After facing roadblocks for 14 years, the women’s reservation bill was finally passed by the Rajya Sabha. As anticipated, it met stiff resistance from certain expected quarters. The only difference was that the opposition was camouflaged in the garb of “quota within quota” gimmick. The opponents claim that if the bill is passed in its current form, it will not serve its purpose as it will benefit only the elitist class. No doubt the issue needs deliberation but the intentions of the opponents are highly questionable. Are they really concerned about fair representation or is this merely an excuse to somehow defer women’s reservation indefinitely.

Looking at the track record of the key opponents, the latter seems more obvious. Does a politician, who went to the extent of making his totally unqualified wife the Chief Minister of a State, have any moral right to talk about fair representation? Lalu’s key supporter Mulayam Singh Yadav also has a history of fielding his daughter-in-law in Lok Sabha by-elections. Agreed, women from backward classes do need special attention and political representation. But are new quotas going to ensure their development? What guarantee do we have that this will not create more Rabri Devis?

There is no doubt that the women’s representation bill is a big step forward in empowering women. So every care must be taken to ensure that its end purpose is achieved. Therefore the argument that the bill needs fine-tuning is also justified. But instead of having more quotas, why not have a minimum qualification criterion for all women contesting on the reserved seat? By qualification I don’t mean educational degrees. More apt criteria would be women who have done significant field work in the area of women empowerment for a minimum of say 5 years. The work could be through an NGO, savings group or independently. Such a criterion will provide a level-playing field for women from all sections. Sure, even this standard could be misused but there will be some basis for keeping checks on the contesting candidate.

India is still far behind as far as gender equality is concerned. Only women can truly be sensitive to the urgency of reforms required in this field. So let us not allow vested interests to divide us on the basis of caste or on any other phony reason.