Against reserving seats for women

Empowering women is not quite the same as creating powerful women

(From this blog’s archives, a post first published on August 23rd, 2005.)

No nation can stand proud if it discriminates against any of its citizens. Certainly no society can claim to be part of the modern civilized world unless it treats its women on par with men. The time for genuine and full empowerment of women is here and now.” (the Indian prime minister) asserted. [IE]

Dr Manmohan Singh is on the money when he identifies discrimination against women as one of the biggest problems that India faces. Unfortunately, his government is not quite on the money as far as the solution goes — reserving a third of seats at the national and state legislatures does not sufficiently guarantee that India will change its attitude towards women. Worse, it may convey an impression that the problem is being addressed while not amounting to much in reality. But this may explain why Indian politicians are excited about the move in the first place.

Firstly, reservations and entitlements are not the best way for a democratic country to order its society. History has shown that once an entitlement or a reservation is put in place, it is impossible to revoke — regardless of whether the purpose for which it was intended has been achieved or not. Reservations create no incentives for those entitled to them to break away from them and enter the mainstream. Besides it is a fallacy to believe that women legislators solve women’s problems better. And the idea of free and fair elections is for the electorate to choose who, in its combined opinion, is the best person for the job. Interfering with the course of free and fair elections seriously undermines democracy.

Secondly, reservations for women are ineffective from another, practical, point of view. That is because while it will empower those women who make it to parliament, it will not do much for the majority of women who don’t. Creating powerful women is not quite the same as empowering women. And that is an important distinction. The streets of Chennai, New Delhi or Lucknow, all in states ruled by a powerful women, are no more safer from the streets of Bangalore or Kolkata which have male chief ministers.

Forget empowered women. In the worst case, reservations may not even create those powerful women. Packing parliament with 150 ‘Rabri Devis‘, elected as proxies for their male relatives will defeat the spirit and the purpose of the entire idea. Worse, it will also create 150 ‘Laloos‘ who can enjoy all the privileges of political power without being accountable to anyone. (Perhaps with the exception of their wives. But the jury is out on this.). Given the way electoral politics has come to be practised in India, this is a real possibility.

What then is the appropriate public policy response to what is arguably India’s single biggest challenge? Actually, Dr Manmohan Singh alluded to it further down his speech.

“We are pursuing legislation that will provide flexibility in working hours to women and encourage women’s employment in the industrial and services sector”, he said adding a Bill on protection of women from domestic violence has been passed and changes had been effected in the criminal procedure code and the Hindu Succession Act to empower women. [IE]

Indian women have been politically empowered (in law) since 26th January 1950. But economic and social empowerment has been elusive. Laws and regulations — sometimes introduced with the intention to protect them — have only led to their economic marginalisation. Other laws, like those allowing Muslims to follow a different civil code from people of other faiths, have led to cases like Shah Bano or Imrana.

For India to truly empower women, it does not need to have ‘gender sensitive legislation’ as Dr Manmohan Singh has proposed. It just needs to clean up the gender sensitivities in the existing body of legislation that distort the equality and undermine the empowerment that they already enjoy under Indian constitution.

The OBC reservations verdict and the national interest

A step on the road towards equality, merit and a quest for excellence

Excerpts from Mukul Asher’s DNA op-ed piece on the Supreme Court verdict on OBC reservations*:

The society’s need for competence and employable graduates has been balanced with provision of educational access to the OBCs.

The judgement of the Supreme Court (should) be respected in both letter and spirit. Those who are now trying to subvert the letter and spirit of the verdict should receive severe social and political disapproval.

India’s national interests are best served by ordering our society around equality, merit and a quest for excellence. The Supreme Court’s judgment should not be viewed as an end in itself, but rather as an intermediate step towards this goal. Continue reading “The OBC reservations verdict and the national interest”

The verdict on reservations and its implications

Five year reviews and creamy layer exclusions

Lex blogger Ninad Laud was at the Supreme Court when it gave its verdict on the reservations for OBCs in higher education. Head over to his blog for the details.

The implications of the verdict, he says, are:

Caste based reservations are to stay in educational institutions but minus the creamy layer. The silver lining in this verdict is the scope for review every 5 years. Thus whenever (if and when) we have the political will, a difference could be made to make these reservations meaningful rather than rendering them a mere political gimmick.

Let’s hope the political will does emerge some day!

Still keeping Victoria’s promise

But breaking Sardar Patel’s

There were over 554 Princely States within India’s boundaries in 1947. By the time the Constitution came into force on January 26th, 1950, every one of them had acceded to the Republic of India. That feat was made possible by the energy and ingenuity of two men: V P Menon, the secretary of the States department, and his political boss, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the Home Minister. Together the cajoled, coerced or convinced the Maharajas, Nawabs and other rulers to hand over political power to the Indian Union. In return the Republic of India made them solemn promises: their pensions, special privileges and rights were enshrined in the Constitution.

On October 12th, 1949, defending the guarantees that the Indian Union gave the former rulers, Sardar Patel told the Constituent Assembly: “These guarantees form part of the historic settlements which enshrine in them the consummation of the great ideal of geographical, political and economic unification of India, an ideal which, for centuries, remained a distant dream and which appeared as remote and as difficult of attainment as ever even after the advent of Indian independence… the minimum which we could offer to them as quid pro quo for parting with their ruling powers was to guaranteed to them privy purses and certain privileges on a reasonable and defined basis. the privy purse settlements are therefore in the nature of consideration for the surrender by the Rulers of all their ruling powers and also for the dissolution of the States as separate units… The Rulers have now discharged their part of the obligations to by transferring all ruling powers and by agreeing to the integration of their States. The main part of our obligation under these agreements is to ensure that the guarantees given by us in respect of Privy Purses are fully implemented. Our failure to do so would be a breach of faith and seriously prejudice the stability of the new order.”

Just two decades later, the Indira Gandhi government breached that faith. On December 28th, 1971, the 26th amendment to the Constitution abolished the privy purses and withdrew the recognition granted to all former rulers.

All, that is, except the Prince of Arcot.

Why the exception? Because, it turns out, that the Government of India is honouring a pledge made by Queen Victoria in 1867. The British colonial government, after applying the notorious doctrine of lapse, appointed Azim Jah as the Prince of Arcot, and awarded him a tax-free pension in perpetuity.

The Indian republic broke the promise it made. But it’s still keeping the one Queen Victoria made. Now isn’t that something?

The ‘Prince’ of Arcot can’t be sued

For calling himself the ‘Prince’ of Arcot

A personality, styling himself the “Prince of Arcot” was recently in the news for launching the latest salvo in the game of competitive intolerance. He played a role in getting the police to shut down an exhibition showing the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s intolerant policies against his subjects.

It was Aurangzeb who instituted the Nawabdom of ArcoSee updates below. But Mohammed Abdul Ali, an Indian citizen who calls himself a Nawab and has a website that describes him as the present “Prince of Arcot”, is in violation of the Indian constitution.

Part III. Article 18.
Abolition of titles.-
(1) No title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State.
[Constitution of India]

Mr Ali has violated my right to equality, a fundamental right, and your’s too, if you are an Indian citizen. He was already in violation of Article 18 before he abetted in the violation of Article 19 (freedom of expression). Retaining royal titles, shutting down those he disapproves, Mr Ali is acting as if India was still part of the Mughal empire.

But there is a prima facie case to take the case against the Nawab to the Supreme Court. It has original jurisdiction over violations of fundamental rights.

Third Update:

…Ali is the only royalty in India that’s being recognized by the government that pays for his upkeep and maintenance. [DesPardes]

Whew!

Second Update: The business of royal titles is unclear. The 1971 amendment abolished privy purses, privileges and titles of princes and their successors. But they continue to use their titles. And the Prince of Arcot is ranks as the equivalent of a minister in the Tamil Nadu cabinet. Now that flies against a lot more than equality. It must be some historical curiosity that has left us with this bizarre situation.

His Highness Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali Azim Jah, the Prince of Arcot, is the only royal in India who was not affected by the abolition of privy purses. In the order of precedence, he enjoys the rank of cabinet minister of the state of Tamil Nadu.

The Nawab hails from a family that traces its lineage back to the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khatt?b. The title ‘Prince of Arcot’, uniquely using the European style prince, was conferred on his ancestor by the British government in 1870 after the post of Nawab of the Carnatic (a title granted by the Mughal emperor) was abolished. [Wikipedia emphasis added]

Update:

The abolition of the privy purses, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and the elimination of the princely order itself, became the policy of the Congress party. After a year-long battle, this was finally achieved by an amendment to the Constitution at the end of 1971.

Although some parties have attempted to portray the constitutional changes as an abolition of the princely order, this does not appear to be the legal position. The changes merely removed official recognition of the position of “ruler”, as defined by the 1950 Constitution, and enabled the ending of privy-purse payments. The amendments did not touch upon any aspects of the treaties and engagements made during the accession of the princely states, nor did they even address the matter of rights to styles and titles. Since then, there have been a number of decisions and cases of the Supreme Court of India, where the court itself has continued to use the styles and titles enjoyed by the princes, the nobility and members of their families. Some prominent examples are: “Colonel His Highness Sawai Tej Singhji, Maharaja of Alwar vs. The Union of India & Anr.” (1978), “H.H. Sir Rama Varma vs. C.I.T.” (1994), “The Commissioner of Income-Tax, Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal vs. H.H. Maharani Usha Devi” (1998), “Commissioner of Wealth Tax vs. Prince Muffakham Jah Bahadur Chamli Jan” (2000), “Her Highness Maharani Shantidevi P. Gaikwad vs. Savjibhai Haribhai Patel & Ors.” (2001), “Union of India & Another vs. Raja Mohammed Amir Mohammad Khan” (2005). It is hard to imagine that the highest court in the land would have accepted the use of these titles had they been contrary to law. [link]

Note: The original title of this post was “Why the ‘Prince of Arcot can be sued”. Well, he can’t be sued for calling himself the ‘Prince’. And he certainly won’t be sued for complaining about the Aurangzeb show.