"She also felt that though the number of women MPs had increased, it was only a marginal improvement. At least half of the strength should be of women. But this is a good start."
By Sreeparna Chakrabarty

New Delhi, June 16 - Having been elected in their largest number his time, women MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha feel they will make a difference, ensuring issues concerning them get more prominence and bills like the one for women's quota in legislative bodies see forward movement.

The current Lok Sabha has 62 women members - most of them first-timers - in a lower house of 543 MPs, still far less than the one--third figure that has been the stated aim. It is also the highest in the lower house since independence, beating the 58 in the previous Lok Sabha. The Narendra Modi-led government also has a healthy representation of women ministers at seven while Speaker Sumitra Mahajan is the second woman to occupy the post, succeeding Meira Kumar.

IANS spoke to many women MPs in the parliament session that ended June 11 on how they would make their voice heard and the changes they would like to see.

I think now that the largest number of women have been elected, issues concerning women would get more prominence, Renuka Sinha, Trinamool Congress MP from Coochbehar in West Bengal, told IANS.

I am sure more women MPs means more such issues like crime against women are raised in parliament, she said.

Her party colleague from Bardhaman-Durgapur (West Bengal), Mamtaz Sanghamitra, said: Not only are there more women in parliament this time but all the major opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress, AIADMK and Congress are headed by women. This should augur well for issues concerning women.

West Bengal incidentally has sent the largest number of women MPs (12) to the Lok Sabha this time.

The passage of the women's reservation bill also seems possible with such huge support, Sanghamitra, a doctor by profession, told IANS.

Agreeing with her party MPs, actor and glamour queen Moon Moon Sen, who was elected from Bankura in West Bengal, said the future seems bright for the women's bill as not only MPs but also many chief ministers are women.

I am sure we will be able to make a difference, said Sen, daughter of yesteryear actress Suchitra Sen and mother of actresses Riya and Raima Sen.

The women's reservation bill, seeking to provide 33 percent reservation to women in parliament and state legislatures, was passed by the Rajya Sabha but blocked in the Lok Sabha during the UPA's tenure. It lapsed with the 15th Lok Sabha holding its last sitting ahead of the April-May general elections.

If cleared, the bill would have set aside 390 and 2,060 seats in parliament and the state assemblies respectively for women in this election.

The bill, first introduced in 1996, could not make headway in the Lok Sabha because of opposition from parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal which demanded a sub-quota for scheduled castes/scheduled tribes and other backward classes within the women's quota.

The support for the women's bill, however, seemed to be completely party-based with many women MPs asserting that they would go by their respective party diktat.

Riti Pathak, a Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Sidhi in Madhya Pradesh, feels though issues related to women might get more prominence, the women's reservation bill was a different issue as women MPs would generally toe the party line.

This is an entirely new house. There will be many things which will be different. We have to wait and see on the women's bill. But I am hopeful things will be better, she said.

Anupriya Patel, Apna Dal MP from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh, told IANS: The reservation bill is a different ball game altogether. I for one would demand a sub-quota within the women's quota.

She also felt that though the number of women MPs had increased, it was only a marginal improvement. At least half of the strength should be of women. But this is a good start.

(Sreeparna Chakrabarty can be contacted on [email protected])


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