Women’s turn: Is reservation the only way to a fair deal in India? Economic growth delivers justice, too

Clipped from: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-editorials/womens-turn-is-reservation-the-only-way-to-a-fair-deal-in-india-economic-growth-delivers-justice-too/TOI Edit

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When Chief Justice of India NV Ramana administered the oaths of office to Justices Hima Kohli, Bela M Trivedi and BV Nagarathna last month, it meant women now constitute a record 12% of the country’s top court. The moment was marked by celebrations, including of the prospect of Justice Nagarathna becoming our first woman chief justice in 2027. But considering that this moment came 75 years after Independence, it was an underwhelming feat. From accepting that we should have done better by now follows the question, how can we do better in the future? CJI Ramana offered one solution this weekend: 50% quota for women in the judiciary, indeed in all spheres of activity. He urged them to ‘shout and demand’ this right.

Women’s representation in the Parliament and bureaucracy is only marginally better than in the upper judiciary. In all cases the argument for reservation is twofold: Proportionate representation is social justice and diverse voices result in better decision-making overall. The trouble is that women are hardly the only group demanding reservation in India. After all, even as the historic and uplifting photo of the CJI flanked by four women judges entered the public domain, there were questions about when Dalits and Adivasis would occupy a similar frame.

Indian women know there are countries where their counterparts are doing much better. Iceland just celebrated a female-majority parliament, even if a recount swiftly pushed the numbers to a less dramatic 48%. But forms of affirmative actions are only one factor in the country topping a World Economic Forum index for gender equality for 12 years in a row. For example, more than 50% women earn university degrees and women make up over 47% of the total labour force.

Indian women of course had been retreating from the labour force even before the pandemic. Recent research indicates that this is because they are being displaced by male workers in the wake of repeated macroeconomic shocks. The weaker sections of society are worse hit when the pie shrinks. But the populist politics of reservations has them all pitted against each other, instead of united to ‘shout and demand’ economic growth, which is what actually has a great track record of delivering social uplift in India. The lure of the blunt tool is eclipsing smarter ones. Let’s push back. Let’s demand good economic policies and really invest in proactive mentoring and recruitment of women before declaring these to be failures.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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