The Media's newfound love for reservations

This is the same media and middle class who have always been hell-bent against all reservations, who have listed reservation as among one of the most despicable evils. So why this u-turn, asks SUDEEP K.S.
Our mainstream media has suddenly fallen in love with reservations. They go ga-ga about the Women's R reservation Bill, the social justice it brings about, and how bad it is to oppose such a move. The 'middle class' consumers of this media also shares these views to a great extent. One is impressed. Well, almost. But then one realizes it is the same media and the middle class who have always been hell-bent against all reservations, who have listed reservation as among ‘one of the most despicable evils'. So why this U-turn?

Those who have got the advantage of reservations know how difficult it has been to live with the stigma associated with the word. Students who get into educational institutes, adults who have got jobs through reservations have all borne this trauma and have been objects of mockery for decades since our independence. So this sudden approval of it by the media and the elite alike does come as a surprise. Does it mean that they realize that they were wrong in opposing reservation for unprivileged communities all along? Have they decided to correct themselves?

I am happy if the media turned progressive overnight, and started standing for the social justice cause. But unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.

Almost all the newspapers and television channels reported the opposition to the bill in the Lok Sabha on Women's Day (8 March 2010) as "What a shame", without bothering to even make any kind of analysis as to whether any of the criticisms carry any sense. All oppositions to the bill were termed anti-women and regressive in very simplistic terms.

The basic point that they (intentionally?) missed was that everybody's opposition to the Bill cannot be equated. ("Many have expressed their opposition to the Women's Reservation Bill. Only Mulayam Singh Yadav has been honest enough to say what he really thinks…", said Kalpana Sharma in The Hindu), and everyone opposing the bill is not necessarily saying the same thing. Just like everybody supporting the Women's Bill is not saying the same thing.

It seems Mulayam Singh Yadav said that he fears that once this law comes into effect in little over a decade, Parliament might well be occupied almost entirely by women. There were also people who opposed the bill saying that ‘women are not able enough to make big decisions', ‘that there are not many women in the public sphere'. Some even went to the extent of saying women are supposed to be looking after homes and not the nation. I can only agree with the media here, and say "what a shame". Let us not go backwards in time.

But another major criticism to the bill, that first came from Sharad Yadav and later found many takers including Mayawati, was based on the very concept of reservation itself. Their argument is that it is true that women have to be part of the democratic decision making process, but we have to make sure that it does not feed into the exclusion of other socially backward sections.

The need for reservations is part of our journey towards just representation and wholesome development. Women constitute half of our population, but it has mostly been men who took decisions in our big (large) democracy. That excluded the women's way of looking at things. So it means both social justice for women and a better vision in our development as a nation and as a society if we ensure that women also have as much stake in the decision-making process.

Unfortunately we are not in a situation where all parties naturally ensure such representation, that is why we have to force representation through reservation.

Now if we agree on this much, then comes the question of who should get representation. It will be unfortunate if even after such a bill to ensure better representation, only the elite classes and castes get represented and all major decisions are made based on their experiences alone. For instance, how many SC/ST MPs or MLAs have we had from open constituencies? Not Jagjiwan Ram, not Mira Kumar, not K R Narayanan. Mayawati is one of the rare exceptions. Which is where the question of 'quota within quota' comes. Mayawati has asked for quota for financially backward women from upper castes also (along with quotas for SC/ST, OBC and Muslim women) in this bill.

It has been 14 years since the bill first appeared in Parliament, and the major supporters of the bill have hardly shown any willingness to discuss such options. Each time they insist on passing the bill 'as it is', without even a discussion or debate on the clauses of the bill. I think that justifies the fear that the Women's Reservation Bill will not ensure just representation. The recurring photographs of Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat hand in hand in support of this bill only adds to that fear.

It is the mainstream media's refusal to acknowledge such criticisms that make them list all the opposition to the current form of the women's bill as a homogeneous entity, and equate it all to a male fear of "women taking over". Their true colours show up in many ways even as they try hard to appear progressive. They say "these Yadavs etc" want to keep their women at home. Not just their headlines, even the cartoons talk the same language. See the Amul ad: "MPs win, MCPs lose", with a dejected Lalu and another man (Sharad Yadav?) on one side, and Sonia and the Amul girl celebrating on the other side. A cartoon by Ravi Shankar that appeared in Hindustan Times on 16 March 2010 went one step further, and said "Well, Ma'am, this is where the women and cattle are kept." (The line below said, 'inside the minds of Lalu Prasad, Sharad Yadav and friends').

This mainstream portrayal of "lower class" men and women does not jell with the facts. Currently, the SC/ST reserved seats have a much higher women's representation when compared to the "general" seats in the Lok Sabha. Of the total of 59 woman MPs, 17 are from SC/ST reserved seats. It means that out of the 121 SC/ST reserved seats, we have 17 women MPs (14.05%) whereas in general seats, this is 42 out of 422 (9.95%).

So one suspects that the media euphoria over the women's bill is a mask that hides their casteist nature, as they vehemently trash anyone who talks about the need for a more inclusive approach in the proposed amendment to the Constitution. The branding of anything spoken against the bill in its current form as "anti-woman" seems to be only reflecting this same casteist consciousness. Because they have always been (and still are) against reservations and talk about "pure merit" if there is any talk about caste-based reservations, they are opposed to identity politics, but when it comes to women, they do not talk "pure merit" any longer, and the identity assertion becomes positive all of a sudden.

Let us call their bluff.

[Thanks to: Anu Ramdas, Kuffir, Sandali Thakur, Anoop Kumar, Bhanu Pratap Singh, Harpreet Kaur Azad, Gurinder Azad and Manju for the discussions that we had on Ffacebook and in person, to Prof. A K Ramakrishnan his interview in Malayalam that appeared on Dillipost and more importantly, to many good friends of mine who spoke almost the same language as the mainstream media and prompted me to write this article.]



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