have been reserved for women for over a decade. Has this prevented them from becoming tools in the hands of their politically motivated relatives and husbands' Has it pushed forward the women’s movement, stopped bride-burning and rapes in villages, or minimized corruption' If there are doubts about this one needs only to look at the panchayat elections being held in West Bengal’s villages.
Sohag Ray, Calcutta
Sir — Not only is the government insincere about passing the women’s bill, it is trying to curb whatever little rights and freedom women in India have by making it mandatory for mothers to breast-feed their babies for at least six months.
Shahana Ghosh, Calcutta