RJD leader says quota will help women with ‘bob cut hair’: Why socialist parties have used ‘parkati mahilayein’ to oppose Bill

Senior Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and former Bihar minister Abdul Bari Siddiqui landed himself in the soup Friday, by saying that “women with lipstick and bob cut hair” could corner the benefits of the women’s reservation Bill. Speaking at an awareness programme organised by the EBC wing of the RJD in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, Siddiqui said, “If benefits of women’s reservation go to EBC and OBC women, it will work fine. Otherwise, women with lipstick and bob-cut hair will take the quota away.”

After his comments triggered backlash, the RJD leader apologised, saying he used the lipstick and hair reference to explain what he was saying to a rural audience.

Siddiqui’s statement echoes the infamous remark by the JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, who in 1997 told the Lok Sabha in context of the reservation, “Kaun mahila hai, kaun nahin hai, keval parkati mahila bhar nahin rahne denge (Who is a woman, who is not, only short-haired women won’t be allowed).”

What is the socialist parties’ seeming fixation on the quota and women with short hair? On what grounds had the RJD, Samajwadi Party, and JD(U) opposed the Bill, and why have they changed stance now? Why is the AIMIM still opposing it?

Parkati mahilayein‘ and the women’s quota

Ever since the inception of a Bill to provide quota to women in Lok Sabha and state Assemblies, one of the most strident grounds for opposition to it has been the apprehension that the reserved seats will go to upper caste and upper class women, and reduce the representation of the disadvantaged classes in legislative bodies.

Critics have claimed that many of the women picked for the reserved seats are likely to have little voice of their own, and only further the agenda of the dominant classes that field them. As against this, a person from a disadvantaged community, who wins the popular mandate to come to Parliament or state Assembly, is better placed to advance the cause of social justice.

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Critics have also argued that women from rich backgrounds, with famous family names, more education and exposure will be better placed to benefit from the reservation, thus making it even more difficult for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to make it to legislative bodies.

The ‘parkati’ and ‘bob cut hair’ remarks are meant to emphasise this other-ness — that these women will be far removed from rural and disadvantaged women, and thus not really work to benefit them.

What SP, RJD, JD(U), etc. have said

All these parties have expressed similar views. As The Indian Express has reported earlier, in 2009, “the late SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had told reporters outside Parliament, “The [Women’s Reservation] Bill is not acceptable to us in its present form.” Pressed further, he had said, “Did Sonia ji become the country’s leader through reservation? Has Meira Kumar today become Lok Sabha Speaker due to reservation?”

Later in 2010, both the SP and RJD had firmly opposed the Bill when it was introduced by the Congress-led UPA-2 government in the Rajya Sabha. “We won’t tolerate it,” RJD supremo Lalu Prasad had told reporters outside Parliament, adding, “The country’s President is a woman, the Lok Sabha Speaker is a woman, the Congress president and UPA chairperson is also a woman. None of them have come here through the women’s quota.”

The current SP chief, Akhilesh Yadav, had then said, “We won’t support the Bill in the present form as we want the Bill to have a provision for OBCs.”

The SP, RJD, and JD(U) also argued that they were new parties, and since their bases hadn’t yet expanded beyond their core constituencies of the poor and underprivileged, they would find it difficult to field women candidates in the reserved seats. Women’s reservation would in effect disenfranchise these sections in those seats.

Why the change of stance now

It was the JD(U) under Nitish Kumar that first softened its stance, declaring in 2010 that it would support the Bill, although quota within quota remained its “wish”. This time around, with the increasing importance of women voters and not wishing to be seen as blocking a progressive legislation, all these parties supported the Bill, but are demanding a quota for women from disadvantaged communities within the 33% quota for women.

The RJD’s Shyam Rajak had earlier told The Indian Express, “We support reservation for women, but with some amendments. We want earmarking of reservation (quota within quota) for women from Dalit, backward, extremely backward and minority communities. You increase the reservation from 33 per cent to 50 per cent… We don’t have any problem… But without reservation for these sections… mahila arakshan ka koi tuk nahin hai (reservation for women has no meaning).”

Uma Bharti, former Madhya Pradesh CM from the BJP, has also demanded OBC quota in the Bill, stressing the need for the community to remain within the Hindutva fold and not align themselves with the Opposition parties.Party chief Asaduddin Owaisi said, “I oppose this legislation… The justification that is being given for the Bill is that more women will get elected to Parliament. If that is the justification, why that justification is not being extended to the OBC and Muslim women whose representation in this august House is minimal? We know Muslim women are seven per cent of the population, but in this Lok Sabha their representation stands at only 0.7 per cent.”

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