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Indian bill reserves third of legislative seats for women
Sydney Morning Herald - March 11, 2010
New Delhi – Indian MPs have approved a historic bill that sets aside one-third of all legislative seats for women.
The bill, which drew fierce opposition before its passage in the upper house of Parliament on Tuesday, would guarantee seats for women in the national legislature and all state assemblies in the world's largest democracy.
It won the backing of 186 of the 248 members of the Rajya Sabha, but must still be passed by the lower house, the Lok Sabha, and state assemblies.
"The bill is a historic step, joyous step forward," the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, said. "It is celebration of our womanhood. This is a momentous development in the long journey of empowering women."
At present women occupy 59 of 545 seats in the lower house and 21 in the 248-seat upper house.
An attempt to pass the legislation was first made in 1996 and it has been consistently blocked since by various political groups.
Communists and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party united behind the left-leaning ruling Congress party, which faced virulent and occasionally unruly resistance from regional socialist parties.
The bill was again tabled on Monday, International Women's Day, but the socialists forced repeated adjournments and at one point ripped up the law, threw shreds of paper at the Speaker and grabbed his microphone. Seven members were suspended. A parliamentary security team was deployed to keep order on Tuesday.
Opponents said the bill lacked specific quotas for women from lower castes and religious minorities. Similar objections had held it up on three other occasions over the past 14 years.
"We are being unfairly defamed as anti-women," said one opponent, Laloo Prasad Yadav, leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal party.
"All we want is that the women from real India, like those toiling in the farms and villages, are brought forward." (The Washington Post, Agence France-Presse)