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Trancending [sic] the bounds of male power

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Title:
Trancending [sic] the bounds of male power possibilities for women's empowerment in India
Creator:
Lindsey, Tara Jo
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English
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vii, 111 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Women -- Political activity -- India ( lcsh )
Women -- Political activity ( fast )
India ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 105-111).
General Note:
Department of Political Science
Statement of Responsibility:
by Tara Jo Lindsey.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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ocn463302641
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Full Text
TRANCENDING THE BOUNDS OF MALE POWER: POSSIBILITIES FOR
WOMENS EMPOWERMENT IN INDIA
by
Tara Jo Lindsey
B.S., Northern Arizona University, 2005
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Political Science
2009


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Tara Jo Lindsey
has been approved
by
. Sampaft
O-'ZS-o ?
Date


Lindsey, Tara Jo (M.A., Political Science)
Transcending the Bounds of Male Power: Possibilities for Womens Empowerment and
Transformative Change in India
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Anna C. Sampaio
ABSTRACT
Womens empowerment has come to be viewed as a popular strategy for change
over the last decade. However, what empowerment actually means, and how women
are to attain it, remain significant questions in political, economic, social and
development discourses. This thesis explores womens empowerment through an
examination of the contextual elements surrounding particular spaces, both political and
social, in which it may arise.
Utilizing a method of contextual discourse analysis, I examine the different
discourses of empowerment at the national and local levels of Indian politics. What
emerges from these two analyses is the importance of context, process and transformative
change to understandings of womens empowerment. I argue that that empowerment
cannot be given by a piece of legislation, that it is instead created according to context
and process. These creations, in turn, may lead to transformative change at both
individual and collective levels.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis I recommend its
publication.
Signed
C/ Ann£j2f§ampaio


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
For my Self, who lives her life in commitment to
transcend the bounds of discursive normality.
And Stephen Polk, quite possibly my twin soul, who
has shown continued support for this project and helped
me to see what I am truly capable of.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. THE CONTINGENT, MULTI-FACETED AND THE
TRANSFORMATIVE NATURE OF EMPOWERMENT.........................1
The Project of Womens Empowerment: Indias Local
and National Spaces....................................1
Methodology and Research Design........................5
Potential Problems and Possibilities...................9
Chapter Outlines......................................15
2. TRANCENDING SHEER NUMBERS: REFORMULATIONS
OF GENDER QUOTAS AND REPRESENTATION.........................18
Introduction: Women, Political Participation and
Representation........................................19
Gender Quotas and Representation......................21
Gender Quotas and Critical Mass.......................29
Gender Quotas and Possibilities for Transformation....33
Conclusion............................................37
3. CONSIDERING THE USES OF ADVERSITY: WOMEN AND THE
PANCHAYATI RAJ..............................................41
The Panchayati Raj: A Brief History...................42
Reporting on Findings from Discourse Analysis of Indian
Newspapers............................................44
Increased Sense of Confidence...................46
v


Confidence and Collaboration,
.48
Political Transformation............................51
Challenges and Reactions............................53
Analysis of the Panchayati Raj and the Implications for
Womens Empowerment........................................56
Empowerment as a Process............................57
Empowerment and Context.............................60
Empowerment as Transformation.......................63
Conclusion.................................................66
4. GENDER, CASTE AND THE DIVSIVE NATURE OF THE
WOMENS RESERVATION BILL.........................................68
The Womens Reservation Bill: A Brief History
and the Debate Underlining It..............................69
Reporting on Findings from Discourse Analysis of
Indian Newspapers..........................................71
Covert Male Power...................................73
Male Exclusivity of Indian Politics.................76
Overt Resistance From Lower-Caste Males.............79
Lower-Caste Resistance and Womens Reactions........81
Analysis of the WRB Debate and Implications for
Womens Empowerment........................................84
Power Relations and the Womens Reservation
Bill................................................85
Presence and Lower-Caste Women....................88
vi


Conclusion
91
5. CONSIDERING SPACES FOR WOMENS
EMPOWERMENT: OPPORTUNITIES FOR
COLLABORATION AND SUBVERSION.................................92
Context: Differences of Place..........................94
Process: The Significance of Collaboration.............96
Transformative Change: Empowerment is More Than
Political.............................................102
Conclusion............................................103
REFERENCES........................................................105
vii


CHAPTER 1
THE CONTINGENT, MULTI-FACETED AND TRANSFORMATIVE NATURE
OF EMPOWERMENT
Womens empowerment has come to be viewed as a popular strategy for
change over the last decade. However, what empowerment actually means, and
how women are to attain it, remain significant questions in political, economic, social
and development discourses. I argue that an understanding of womens empowerment
requires an examination of the contextual elements surrounding the particular spaces,
both political and social, in which it may arise. And as power tends to pervade
multiple spaces, rather than resting on one center, these various spaces must also be
sought out and examined in order to engage a more holistic understanding of
empowerment. In short, it is these particular contextual elements, and how they
interact with multiple lines of power, gendered and otherwise, that affect the potential
and possibilities for womens empowerment. Diverse contexts and challenges for
womens empowerment are also created by this interaction, an interaction that not
only occurs across borders and boundaries, but within national space as well.
The Project of Womens Empowerment: Indias Local and National Spaces
This thesis examines the issue of womens empowerment in the context of
Indias local and national spaces, with political participation at the fore. Some of the
central questions that have framed this work rest on the impact of formal political
1


participation on possibilities for womens empowerment. In particular, I examine the
various discourses and contexts of power that characterize womens political
positions at the local and national levels. To address both of these levels, I give
particular attention to the panchayati raj institution of local self-government and the
ongoing drama surrounding the Womens Reservation Bill playing out on the national
level. By examining Indian media coverage of womens participation in the
panchayati raj and the ever-unfolding drama of the Womens Reservation Bill, I
analyze some of the discourses of gender quotas and womens empowerment.1
Some of the key questions that direct my research lie in the central differences
and similarities between womens political positions at local and national levels of
government, as well as how Indian discursive contexts reflect and affect these
positions. Specifically, are female panchayat members taken seriously and what have
they been able to accomplish? At the same time, how has female political
participation in the national Parliament shaped potentialities for Indian womens
empowerment? Ultimately, can gender quotas serve to empower women?
While taking up this examination, I utilize Jane L. Parpart, Shirin M. Rai and
Kathleen Staudts conception of empowerment, as outlined in the introduction to their
edited work, Rethinking Empowerment. According to these authors, an approach to
1 For a little background on these situations: While the 73rd and 74th amendments reformed the nature
of Indian local self-governments, which included a requirement that one-third of these seats be filled
by women, the Womens Reservation Bill, which would reserve one-third of seats to women at the
central and state levels of government, has been consistently tabled for the last 13 years.
2


understanding womens empowerment requires the acknowledgment of four issues:
one, empowerment must be analyzed in global, national, and local terms; two,
understanding and facilitating womens empowerment requires a more nuanced
analysis of power, with a recognition that empowerment involves the exercise of
rather than possession of power, and because of this cannot transcend power relations;
three, empowerment takes place in institutional, material and discursive contexts, and
therefore is within structural constraints of institutions and discursive practices; and
finally, empowerment is both a process and an outcome, both of which may be
unpredictable and difficult to measure [emphasis added] (Parpart, Rai & Staudt 2003:
4). In addition, these authors also refer to a definition of em(power)ment that
focuses on transformational power: empowerment is the manifestation of challenging
dominant power structures. While employing a Foucauldian framework, they note:
Foucaults exposition of power allows us to move away from more traditional
notions of power as the ability to exert power over structures, people and
resources. It reminds us that power is fluid, relational and connected to control
over discourses/knowledge. It is therefore an important insight of feminist
analyses of power and empowerment. However, we would also insist upon
focusing on the relationship between structures and agency, of challenge and
transformation which transcends the bounds of discursive normality
[emphasis added] (Parpart, Rai & Staudt 2003: 7).
I find these authors conception of empowerment to be the most useful for my
research for a few reasons. First, they approach empowerment as a multifaceted
phenomenon that may be influenced by many factors. Like power, empowerment is
3


difficult to quantify and locate. It appears to occur on account of many different
factors; its effects will vary among geographic and political spaces, social groups,
economic and social classes, and particular individuals. Parpart, Staudt and Rai offer
a diverse framework for examining empowerment that will aid in understanding this
phenomenon within the complex and layered web of rainbowed contingencies in
which it arises. In other words, this framework offers an avenue that is capable of
avoiding the scholarly danger of putting rich and diverse experiences into one little
box, which only serves to explain away (at best) or ignore (at worst) the inherent
complexity of social and political life.
The second reason I chose to utilize this particular framework for
understanding empowerment is due its conceptualization of empowerment as a
transformative experience that transcends the bounds of discursive normality. My
understanding of this conceptualization is that empowerment can be transformative
on two levels: while it may first transform the individual, leading her or him toward a
new level of self-actualization and capacity, it may then in turn lead to the
transformation of social environments and political spaces. These two processes, of
course, occur side-by-side. In the context of my own research, I want to explore how
the different modes of power occurring at the local and national levels of Indian
society affect the space for womens empowerment. In addition, I want to show how
that space may be leading to not only personal transformations, but also
transformations of gender and caste relations. Are Indian women, through their
4


difficult to quantify and locate. It appears to occur on account of many different
factors; its effects will vary among geographic and political spaces, social groups,
economic and social classes, and particular individuals. Parpart, Staudt and Rai offer
a diverse framework for examining empowerment that will aid in understanding this
phenomenon within the complex and layered web of rainbowed contingencies in
which it arises. In other words, this framework offers an avenue that is capable of
avoiding the scholarly danger of putting rich and diverse experiences into one little
box, which only serves to explain away (at best) or ignore (at worst) the inherent
complexity of social and political life.
The second reason I chose to utilize this particular framework for
understanding empowerment is due its conceptualization of empowerment as a
transformative experience that transcends the bounds of discursive normality. My
understanding of this conceptualization is that empowerment can be transformative
on two levels: while it may first transform the individual, leading her or him toward a
new level of self-actualization and capacity, it may then in turn lead to the
transformation of social environments and political spaces. These two processes, of
course, occur side-by-side. In the context of my own research, I want to explore how
the different modes of power occurring at the local and national levels of Indian
society affect the space for womens empowerment. In addition, I want to show how
that space may be leading to not only personal transformations, but also
transformations of gender and caste relations. Are Indian women, through their
4


different levels of political participation, experiencing transformations that transcend
the bounds of discursive normality?
Methodology and Research Design
The method behind this thesis lies primarily is a document analysis of the
English language Indian press. While embarking on this academic venture with the
aforementioned framework of empowerment in mind, I began my research by reading
more than 200 newspaper articles dated from October 1996 to April 2008.2 The
majority of these came from English-speaking Indian news sources. I wanted to
engage in a project of discursive analysis in order to understand how India
understands and talks about womens empowerment and women in politics.3 My
reasoning behind this method lies primarily in that such an analysis leaves room for
context. While existing academic work will also be utilized within this project, I find
that Indian news sources can provide a more colorful and closer look at the subject of
womens empowerment in India. In this sense, I primarily name my method a
contextual discourse analysis.
2 The articles were selected according to a documentation center under the category women and
politics. It is important to note that its possible not every single article from this time period was
included, so there may be some time gaps in the coverage.
3 Of course, it also important to note that India cannot be wholly understood through the English-
speaking press. The fact that most of my sources are from the English-speaking Indian press, such as
The Hindu and Indian Express, and read mostly by the urban elite, does present limitations. This is
discussed in detail within the next section.
5


After reading each article, I logged it into an Excel spreadsheet and
categorized it by article type, source, name, date, main ideas, and key words. When
this process was finished, I went back through the spreadsheet, which I put in order
by publication date, and analyzed not only what was said, but how and when it was
said and who said it.
In addition to the questions posed above, my research unearthed further
questions such as: How are female panchayat members talked about and perceived
within Indian society? How have womens situations and experiences at the local
level affected Indian discourse surrounding the Womens Reservation Bill at the
national level? What reasons exist for the WRBs continuous rejection over the last
13 years? And last, but certainly not least, how does caste play out in all of these
questions?
I found more themes and answers than I ever wanted to and while this process
was grueling at first, I did begin to realize that my initial framework of empowerment
was proving itself true: empowerment is multifaceted, extremely layered, complex
and never gives one straight answer about what it needs, where it comes from, or who
has it. However, there were common threads. By the end of this process, I felt as if I
experienced two distinct perspectives that were at the same time isolated and
inextricable from each other. These two perspectives have in turn formed the vital
organs behind this paper.
6


I examine the meaning underlining these perspectives with the help of
Chandra Talpade Mohantys idea about common differences in solidarity (2003).
While one perspective of my analysis focuses on the particular space of the local, or
rural, the other focuses on the national. In one space, there are more stories about
women whose lives have generally been characterized by poverty and influenced by
more intense gender and caste hierarchies; in the other space, most of the stories are
told from the perspective of middle- and upper-class women, stories centered less
upon the need for running water and more on the challenge of gaining a formal
political voice. Despite the differences between these two stories, what connects them
is the issue of gender quotas, and how gender quotas may or may not be an effective
avenue toward the empowerment of women. Surrounding both stories is also a desire
or challenge for Indian women to exercise a louder political voice, to carve out an
effective political space in which their issues may be heard and legitimized in the face
of a deeply patriarchal system. As Mohanty states:
In knowing differences and particularities, we can better see the connections
and commonalities because no border or boundary is ever complete or rigidly
determining. The challenge is to see how differences allow us to explain the
connections and border crossings better and more accurately, how specifying
difference allows us to theorize universal concerns more fully (Mohanty 2003:
226).
Ultimately, differences do not only occur across borders and boundaries, but within
them as well.
7


Mohantys ideas about exploring the importance of context have also helped
to shape the theoretical framework of this paper. As stated at the beginning of this
chapter, the contextual elements surrounding particular spaces, both political and
social, must be explored in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of
particular political, social and economic issues. Mohanty touts this argument in the
particular space of understanding third-world feminism, what she later calls two-
thirds world feminism (2003). In 1991, she urged womens studies and feminist
scholars to recognize the complex relationality that shapes our social and political
lives, noting that systems of racial, class, and gender domination do not have
identical effects on women in third world contexts (13).
However, she argues with the help of Dorothy Smith (1987) that systems of
domination do operate via particular, historically specific relations of ruling, which
characterize the location of most third world struggles. The relations of ruling refer to
particular institutions of professional and political authority, administration,
management, as well as intellectual and cultural discourses. These ruling institutions,
in turn, create and support ways of thinking that structure how members of society
perceive themselves and their role in the environments they live in (Smith 1993: 2).
As Mohanty puts it,
It is at the intersections of these relations of ruling that third world feminist
struggles are positioned. It is also by understanding these intersections that we
can attempt to explore questions of consciousness and agency without
naturalizing either individuals or structures (Mohanty 1991: 13).
8


These power relations, as Mohanty points out, must be examined as multiple,
fluid and will intersect to locate women differently at particular historical
junctures (1991: 13). This conceptualization of feminist struggles works well
alongside the aforementioned framework for empowerment to be used within this
paper, as it admits that feminist struggles, like empowerment, require a complex, rich
and multifaceted lens to explore them with.
Potential Problems and Possibilities
The problems my research may potentially encounter focus upon the fact that
it will be limited to texts and literature. Because I am unable to actually visit India in
order to conduct thorough research, I am choosing to obtain and engage with English-
speaking Indian news sources to fill this gap. Through a document analysis, I foster a
sense of the discourse surrounding the issue of womens political participation and
how it may be associated with the project of womens empowerment in general.
Nancy Naples (2003) engaged in a similar project when she conducted her research
on the changing context of community control from the 1960s to the 1990s. Naples,
who argues that the discursive analytic approach is a powerful tool for social policy
analysis, set out to examine how such progressive frames, such as community
control, gain wide acceptance and become institutionalized in various social
practices, but lose the critical feminist or progressive intent (Naples 2003: 9). I
argue that empowerment is another such frame that begs for critical analysis,
9


especially when the term becomes co-opted by dominant institutions like the Indian
state and media. Similar to my questions posed earlier: how might the meaning and
conceptualization of empowerment shift when it becomes a mainstream term? Does
it lose its transformational tones when it becomes viewed, through dominant
discourse of the state and media, as a sole strategy (i.e., gender quotas will empower
women), and not an ongoing process?
These questions may begin to be addressed with Mohantys exploration of the
ruling apparatus. Quoting Dorothy Smith, she outlines the ruling apparatus as:
that familiar complex of management, government administrations,
professions, and intelligentsia, as well as the textually mediated discourses
that coordinate and interpenetrate it. Its special capacity is the organization of
particular places, persons and events into generalized and abstracted modes
vested in categorical systems, rules, laws, and conceptual practices. The
former thereby become subject to an abstracted and universalized system of
ruling by mediated texts (Smith 1987: 108, as quoted by Mohanty 1991: 16).
Newspapers may be understood under this conception of the ruling apparatus,
as they do well in perpetuating a particular discourse about how places, persons and
events are to be understood. In so far as I plan to utilize a discourse analysis of Indian
newspapers in lieu of actual travel to the country, I hope to show how these forms of
textual mediated discourses may better more light on how Indian womens
participation in politics is understood and talked about within Indian society. In
addition, I hope for this sort of discourse analysis to illustrate how the term
empowerment may or may not become wrapped up in these conversations.
10


In a similar vein, a second problem that presents itself is the fact that my
document analysis is based solely on English-speaking Indian news sources. These
sources, such as The Hindu, Indian Express and the Times of India, are directed
toward a urban-elite audience and are arguably not accessible to those in more rural
areas who dont speak English and/or are illiterate. In addition, the readership of the
English-speaking press is only about 5 percent of adults, with the majority of those
readers living in the metropolis cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata Chennai and Madras
(Joseph and Sharma 1994: 16). Despite its small number of readers, the English-
speaking press is actually massively influential, as those 5 percent tend to represent
the ruling class and the elite, including politicians. As Joseph and Sharma (1994)
note:
It is run by the same dominant group to which it primarily caters.. .The
traditional definitions of news, accepted by the mainstream English language
press, conform to the generally liberal, yet elitist, values espoused by the
relatively affluent, upwardly mobile, university educated, upper caste urban
male (17).
The newsworthiness of any given issue is also determined by this small group of
people, so it is quite possible that the English language Indian press has left out
significant stories that would be helpful to this project. In addition to this problem, the
English-speaking Indian medias coverage of women tends to be trivialized and fairly
superficial (Joseph and Sharma 1994: 18-21). A 2006 article from India Together also
notes this, stating that Indian women are most often featured as athletes, movie stars
or victims:
11


It is true that women are no longer invisible in the media here. They may even
be audible on occasion. However, it is also clear that certain categories of
women, especially those perceived as glamorous, receive disproportionate
media attention while others who are saying or doing equally or more
important things in a variety of fields and locations are still either absent or
silent {India Together, 27 February 2006).
This article reported the ratio of female news subjects to male news subjects to be
rather disproportionate as well, at 21 to 79. This ratio is even wider when the frame is
moved to rural villages {India Together, 27 February 2006).
While there arent many options for remedying this situation, I can offer this
as a cautionary note. And while this fact no doubt leads to limitations, it may also be
utilized to bring the theme of context to life. The articles I have analyzed are
reflective of the relations of ruling themselves. In other words, my discourse analysis
addresses Indian womens political situation by examining the very ruling apparati of
those who tend to exercise power over this situation. Keeping this in mind should
shed more light on how the relations of ruling affect womens political space and
opportunities for empowerment.
Another challenge that presents itself over the duration of this project lies in
avoiding the perpetuationas a white Western scholar of the tired category of the
oppressed third world woman. I address this challenge in response to Mohantys
call for discussions on third world women to avoid essentialism, ethnocentricity, and
a basic colonization of the field on the part of Western feminist scholarship (1991).
Based on her analysis of several studies written between 1979 and 1983 on third
12


world women, including some from the Zed Press series, she finds that most of these
had grouped all problems, situations, and the agents involved, into one category
(Mohanty 1991). The assumption was that what unifies all third world women is the
fact they are third world women. The problem, then, is that
Western feminist discourse, by assuming women as a coherent, already
constituted group which is placed in kinship, legal, and other structures,
defines third world women as subjects outside social relations, instead of
looking at the way women are constituted through these very structures
(Mohanty 1991: 72).
In order to avoid the production and perpetuation of this sort of third world
difference and othering of women in the two-thirds world, I will give considerable
attention to the context of the particular situations addressed in this thesis. Not only
will considerable attention be given to these contexts, but, as aforementioned, this
contextual approach constitutes a significant portion of my research approach.
A final problem lies in the fact that it is difficult to examine specific regions
and situations within India without losing a comprehensive understanding of Indian
society as a whole, which is a necessary part of analyzing how a macro power
discourse may nurture, or even spring from, micro power discourses. Both must be
included. In other words, my examinations should be neither too narrow nor too
broad. In order to deal with this challenge, I plan to give several dimensions to each
issue taken up in this paper. For instance, in regards to the situation at the local level,
I will provide a basic history ofpanchayat structures and the different ways in which
13


women have been incorporated into them, while using particular stories found within
my research to elaborate and bring out particular components of this incorporation (or
non-incorporation). In this way, the history and discourses (as the latter are seen
through the English-speaking India media) may work together to provide a more
complete picture of the panchayati raj institution. In addition, particular stories may
be used to show how individuals are functioning within this historical and discursive
context.
For the discussion on womens political position at the national, or
parliamentary, level, I plan not only to discuss the discourse surrounding the
Womens Reservation Bill, but also to provide a discussion of some the discourses
surrounding the bill within the national Parliament, which are also evident within the
news articles. This should help to understand how mainstream discourses (the media)
may be feeding into and/or affecting the more exclusive discourses (the members of
parliament) on the WRB and womens political participation in general. In addition, I
would also like to explore the general situation of Indian women who already hold
seats within the national Parliament in order to better understand the extent to which
formal political participation may or may not be nurturing the seeds of empowerment.
In this way, both situations are given a discursive and material context.
With an examination and in-depth discussion of gender quotas and
empowerment through a contextual lens, I hope for this paper to pose new questions
within feminist thought. Such questions can potentially build on a scholarship that is
14


based on critical, contextual analysis and the admittance of empowerment and
womens political identities as multifaceted, layered and complex entities that deserve
a comprehensive understanding.
Chapter Outlines
This project begins with a literature review that analyzes the subject of women
and political participation, while giving particular attention to the issue of
representation. I utilize Hanna Pitkins (1969) concepts ofdescriptive and
substantive representation to lead the discussion. With the help of Anne Phillips
(1998, 1998a), Drude Dahlerup (2006, 2008) and others, I explore the different
dimensions of the literature on gender quotas and how they may or may not lead to
substantial representation and the kind of empowerment conceptualized by Parpart,
Rai and Staudt (2003). In particular, I explore how some authors (Dahlerup 2006 and
Grey 2006) suggest that something more is needed than just a critical mass of
women participating in formal politics to achieve womens substantive
representation. I also utilize Childs and Krooks (2006) concept ofcritical actors to
elaborate this point of view.
Using the ideas from Chapter Two, Chapter Three focuses on the panchayati
raj institution. Included in this discussion is a general history of the institution and an
academic review of how women have been incorporated into it. From here, I discuss
the themes that I derived from my document analysis, in relation to womens
15


participation and positions within the panchayati raj. This discussion includes the
discourse surrounding the institution, as presented through the news articles, and
draws on particular stories that illustrate or demonstrate incidents of womens
empowerment. The main project for this chapter is to tell the story of womens
participation, across caste lines, within the panchayats and the subsequent
empowerment or disempowerment indicated through such an experience of
representation.
Chapter Four examines the Indian Womens Reservation Bill. The history and
13-year drama surrounding this bill is included and highlights the gendered discourse
that appears to be inextricable from conversations about women and formal political
participation. This chapter also outlines the current situation of female members of
Parliament: the challenges they face, what theyre expected to do, and the degree of
power they can exercise at this level of government. These situations draw from my
discourse analysis in particular and previous scholarly work in this area generally.
I conclude this thesis with Chapter Five, which brings the two perspectives of
the local and the national together in order to provide a comprehensive discussion
about gender quotas, womens political participation and empowerment in India. The
lessons learned from these two analyseswhat they may show us about Indian
society in general, womens positions in particular, and possibilities for
empowerment via political linesare addressed. This chapter concludes with an
16


analysis of what may be learned from the main themes of the preceding chapters and
also to pose further questions for a continuation of this study.
17


CHAPTER 2
TRANSCENDING SHEER NUMBERS: REFORMULATIONS OF GENDER
QUOTAS AND REPRESENTATION
In the previous chapter, I drew attention to the complex and diverse nature of
empowerment, especially as it relates to womens political life. I chose Parpart, Rai
and Staudts (2003) analysis of empowerment as a multifaceted and potentially
transformative experience to frame further discussion of Indian womens political
participation and interaction with gender quotas in local and national spaces. In
Chapter 3,1 will focus this discussion on how Indian womens participation in village
level panchayats may or may not be fostering transformative changes at both the
individual and collective levels of society.
The previous chapter also addressed Dorothy Smiths (1987) concept of the
relations of ruling. It is at the intersections of these relations, which are historically
specific and characterize most third world struggles (Mohanty 2003), where
consciousness and agency may be further explored in light of womens -
empowerment. Through an analysis of such relations and intersections at the national
level of Indian government, I hope to provide a deeper understanding in Chapter 4 of
the potential and challenges for womens empowerment, in the transformative sense,
at this level. It should be noted that both contexts, the local and national, have been
historically characterized by gendered power structures (see Strulik 2004; Rai 1999).
18


Before taking up these discussions in light of my data, I review the existing
academic literature that explores themes of womens political participation. This
chapter will focus the discussion on gender quotas, or seat reservations, in particular
and how such measures are affecting individuals and political environments. I draw
connections between the relations of ruling that construct particular political
environments and the challenges, as well as potentialities, women may face while
engaging such structures.
Introduction: Women, Political Participation and Representation
Any discussion on womens formal (and informal) political participation
necessarily requires an acknowledgment of womens near absence from political
structures, an absence experienced on a global scale. According to Mary
Hawkesworth (2001), women hold less than 12 percent of formal political offices in
states across the globe; and in more than 100 countries, women hold no elected
offices in their national assemblies (Hawkesworth 2001: 223-4).
Bringing more women into public office and encouraging their increased
participation in formal and informal decision-making structures is generally perceived
as a worthwhile project by some feminists (Hawkesworth 2001; Phillips 1998). The
primary assumption is that as more women hold public office, womens interests will
be better represented. In addition, empowerment may also come from participation in
formal politicsholding office, drafting legislation, representing constituents, among
19


other duties. The issue of gender quotas (or reservations based on gender) poses
significant questions for such discussion: do gender quotas lead to higher levels of
womens empowerment? If more women were involved at the formal level of
politics, does womens empowerment necessarily increase?
The academic literature on the subject encapsulates a wide array of opinions
and at the fore of such discussion are issues surrounding representation (Kaushik
1993; Phillips 1998, 1998a; Cornwall and Goetz: 2005; Dahlerup 2006; Hawkesworth
2006). In particular, the debate over gender quotas tends to center upon the
dichotomy ofdescriptive and substantive representation (Pitkin 1969). While
some authors argue that gender quotas may bridge the gap between these two types of
representation by creating strength in numbers (Phillips 1998, 1998a), or critical
mass, others take issue with the concept of critical mass, arguing this term needs to
be reformulated, rethought and put into context (Grey 2006; Dahlerup 2006, 2008;
Childs and Krook 2006; Beckwith and Cowell-Meyers 2007). Defining women
friendly policies, as well as what it means to be a woman representing women, also
appears to be an emerging and contentious debate (Dahlerup 2006; Young 2000;
Pringle and Watson 1998). Other authors point to the challenges, particularly those
relating to identity and discursive structures, that women may face as they enter the
male world of politics (Dahlerup 2006; Cornwall and Goetz 2005; Phillips 1998,
1998a; Bourque and Grossholtz 1998).
20


For the purposes of this review, I begin with a general discussion on gender
quotas and their increased popularity in current times. I will then discuss various
conceptualizations of representation and how this concept is linked to gender quota
debates, particularly in light of the descriptive and substantive dichotomy. From
here, I transition to a discussion on the limits of substantive representation, as
outlined by several authors (Kaushik 1993; Cornwall and Goetz 2005), and the
challenges that women face when they enter the masculine realm of political life. I
then provide an exploration ofcritical mass, as this literature is intrinsically linked
to the gender quota debate. Finally, I discuss gender quotas in light of possibilities for
change by using two researched examples from Geissel and Hust (2005) and
Hawkesworth (2006). What appears to emerge from the literature is an alternative
conception of representation that ties women officeholders and the women they
represent togethera contextual and processual relationship that can potentially
create an environment for substantial transformative change in the status of women.
Gender Quotas and Representation
Efforts to bring more women into politics are certainly abound, with quotas,
or reservations, at the front and center of such projects. As Andrea Cornwall and
Anne Marie Goetz (2005) note, Efforts to enhance womens political participation
have gained new urgency with the designation of numbers of women in politics as an
indicator of womens empowerment, as enshrined in the third United Nations
21


Millennium Development Goal (MGD) (784). The process was accelerated in 1995
after the World Conference on Women, held in Beijing4; and since then, more than
100 countries have adopted legislative gender quotas. However, despite these
aspirations, only about 18 countries in the world have achieved the goal of seating at
least 30 percent of women at the national level (Larserud and Taphom 2007: 36).
Nevertheless, this recent and rapid diffusion of gender quotas has been described as
the Fast Track to equal representation (Dahlerup 2006: 323).
While equal representation appears to be the primary argument for gender
quotas, some authors argue that countries adopt gender quotas for an appearance of
equal representation, which helps the adopting country to seem modernized and
more democratic (Dahlerup 2006). The display of equal representation is also
indicative of a countrys democratic legitimacy, according to modem liberal theory
(Karp and Banducci 2007). Jeffrey A. Karp and Susan A. Banducci (2007) note in
their research, We do find that the number of women in parliament is associated
with more positive evaluations of the quality of the democratic process (114).
While important, the reasons behind any particular countrys choice in
adopting legislative gender quotas is beyond the scope of this chapter. Instead, I focus
on the issue of representation in relation to gender quotas, as gender quotas are
4 The Fourth World Conference for Women resulted in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for
Action, which outlined a list of commitments for the advancement and equality of women. In
particular, Clause 13 states: Women's empowerment and their full participation on the basis of
equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to
power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace (United Nations
1995).The document was drafted and adopted by representatives of 189 states.
22


believed to increase the representation of women by adding more women to formal
decision-making structures (Phillips 1998, 1998a; Hawkesworth 2006). In this light,
some of the primary reasons for the support of gender quotas center on the belief that
they will increase womens representation. As Drude Dahlerup (2008) suggests, the
popularity of gender quotas lies in the idea that they address redistributive power and
recognize womens under-representation. In this way, she argues, gender quotas are
both a practical and symbolic tool for gender parity (Dahlerup 2008: 326).
The idea that gender quotas are both symbolic and practical feeds into the
main issue that lies at the heart of this discussion: descriptive and substantive
representation, concepts that were first presented by Hanna Pitkin in 1969. What
differentiates these two concepts, according to Pitkin, is that one refers to the
standing for and the other to the acting for those who one represents (Celis and
Childs 2008). At the core of this differentiation, Pitkin attempts to outline the value
that each kind of representation refers to. Descriptive representation refers to the
standing for others and Pitkin describes it as such: What qualifies a man to
represent is representativenessnot what he does, but what he is, or is like (Pitkin
1969: 10). In this way, the value placed on descriptive representation is based on
factors of resemblance, and not necessarily on what a representative actually does.
Conversely, substantive representation refers to the acting for others: the activity of
representing (Pitkin 1969: 14). One who engages in substantive representation acts
to further the interests that he or she represents. So, in the context of this analysis,
23


while descriptive representation refers to the actual presence of women in formal
decision-making roles (symbolic), substantive representation refers to the enacting of
actual policies that further the status of women and gender parity (practical).
One of the first arguments for gender quotas, on the basis that they will lead to
womens increased substantive representation, is from Anne Phillips (1998, 1998a).
She argues that political representation should be inseparable from political
participation. Employing the slogan, no representation without participation, she
suggests that if women have equal access to participation, then a more equal
representation should ensue (Phillips 1998a). In this way, Phillips maintains that
increased descriptive representation will lead to increased substantive representation;
gender quotas will allow more space for womens interests to be heard and
represented in the political realm. In her own words, if the requirements for
participation are set impossibly high, the result will be the promotion of a politics that
is unreprentative and unequal (1998a: 232). Arguing that women have distinct
interests that cannot be addressed in a system dominated by men, she says:
Women occupy a distinct position within society: they are typically
concentrated, for example, in lower-paid jobs; and they carry the primary
responsibility for the unpaid work of caring for others. There are particular
needs, interests, and concerns that arise from womens experience, and these
will not be inadequately addressed in a politics that is dominated by men.
Equal rights to vote have not proved strong enough to deal with this problem;
there must also be equality among those elected to office (1998a: 233).
24


Susheela Kaushik (1993) argues that mere participation and sheer numbers of
women in formal political structures is not enough to further womens representation.
Instead, she argues that there is a gap between womens participation and womens
representation. Encouraging critical thought on the matter, she asks: whose benefit is
this participation directed? In other words, the presence of women representatives
does not necessarily guarantee womens representation. In turn, Kaushik argues that
womens formal (and informal) political participation should not be seen as a goal in
itself, but rather a means and strategy for achieving something more fiindamental
(1993: x). In other words, gender quotas may not in themselves change the nature of
gender relations, but may instead provide the beginning steps toward such a change.
In order to go about transformative change, she argues, dominant structures and
ideologies must be recognized and dealt with; if women fail to identify the broader
processes of political structure and the way power is arranged in a particular society,
their participation will have been in vain and only served to strengthen the present
pattern of development rather than directing this pattern to their own development
(1993: x). In this way, womens formal political participation is not enough to foster
equal gender relations. Women must also recognize the nature of the political
environments in which they participate and be willing to challenge them. Developing
her argument from an Indian context, Kaushik writes:
Even values like equality (constitutional, political and economic), rights
(property, access to resources) etc. may be meaningful only when women
possess and exercise them consciously for bringing about a change in their
25


own position as well as of society; otherwise they will merely add up to
strengthening and reinforcing the existing social system by operating within
the framework of patriarchy (1993: x).
Containing elements of both Phillips and Kaushiks claims, Hawkesworth
(2006) argues that while women officeholders are more likely to prioritize policies
that further the interests of women, this fact is due to a process of networking with
outside actors. She argues, Engendering institutions of governance... promises to be
a strategy that builds bridges linking elected women officials, NGO activists, and
women citizens (Hawkesworth 2006: 92). According to Hawkesworth, womens
organizations may help to secure the election of female candidates and thus gain
access to decision makers, a critical step in efforts to create a policy agenda for
women (2006: 92). In this way, for Hawkesworth, it is not only an increased number
of women representatives that makes a difference, but also the support of outside
womens groups for these representatives. This support results in better
representation, or legislative success, and accountability (93).
Much like Kaushik, Cornwall and Gotez (2005) take up the issue of womens
representation in the face of patriarchal structures, noting that for many women
participating in formal political structures, winning and keeping office can be
contingent upon downplaying feminist sympathies (2005: 785). Further, they add,
existing research demonstrates that in countries where women hold more than 15
26


percent of legislative seats, this gradual feminization does not necessarily produce
changes in what parties and governments actually do (784).
Consequently, Cornwall and Goetz refer to quotas as a shot in the dark for
gender parity. While they may enable women to participate, womens agency is still
limited by the demands of their respective parties and constituents (2005: 785), the
latter of which tend to be ambiguous and difficult to pin down. For Cornwall and
Goetz, the failure of gender quotas to bring in more feminist perspectives is due to a
systemic challenge:
Experiments with affirmative action to feminize legislatures, and their
unsurprisingly less-than-dramatic impact in terms of bringing feminist
perspectives to politics remind us that the interests represented in public
offices are those that are well prepared in organizations backing each
politicianin the political parties and lobby groups providing policy
development and resources to advance particular issues (Cornwall and Goetz
2005: 786).
Interestingly, as Pitkin argues, representation is not a term floating around
ambiguously, despite the numerous conceptualizations of such. She notes, Basically,
as the words etymology suggests, representation means re-presentation, a making
present of something absent [emphasis added] (1969: 16). This is interesting in two
ways that are not unrelated. Firstand at the risk of diverting from Pitkins original
argument while womens participation in politics is argued to increase womens
representation (as demonstrated above with Phillips), such participation may then be
viewed as reconciling womens near absence from political structures. Or, as
27


womens participation increases, they literally make themselves present in the
political realm. Second, however, Pitkin continues the above thought by pointing out
that representation does not literally make this something present. It must be made
present indirectly, she says, through an intermediary; it must be made present in
some sense, while nevertheless remaining literally absent (Pitkin 1969: 16). For
example, for a woman legislator expected to re-present all of the women in her
particular district, state, country, etc., means to make these women present without
the women actually being there. In taking with these two ideas, when women
represent women through political participation, two things occur: women
representatives literally make themselves present in a structure in which they have
historically been absent, while indirectly making the women they re-present present.
In taking with the arguments posed by Kaushik and Cornwall and Goetz, the question
appears to lie in whether it is possible for women representatives to make present
their female constituentsas well as themselves, as womenwithin present day
political structures that tend to be unwelcoming to feminist perspectives. If not, are
women political participants really present?
If one subscribes to Hawkesworths argument, that gender quotas and
womens political participation results in a strategy to link the formal political realm
with outside constituents, womens presence seems more profound: ideally, while
women may establish a presence in the political realm, their agency is influenced,
supported and fed by outside actors. In other words, the relationship between women
28


representatives and women activists and citizens is characterized by a dynamic in
which each groups presence is supported by the other.
Gender Quotas and Critical Mass
Discussions about the ability or inability of gender quotas to bridge the gap
between descriptive and substantive representation are also linked to the concept of
critical mass. A critical mass generally refers to some threshold number or
percentage, usually 30 percent, of women needed in order to affect real substantive
and transformative change (Dahlerup 2006; Tremblay 2006; Childs and Krook 2006).
As Manon Tremblay (2006) points out, the term was quickly elevated to law-
like status in the 1980s and became synonymous with a relationship of cause and
effect between presence and ideas, thus leading one to believe in the sisterhood
among political women (Tremblay 2006: 502). Inspired by the work of Rosabeth
Moss Kanter (1977) and Mayer Hacker (1951), Drude Dahlerup (2006) describes the
concept of critical mass as such:
Originally, the term critical mass was borrowed from nuclear physics, where
it refers to the quantity needed to start a chain reaction, an irreversible turning
point, a takeoff into a new situation or process. By analogy, it has been said
that a qualitative shift will take place when women exceed a proportion of
about 30% in an organization. In this way, the move from a small to a large
minority is significant. Thus numbers, or rather percentages, count [emphasis
in original] (512).
29


Her research, however, which was based on the Nordic experience with over 30%
women in parliament, reconstructed this notion. She concluded that the critical mass
perspective should be replaced by a focus on critical acts that will empower women
in general (Dahlerup 2006: 512-3). While she uses gender quotas as an example of
such an act, Dahlerup does not imply that quotas are the only avenue toward an
irreversible turning point. In fact, she admits that such a turning point was difficult
to identify in light of her own research and, consequently, suggests broadening the
research agenda in order to create a lens for identifying critical acts. In turn,
Dahelrup lists six different aspects of changes that may follow from an increase in
women politicians: changes in the reaction to women politicians; changes in the
performance and efficiency of women politicians; changes in the political culture;
changes in the political discourse; changes of policy and political decisions; and an
increase in the empowerment of women (2006: 513).
In this way, Dahlerup also notes the importance of context to political issues.
While a critical mass of female politicians may be important to the adoption of
feminist public policy, factors such as the political context, state feminist
machineries, prevailing discourses, framing of the issue, coalition building, and
movement strength, among others, also play a significant role (Dahlerup 2006: 520).
Sandra Grey (2006) also argues that factors other than sheer numbers are
necessary for the creation of a political environment that fosters the potential for real
transformative change. Factors such as the links female legislators have with
30


womens organizations, the degree of feminist attitudes, and the ideological stances
of major political parties contribute to the degree of substantive representation for
women (Grey 2006). In addition, the context of structures and the way in which
power relations (or the relations of ruling, as discussed in the previous chapter) play
out are also important. She bases her assertions on research she conducted in New
Zealand, which focused on the actions of female legislators since 1970 using textual
analysis of parliamentary debates. According to Greys research, women politicians
have more readily acted as and for women when they have a team (of sufficient size),
whose members have feminist leanings, and when they find themselves in a general
environment supportive of feminist ideas (2006: 500).
Childs and Krook (2006) also encourage the acknowledgement of context and
call for a more focused lens when it comes to analyzing the numbers of women
involved in formal political structures and their outcomes. These authors argue that
contemporary times call for a rethinking of the concept of critical mass. They note
that the more studies that emerge on the subject, the more obvious it is that there is
neither a single nor a universal relationship between the percentage of women
elected to political office and the passage of legislation beneficial to women as a
group (522). In turn, Childs and Krook suggest changing the original research focus
from when women make a difference to how women make a difference. In
addition, the investigation should also shift from what women do to what specific
women do. They conclude their argument by proposing a distinction between
31


critical mass and critical actors in order to identify the concrete representatives
not the vague imperatives of sex or genderwho put in motion individual and
collective campaigns for women-ffiendly policy change (528). Childs and Krook
describe critical actors as those who initiate policy proposals on their own and
encourage others to take steps toward more policies for women, regardless of the
number of female representatives: Although they may operate alone, they may also
stimulate others to act, setting in motion a momentum for policy change, or
alternatively, provoking a backlash among those opposed to fundamental reform
(Childs and Krook 2006: 528).
What all three of these viewpoints on critical mass have in common is the fact
that they all, at some point, tie in the importance of the idea that something more than
sheer numbers is required for womens substantive representation. Dahlerup mentions
existing feminist machineries and coalition building with outside movements; Grey
also mentions female legislators links with outside womens groups, as well as the
degree of existing feminist attitudes; 'and Childs and Krook add to these contributions
with their suggestion to shift the framework from when women make a difference to
how they do it. Their reformulation of critical mass to critical actors is also important
here if we may conceptualize actors as those working beyond formal political
structures as well, as Dahlerup and Greys arguments would support.
Such a nuanced conception of representationone that recognizes the
significance of political activity outside of the formal political sphereappears to
32


raise questions about the effectiveness of gender quotas alone. When viewed in light
of Phillips (1998a), Kaushik (1993), Hawkesworth (2006) and Cornwall and Goetz
(2005), such a formulation of representation suggests that in order for gender quotas
to be effective, there must be a context of agency existing inside and outside formal
political structures. In this same light, in order for women to be present, as both re-
presenters and the re-presented, an unambiguous and collaborative relationship must
exist between these two realmsan idea posed at the end of the last section.
Gender Quotas and Possibilities for Transformation
One of the more optimistic outlooks on gender quotas comes from Brigitte
Geissel and Evelin Hust (2005), who focus their work on the mobilizing, rather than
the representative, capacity of gender quotas. Using a comparative lens, they examine
the effects of quotas in the German Parliament and a rural panchayat in India,
concluding that quotas opened doors to women who may not have otherwise
participated in politics. Through interviews, these authors note that the impact quotas
had on the mobilization of women showed itself in four different ways: quotas
encouraged women to begin a political career; quotas enabled women to acquire
political skills and fostered the confidence to do so; quotas facilitated in developing
sustained political ambitions and caused women to gain a feeling of competence; and
quotas supported non-elite women to join politics (Geissel and Hust 2005: 231-238).
The root of their argument lies in that it was through political participation that
33


women, particularly marginalized women of lower classes/castes, were able to
develop their political voices and general interest in politics. In their own words:
Quotas, whether imposed through political parties or through legislative
action, open up an opportunity for women to become active in politics. This
new structure facilitates changes at the level of the individual: Once women
have entered the political arena, they are likely to develop political interests,
skills and ambitions, which are mainly an outflow of practice, or learning on
the job, enabled by quotas (2005: 239).
These women were able to establish their presence in a way that superseded the mere
holding of a seat.
Hawkesworth also brings an example to this debate, citing the success of
South African women who used quotas in conjunction with [the] creation of
womens machinery to foster gender equality (2006: 93). Shortly after apartheid
ended, feminists within the African National Congress (ANC) pushed hard for gender
equality in the new South Africa. When the proposal for gender quotas was rejected
in 1991, the women extended their mobilization practices further, developing a
mechanism for gathering womens views and airing womens voices
(Hawkesworth 2006: 94). The ANC women organized the Womans National
Coalition, which brought in more than 70 womens organizations across political
standpoints. From here, they launched an 18-month campaign to leam what women
wanted from the reformulation of South Africas government. During this campaign,
members of the coalition traveled around the country and organized 203 focus
34


groups with 1,620 participants and collected 2,973 questionnaires from all regions;
this information created the Womens Charter, which outlined the needs and
demands of women across the country and ranged widely in stipulations from equal
opportunity in the work place, to equal participation in decision making, to
reproductive and sexual rights, to sharing burdens equally at home, and protection
from domestic violence and sexual harassment (Hawkesworth 2006: 94). The struggle
from here was far from over, but the womens persistenceand eventual direct action
when ANC women stormed the negotiating chamber, blocking talks until women
were literally given places at the tablepaid off in their favor when a 50 percent
gender quota was instated in 1993. Hawkesworth notes that, from here, the ANC
womens work focused on devising a mechanism that would prevent the
marginalization of womens issues and mainstream them into all aspects of
government work (2006: 95).
Despite the current success of such a mechanism (a subject Hawkesworth
does not get into), or even the success of the gender quota, it is important to
acknowledge the significance of the events leading up to 1993. Women across South
Africaof different races, classes, creeds and statuswere able to participate in the
formulation of the Womens Charter and voice their demands to the South African
state. The interviews and focus groups alone were arguably enough to stir up the
mobilization and agency of South African women.
35


To view gender quotas in light of these examples, as a way to mobilize and
empower women, demonstrates how this debate reaches beyond representation. To
draw from Manon Tremblays (2006) argument, that discussions about the political
representation of women should not be merely two dimensional (descriptive versus
substantive representation), the way political representation is translated in practice
depends on complex cultural and institutional settings (503) in other words,
context.
Hawkesworths example demonstrates the importance of context, as women
took advantage of a specific historical moment, the end of apartheid, in order to make
not only their own voices, but also those of women across South Africa, sufficiently
heard. On the other hand, Geissel and Husts research, in some ways, picks up where
Hawkesworths leaves off. It demonstrates how gender quotas are part of a process
(see Dahlerup 2006, 2008) and how such a process may serve as a gateway to more
fundamental change (see Kaushik 1993). In other words, even if quotas did not
directly result in womens representation, per say, they gave women a chance to
exercise their own agency. And, as the authors note, this opportunity occurred across
classes and castes.
In both instances, these examples demonstrate how the installation of gender
quotas may be viewed as a starting point, rather than a goal or end in itself. Dahlerup
takes up this idea in 2008 and mentions that no single gender sensitive reform can
change an entire regime, but that it may foster mobilization and lead to change in
36


other areas. She says, Gender quotas should not just be seen as the end result of the
debate. It may in fact be the start of a process of renegotiating womens position and
the social construction of gender in general (Dahlerup 2008: 326). The examples
provided by Geissel and Hust and Hawkesworth demonstrate how this process can
lead to both individual and collective changes, respectively.
Conclusion
It seems that for womens participation in formal politics to go as far as
possible, women must be able to mobilize across differencesclass, institutional
positions, race, political stances, etc.while at the same time acknowledging their
differences and similarities, much like the ANC women. Writing from an Indian
perspective, Kaushik notes that
if increasing political participation has to have any meaning for women, such
participation should be based on a widespread and well orchestrated
mobilization of women on the central issue of womens oppression and
subordinate status in the society and family (1993: xi).
In this way, the importance of collaboration among actors inside and outside of
formal structures appears to be significant, as some authors (Kaushik 1993, Dahlerup
2006, Grey 2006, Childs and Krook 2006, and Hawkesworth 2006) demonstrate that
the instatement of gender quotas is not enough to achieve mobilization and
transformative change in itself. In addition, the dominant masculinist discourse and
logic permeating malestream politics must not only be acknowledged, as Kaushik
37


encourages, but also challenged in order to effectively address womens needs and
interests, however diverse and multiple those may be. The ANC women do well at
exemplifying the significance and necessity of such a challenge.
What emerges from the literature appears to be the suggestion of a different
kind of representation that moves beyond descriptive and substantivea
representation based on the mutual support of both the representers and the
represented, as both groups arguably aid in making the other present. The goal of
this kind of representation is not merely to represent women, but rather to further the
means of mobilization and empowerment of women. In this way, re-presentation may
be conceived as a means to a more transformative end that informs actual change in
the status of womena transformation that occurs not only within the individual, but
the collective as well. Such representation means going beyond metaphorical
presence to actual presence.
For the remainder of this project, I utilize this alternative understanding of
representationan understanding that alludes to a presence that eliminates
womens absence in a more profound way than what is generally thought of
representation. As discussed, such a presence refers to not only women participating
in formal politics, but also to those women they are expected to re-present.
I also acknowledge gender quotas as a beginning, a process. This process is
contingent upon context and, as thus, filled with unexpected possibilities of new
spaces for change and action. Viewing gender quotas in this way compliments this
38


papers use of empowerment as well. To return to Parpart, Rai and Staudts (2006)
notion of the term, empowerment is contextual, multifaceted, transformative and
arises in a multiplicity of unexpected ways. Like these authors formulation of
empowerment, gender quotas, too, may be conceived as a process that may (or may
not) unexpectedly unfold into transformative change that transcends the bounds of
discursive normality (Parpart, Rai and Staudt 2003: 7). In other words, gender
quotas may lead to instances of empowerment, but possibly in ways we wouldnt
normally expect. I keep this aspect in mind throughout the next two chapters.
In regards to my discussion on women holding reserved seats in the Indian
panchayats, I would like to build on Geissels and Husts idea that gender quotas are
the beginning of a mobilizing process. This should help to frame a discussion on
whether quotas have led to instances or processes of transformative change. For my
discussion on the stalemated Womens Reservation Bill, I would like to dig deeper
into the concept of representation in order to identify links between formal actors in
Parliament and womens groups and organizations on the ground. Such an analysis
should help to build further understanding of the reasons behind the consistent tabling
of the bill. When taken together with Smiths (1987) notion of the relations of
ruling, this analysis also demonstrates the multifaceted and contextual challenges
faced by both women citizens and women officeholders.
Helpful to both discussions will be Childs and Krooks notion of critical
actors and whether their appearance or nonappearance influences particular
39


situations. Most importantly, as mentioned above, both discussions will depend upon
an acknowledgement of the context and contingency of womens empowerment.
This review of the literature provided some of the primary arguments
surrounding gender quotas, with questions of representation at the center of the
debate. In the next chapter, I bring these ideas to life by using them to examine
Indias local self-governments, which were required by constitutional law in 1992 to
reserve one-third of seats to women across caste lines. Following this, Chapter 4
examines the current quota issue at Indias national level in light of the stalemated
Womens Reservation Bill.
40


CHAPTER 3
CONSIDERING THE USES OF ADVERSITY: WOMEN AND THE
PANCHAYATI RAJ
In the previous chapter, I reviewed the existing academic literature that
explores themes of womens political participation, particularly gender quotas,
representation and critical mass. What emerged from this literature was an alternative
understanding of representation, one that moves beyond the dichotomy of
descriptive and substantive representation. This alternative understanding of
representation encompasses the mutual support between women officeholders and the
women they represent, as they both aid in making each other present. Similarly,
what also emerged is the importance of context and process to conversations and
debates about gender quotas. Borrowing from Dahlerup (2006), gender quotas should
not be viewed as an end result, but rather the beginning of a process that may lead
to the renegotiation of womens position in society. This process, in turn, may unfold
in various, contingent and unexpected ways, depending on the context in which
gender quotas are implemented. Dahlerup (2006) and Grey (2006) point out that
factors other than sheer numbers contribute to the political context in which womens
status can improve. Dahlerup lists the degree or presence of state feminist
machineries, prevailing discourses, issue framing, coalition building, and movement
strength as factors to consider. Grey notes the links women legislators have with
womens organizations, the degree of feminist attitudes and the ideological stances of
41


major political parties. All of these factors contribute to the context in which gender
quotas and the process of transforming womens status may unfold.
In this chapter, I develop the ideas of context and process in light of women
panchayat members in Indias local self-governments. I begin by outlining a brief
history of the panchayati raj institution and womens relation to it. Then, I discuss
my own research, which outlines the experiences of female panchayat members as
depicted in the Indian media. Finally, I provide an analysis of my research in light of
the ideas presented in the previous chapter, as well as Parpart, Rai and Staudts
(2003) conception of empowerment. From my research and analysis, I conclude that
while gender quotas have led to an increased level of participation for rural Indian
women (in some instances, women exceed the 30 percent reservation), the central and
state levels of government have not fulfilled their promise to increase the number of
resources and funds available to the panchayats. However, as the panchayats become
increasingly feminized, and as a result experience declining support from the central
and state governments, some women panchayat leaders are engaging in alternative
ways of doing politics, creating their own money and taking on projects
independently.
The Panchayati Raj: A Brief History
The establishment of panchayats came after Indias independence from
Britain. The principles underlining the idea of such an institution were in some part
42


inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who bolstered rural villages right to autonomy and
economic independence. As Harmon and Kaufman (2004) state, Gandhi sometimes
used the term Panchayati Raj to describe the kind of democracy he envisioned, in
which independence, both political and economic, began at the grassroots level (65).
In 1957, a government committee recommended the establishment of a three-tier
panchayati raj (PR) system to promote community development. Based on the
recommendations of this committee (see the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee Report
1957), by 1959, all states had passed the necessary legislation and panchayats were
set up in every state by the mid 1960s (Kaushik 2005).
The new vision of panchayats encompassed local sustainability and referred
to an entity of local government that would administer the upkeep of country roads
and village streets and provide sanitation, electricity, and schoolhouses (Harmon and
Kaufman 2004: 67). The primary intent of the panchayats was to decentralize
democracy and empower rural villagers to formulate and implement their own self
rule (Harmon and Kaufman 2004: 68). However, even with these ideals in mind,
upper caste and landowning males primarily took dominance over the panchayats
(Harmon and Kaufman 2004). So, although grassroots democracy laid the foundation
for such structures, patterns of patriarchy and upper-caste authority were still visible.
The PR institution is a three-tier system of local governance that includes a
village level, intermediate level and district level. It is important to note that local
self-governments are not law-making bodies, but rather smaller institutions that
43


decide mostly on issues of infrastructure and development (i.e., roads, schools, public
health, etc). It was reformed in 1992 by the passage of the 73rd amendment to the
Indian constitution, which required a 33 percent women-quota for all reserved
(Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Castes) and open seats.
This amendment also required the central and state levels of government to devolve
funds and resources for community development to the local level and introduced
direct elections and five year terms for all panchayat seats. Along with the 74th
amendment (which did all of this for urban legislative councils), the 73rd amendment
came into play on April 24, 1993 also celebrated as Womens Empowerment Day
- as a deliberate attempt to empower women (Harmon and Kaufman: 2004).
Prior to these amendments, the administration of panchayat bodies was
dominated by the central and state governments. There was a limited scope of action
among these bodies; and the small degree of power that was available stayed in the
hands of local male elites of the upper, landholding castes (Strulik 2004: 3). Since
these amendments were passed, more than one million women have been elected to
serve on panchayat bodies (Rai 2007).
Reporting on the Findings from Discourse Analysis of Indian newspapers
(1996-2006)
My research on womens position in the Indianpanchayats centers on a
document analysis of more than 200 articles from English-speaking Indian news
44


sources dated from October 1996 to April 2006. After reading each article, I logged it
into an Excel spreadsheet and categorized it by article type, source, name, date, main
ideas, and key words. When this process was finished, I went back through the
spreadsheet, which I put in order by publication date, and analyzed not only what was
said, but how and when it was said and who said it. The main ideas and words I
looked for focused on empowerment. My analysis is based primarily on the ways in
which this word was used to describe womens experiences aspanchayat members
and leaders. From here, I separated the stories into several groups: stories about
empowerment, stories of challenges, and stories about the panchayats in general.
By separating the stories in this way, I was able to form a synthesis of the situation at
this level of society, which is detailed in the pages below.
While it was difficult to root out one particular discourse surrounding women
panchayat members, I was able to see the unfolding of a political story that features
protagonists, antagonists, climaxes and let-downs with themes of womens
empowerment littered throughout. As Strulik (2004) points out, power relations do
not change overnight; however, after nearly 16 years, the reform of the Indian
panchayati raj institution is beginning to show some remarkable transformations in
the lives of rural Indian women, which span across caste lines. My document analysis
illustrates positive trends in the increased confidence, power, and participation of
female panchayat representatives. However, these more empowering components are
45


accompanied by challenges and reactions from the social and political patterns of
patriarchy that permeate Indian society.
INCREASED SENSE OF CONFIDENCE
One of the most significant observations of this analysis is the growing sense
of confidence experienced by female panchayat representatives and leaders, including
women from lower-castes. In 2002, an article from Frontline, an Indian magazine,
noted a greater level of self-affirmation among Dalit women who represent their
communities. In the caste-ridden villages of Tirunelveli and Madurai districts in
southern Tamil Nadu, there has been a long history of a lack of acceptance of Dalits
filling panchayat posts. But as time has passed, There is a perceptible rise in Dalit
assertion.. .Many Dalit and women panchayat presidents today speak with greater
confidence than was the case a few years ago, and they are more aware of their rights
and responsibilities (Frontline, 3 August 2002). This same article also noted that
increased Dalit assertion has resulted in the realization of some dominant-caste Hindu
communities that hostility to lower-caste members may be counter-productive to the
development of their villages.
The rise in Dalit assertion is illustrated by K. Pappa, the hero of a 2003
feature story from India Today. The picture used for this story is large and haunting,
and depicts this young woman mounted atop a motorcycle, a solid gaze of strength in
her eyes. Pappa, who is the leader of a village in the Madurai district in Tamil Nadu,
46


is described in the article as being a symbol of the bold, new Dalit woman of a land
tom apart by casteism and gender bias {India Today, 14 July 2003). She is quoted as
saying, There might be Dalit women who take orders from their husbands and
upper-caste men. But I cant be subservient to anyone (ibid.).
Growing self-confidence among women who participate in local self-
government is also accompanied by a reduction of purdah in mral villages. Purdah,
which literally means veil, refers to a system in which women are socially and
physically segregated from men. However, as more women find themselves
participating in local politics as representatives and village leaders, purdah is slowly
losing its significance as it often interferes with womens political duties. Nathu
Begam, a woman pradhan (village chairperson) of the Enfield Grant village in
northern Uttar Pradesh, is quoted as saying, You cannot work as a laborer or healer
in purdah (Asia Times, 5 February 2000). Another story from 1999 about the lifting
of purdah in a mral Haryana village reported:
Since purdah has been lifted, the best manifestation of empowerment can be
seen on their faces.. .Rather than being burdened by the weight of the
purdah, they walk with their head held high and interact with men of their
village and others in the area with increasing confidence {The Hindu, Madras,
8 March 1999).
The increased sense of confidence experienced by women with the lessening of
purdah also appears to be resulting in their increased sense of political power.
Another 1999 story cites Kiran Meghwal, a Scheduled Caste female sarpanch (village
leader) of Sekhasar in Jodhpur, as gaining confidence by uncovering herself and
47


now intends to run for office in the State Assembly (where womens seats are not
reserved). Meghwal says, I now understand their nexus, how they operate and what
all they do to monopolize everything. I can fight them better than any new
inexperienced person {Indian Express, 11 May 1999).
Some Muslim women, who are marginalized because of their gender and
religion, are also experiencing increased self esteem. A 2001 article featuring Ms.
Badarunnisa, an elected chairperson of the Malappuram municipality since 1995,
notes a change in personality among Muslim women panchayat representatives.
Badarunnisa is quoted as saying:
Once elected to the panchayat, there is a dramatic improvement in the
personality of the woman.. .The shy, nervous woman who used to be an
appendage of her husband would, in a few months, become assertive, self-
confident and efficient {The Hindu, 5 July 2001).
CONFIDENCE AND COLLABORATION
Even more noteworthy is the fact that increased confidence levels are
experienced to a higher degree in areas where womens neighborhood groups, female
collaboration across panchayat villages, and all-woman panchayats are visible. Such
groups, collaborations and organizations appear to have become more prominent in
recent times.
In Kerala, neighborhood groups, or Ayalkkoottams, may be considered the
lowest level of the panchayati raj, and commonly act as the watch dogs of the
village and activities that circulate around it. The women in these groups work
48


together to report failures of the local administration, instances of corruption in
development work, as well as existing social problems (e.g. mens excessive alcohol
abuse) to their local panchayat leaders. In turn, their participation has led to an
increased sense of confidence, as they have become more connected to the goings on
of their respective villages {The Hindu, 6 June 2000). A 2000 article notes this
phenomenon as womens growing political will and describes it as such:
Despite struggles on many fronts that included work burdens at home and
outside, and the pressures of being a part of public life, there is a perceptible
enhanced self-confidence among women (ibid.).
An example of the significance of collaboration across panchayat villages is
illustrated by the formation of Angul Mahila Manch, which is comprised of 30
women panchayat representatives from eight blocks. Samsita Behera, a convener of
the group, was quoted in 2005 as saying:
This is the only platform in the Angul district where women panchayati raj
representatives have come together irrespective of political affiliation or
socio-economic status to solve their issues in this backward district in general
(The Statesman, 19 December 2005).
All-woman panchayats are also becoming a powerful force in the areas where
they have sprouted. From 1999 to 2005, several have been documented by the
English language Indian media. In 2005, there were two reported instances of villages
unanimously electing women to fill every seat in the villages panchayats. In a May
23 article, a remote village called Neemkheda, located in the Mewat region of
Haryana, did this for the first time. As the article states it, The Neemkheda
49


panchayat was represented by men for the last 17 years, but growing poverty,
illiteracy and unemployment made the people hand over responsibility to the women
(Indo-Asian News Service, 23 May 2005). This occurrence could be read as a sort of
passing off of social responsibilities to women, but it may also be viewed as a
growing confidence in womens ability to work the system and get important issues
addressed in their village (ibid.).
One example that demonstrates the growing power of all-woman panchayats
comes from an article featuring the Kadambathur panchayat in the Thiruvallur district
of Tamil Nadu. One of the most noteworthy achievements of this particular group is
their collaboration with the villages womens groups in order to pool resources and
pitch in on a project to pave the towns roads after they had been repeatedly
dismissed by local contractors. One of the panchayat leaders is quoted as saying,
The contractors have been cheating usrepeatedly. We decided enough was enough
and decided to take up the contract ourselves {The Hindu, 14 November 1999).
Needless to say, the women paved the road by themselves within two months, a
record time for any prior project undertaken in their village. While all-woman
panchayats still tend to be an exception, their growing prominence in rural areas
signifies a definite churning of power relations in rural villages and thus a potential
avenue for womens empowerment in general.
The connections made between panchayats and local womens groups also
appear to be significant in themselves. One 2006 article from The Statesman reported
50


on the Aagaz Foundation, which funded several local NGOs across regions to offer
leadership courses in ending hunger, poverty and injustice for new women
panchayat members {The Statesman, 3 November 2006). These courses were
extended to women across caste lines and as the graduates reached the Capital to
collect their degrees, slogans like Now it is the turn of women, women are part of
the panchayats and There is power in togetherness, we are one, we are one were
chanted with a sense of ecstasy and freedom (ibid.). By helping women see their
ability to transform social conditions, these courses not only offered women
important political skills, but also brought women together to realize their collective
strength. One lower-caste women, who was reported to be illiterate, was quoted as
saying: My voice sounds like that of a tigress today, for I can roar without being
shushed or terrorized into silence. My opinion matters, I have a say and I can stand
for independent elections with the menfolk as an equal contestant (ibid.). These
particular courses had so far trained about 60,000 women across regions, castes and
states. Another 2005 article from The Hindu also reported on a similar organization,
Search, which helped training women panchayat members to be self-confident and
fearless about facing challenges in their workplaces (19 January 2006).
POLITICAL TRANSFORMATION
The ways in which some women, and particularly lower-caste women, are
experiencing higher levels of self-confidence signifies not only a positive
51


transformation in their own attitudes, but also a transformation in the way politics are
conducted at the local level. While it is dangerous to employ the gender myth of
women as less corrupt (see Goetz 2007), since women have taken seats in local
self-governments, funds are being used more frequently to support improvements in
health and hygiene, girls education, and basic infrastructure. A 2004 essay published
on ReportingPeople.org indicates that female sarpanches are more likely to resist
bribes from district officials and stand up to bullying officials who refuse to release
money for village projects (ReportingPeople.org, 20 October 2004). The essay also
notes that women demonstrate a greater capacity for resolving disputes and social
reforms, such as alcohol reduction and domestic violence, are clearly given
prominence when women are brought to the political fore.
These changes have also been noted by the mainstream Indian media. A 2001
article from The Hindu, entitled People Prefer Women Panchayat Chiefs, states that
villagers feel women make better panchayat chiefs and presidents, as they are more
effective, honest, and serious about their responsibilities {The Hindu, 5 July 2001).
Some states have even increased the womens quota in local bodies to 50 percent.
The Indian media also reports that more women are beginning to contest
elections at not only the local level, but the state and national levels as well. While
women are still severely under-represented within the state and national governments,
the fact that more women are running for higher offices demonstrates an increased
sense of ability and confidence to take on leadership roles in an institution that is
52


undeniably dominated by male patriarchal power. In short, it shows their willingness
and confidence to challenge this power.
CHALLENGES AND REACTIONS
However, there are caveats that accompany these observations, as women
panchayat members continue to face a number of cultural and structural barriers.
These transformations are certainly not absolute or occurring on a dramatic scale.
According to my research, some social barriers include, but are not limited to:
illiteracy; village meetings being held without notifying female leaders and
presidents; meetings held late at night that are deliberately located miles away from
women members homes; violence against female panchayat leaders and
representatives; husbands taking over wives positions and attending meetings in their
place; a lack of cooperation from male upper-caste elites; social stigmas about
womens ability to exercise power; as well as caste, clan and family issues
overshadowing political and gender-based priorities. These social barriers reflect the
considerable influence that male power has in Indian society and indicate the
gendered challenges faced by rural Indian women.
Perhaps one of the most significant structural barriers that women face lies in
the fact that the PR institution still lacks much of the autonomy that it was granted by
the 73rd Amendment. Section 243G of this amendment authorizes state legislatures to
endow the panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable
53


them to function as institutions of self-government (Harmon and Kaufman: 2004:
70). The effectiveness of the panchayats depends upon the devolvement of funds
from the national and state governments. However, several articles note of the
dynamic between local self-governments and central state structures, citing the
inconsequential nature of panchayats and their members.
It is not uncommon for upper-level structures of governments to ignore the
significance of village panchayats and neglect to take the local bodies seriously. They
are often burdened by the disregard of state governments to devolve funds to the local
level, as well as efforts among state governments to erect parallel bodies (most
significantly, District Rural Development Agencies), which consequently undermine
the panchayats' power. In 2004, an article from The Hindu newspaper reported that
calls in favor of direct transfers in funds to panchayat bodies, largely from a group of
women panchayat presidents from Tamil Nadu, faced much opposition from political
parties and state governments. And while the 73rd Amendment specifies that state
governments increase devolved funds to panchayat bodies by one percent each year,
this percentage has not changed since 1996 in the state of Tamil Nadu (The Hindu, 2
August 2004). As one columnist in 2005 pointed out, We are not lacking the laws
for decentralization, but the political will for implementing them (The South Asian,
10 April 2005).
Cutting through red tape is a problem for many panchayat bodies. As a 2002
headline from The Times of India states, most panchayats are still at the mercy of
54


bureaucrats (The Times of India, 28 December 2002). The reporter quotes a
spokesperson from Swayam Shikshan Prayog, a development organization from
Mumbai that focuses on empowerment issues, as saying, Theres a huge unfilled
demand for information. Panchayats dont know how to access resources or manage
services (ibid.).
In addition to the overall lack of recognition for panchayats power, creation
of parallel bodies, and inadequate and slow devolvement of funds, there have also
been more covert measures to control the local level of government. In 2005, Info
Change India reported that the Central Governments pending development agenda
included a measure that would disqualify panchayat members who did not have a
toilet, a measure that could potentially filter out many of the rural poor from political
participation (InfoChange India, 11 August 2005). In addition to this, several states
like Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh
have implemented a two-child rule for panchayat members, disqualifying anyone
who is rearing more than two children (InfoChange India, August 2004).
Viewing this phenomenon through a gendered lens, men largely outnumber
women within the central and state governments while the panchayats are becoming
increasingly feminized. A 1998 article cites Mulayam Singh Yadav, a member of
Parliament (MP) and ttie chief of the Samajwadi Party, as saying that panchayat
reservations are okay because women wouldnt be making laws, an argument
referring to the debate over the Womens Reservation Bill (The Times of India, 15
55


August 1998). The power dynamic playing out between local bodies and the central
state government structures appears to be based on control and may be metaphorical
to the power dynamic existing between women and men in Indias patriarchal society.
Analysis of the Panchayati Raj and the Implications for Womens
Empowerment
As scholars and media pundits alike point out the integral male undertones of
Indian politics and society, I argue that the panchayati raj does still appear to
demonstrate one way in which this male form of politics may be subverted by
women. The main idea that emerges from my research is that as the one-third gender
quota has brought more women into the panchayats, and as these institutions slowly
become more feminized, what is evident is an increased bureaucratic block and a
taking away of power, e.g., creating parallel institutions such as the District Rural
Development Agencies. However, as seen in the articles, this development does not
seem to have disempowered women working at the local level. In fact, quite the
opposite has happened, as seen with the road builders in Tamil Nadu. In other words,
as the central and state governments cease to recognize the legitimacy of rural self-
governments, and the more these levels cease to provide a sufficient amount of
funding, the more panchayat membersparticularly, women panchayat members
are creating alternative ways to tackle their villages needs.
EMPOWERMENT AS A PROCESS
56


My research follows the arguments on gender quotas reviewed in Chapter 2;
namely that gender quotas are most beneficial when viewed as a process, rather than
an end goal. While the 73rd Amendment began this process, instating a one-third
reservation of all seats to women at the local level, it has unfolded in such a way that
has led some women to break out of their preexisting molds. These women have
developed a newfound confidence guiding them outside their homes, thus challenging
their traditional roles as mothers, wives, and caretakers. And while Shirin Rai
(2007) acknowledges that quotas for women in the panchayats have not led to
changes in womens status within the home, the levels of self confidence and
ambitions expressed by women are increasing (Rai 2007: 77). This confidence and
ambition, in turn, has arguably developed into a profound transformation of women
participants, which is exemplified by the rise in Dalit womens assertion of their own
power, a reduction of purdah, and the incredible sense of agency displayed by the
Thiruvallur road builders when they lacked formal support for the project. Some
women are demonstrating that they are more self-assured, refuse to be subservient,
stripping themselves of purdah and taking their duties as community leaders
seriously. In this way, their confidence and political will is also manifesting as a
serious challenge to traditional gender and caste relations.
The agency displayed by the women in Thiruvallur also shows how the
process of gender quotas may feed into the third kind of representation taken up in
the previous chapter: one that encompasses the mutual support between women
57


officeholders and the women they represent, as they both aid in making the other
present. The road building project was characterized by this mutual support, as the
Kadambathur all-woman panchayat collaborated with local womens groups in order
to pool money together and carry out the work.
In general, as demonstrated by the research, in areas where there exists
womens neighborhood groups, female collaboration across panchayat villages, and
all-woman panchayats, there appears to be even more confidence and willingness
among women to confront village problems. Jana Everett (2008) also notes the
importance of coordination between and across women panchayat members, as well
as between panchayat members and local NGOs/womens groups. In her research on
the efforts of local NGOs to offer leadership training to women panchayat members,
she acknowledges that while such trainings are valuable, they do have their
drawbacks. She concludes by suggesting that collaboration between womens groups
and women panchayat members may increase the opportunity of the latter to make
positive differences in the lives of rural women:
Coordinated efforts to combine training, networks of EWRs [elected women
representatives] and local grassroots womens organizations would strengthen
the capability of EWRs to address the basic needs and the issues faced by
local women... [S]uch collaboration could provide suggestions for how to use
the 10 per cent womens budget of the gram panchayat in Maharashtra in
strategic ways. Networks of EWRs could provide training relevant to local
contexts (Everett 2008: 211).
58


This theme also gives weight to Dahlerups (2006) and Greys (2006) arguments that
sheer numbers arent enough, that collaboration and links between women
officeholders and womens groups contribute to participants effectiveness and
confidence.
The Thiruvallur example also aids in bringing forth Childs and Krooks
(2006) suggestion to shift the research focus from when women make a difference
to how they do it. In other words, what is important here is not how fast women are
making a difference through their newfound participation, but how they are doing it.
By not allowing despondent contractors and governments to crush their spirits, the
women of the Thiruvallur district were not only able to complete the project they
sought to take up, but were able to collaborate with other women in the village to
complete it in record time, without help from either men or outside political actors
less receptive to their interests. Simply put, they took matters into their own hands.
Arguably, the women in this particular village will not hesitate or lack the courage
and agency to carry out future projects in this manner.
In this way, the women in Thiruvallur also demonstrate a perfect example of
what it means to be a critical actor. Again, Childs and Krook (2006) describe critical
actors as:
[Those who] may operate alone, [but] may also stimulate others to act, setting
in
motion a momentum for policy change, or alternatively, provoking a backlash
among those opposed to fundamental reform (Childs and Krook 2006: 528).
59


While the context is different from Childs and Krooks (2006) original argument, the
women in Thiruvallur took up their project regardless of funding, stimulated others to
act, and set forward a momentum for change. The critical actors in this particular
case may also be conceptualized as those working beyond formal political structures,
as the project involved not onlypanchayat members and leaders, but also local
womens groups. Finally, it is important to note that all of these occurrences have
been fueled by and are part of a process', the 73rd Amendment alone did not bring
about this degree of transformation.
EMPOWERMENT AND CONTEXT
The way in which gender quotas have played out at the rural level of India has
indeed occurred according to its own context. While gender quotas have fostered
increased participation for women, womens increased sense of power has arguably
developed as a result of a different phenomenon. As more women enter the realm of
local politics, the panchayati raj has, in some sense, become feminized. As seen by
the literature and research, this feminization has occurred alongside stalemated
financial support from the central and state governments, as well as the erection of
parallel development bodies and policies that seek to limit panchayat participation
(e.g., requiring that all members have a toilet). Indeed, the women in the
60


Kadambathur panchayat were part of an all-woman panchayat and, too, experienced
a lack of support and funding from formal sources.
The way in which this process has unfolded, however, does not appear to have
limited the women participating at this level. In fact, some women are creating
alternative ways of doing politics that transcend the boundaries of traditional
politics, like the women from the Thiruvallur district in Tamil Nadu. In other words,
this particular context has made space for change, albeit a slow change, at Indias
local level of rural politics. There is a transformation occurring at this level and Rai
(2007) notes this as well in her research on the panchayati raj:
Despite the slow process of change at local levels of governance in India,
womens increased participation in panchayats is an important part of creating
an active citizenry (sic) and challenges the dominant relations of social power
(Rai 2007: 78).
What I add to this, however, is the paradoxical idea that this challenge to hegemonic
power and creation of an active citizenry is in part due to the fact that the
panchayats have been neglected by larger sources of political and financial power.
In this way, I agree with Stefanie Struliks (2004) analysis of the Indian
political arena as primarily male structured, but I disagree with her argument that
follows this claim. Strulik maintains that due to the male undertones that permeate
Indian society, women will always be limited in their actions. In her 2004 work,
Strulik states:
Note, that the political arena is not a gender neutral space but that those parts
of the political domain which are commonly perceived as 'politics' are
61


structured above all according to the dominant, male discourse. It is within
this discourse that women get constructed as ignorant and unfit to do politics
and ideals about a certain gendered division of labor, including women's
exclusion from politics, get reproduced (Strulik 2004: 6).
According to Strulik, central power structures inhibit the flourishing of womens
political empowerment. And because Indian political space is commonly perceived as
male space, and because politics are often structured according to a dominant male
discourse, the consequence is that women will inevitably have to change in order to
be successful within them (Strulik 2004).
However, women are changing the meaning of politics at the local level, as
demonstrated through the increased presence of all-woman panchayats\ womens
leadership roles in the Neighborhood Groups; a greater capacity for taking on social
reforms and dispute resolution; collaboration with other local women and womens
groups; and standing up to bullying officials who refuse to release money for village
projects (ReportingPeople.org, 20 October 2004). At the local level, the issue is not
whether women will have to change if they want to be accepted into politics, but
rather how some women are changing the meaning of politics. And, as discussed
above, not only are women changing the meaning of politics at the local level, but
they themselves are experiencing personal transformations as a result of their
increased agency, experience and participation. In this way, womens participation
within the panchayats indicates a transformation at both the individual and collective
levels.
62


EMPOWERMENT AS TRANSFORMATION
The way in which womens agency is carried out at the local level is also in
keeping with Parpart, Rai and Staudts (2003) conception of empowerment as an
unpredictable process and transformative experience. To return to the original quote
used in Chapter 1:
Foucaults exposition of power allows us to move away from more traditional
notions of power as the ability to exert power over structures, people and
resources. It reminds us that power is fluid, relational and connected to control
over discourses/knowledge. It is therefore an important insight of feminist
analyses of power and empowerment. However, we would also insist upon
focusing on the relationship between structures and agency, of challenge and
transformation which transcends the bounds of discursive normality
[emphasis added] (Parpart, Rai & Staudt 2003: 7).
Fueled by the constitutionalization of panchayat gender quotas, the process of
empowerment has started to unfold for women at Indias local level. Having analyzed
this process through the kind of governance produced by the panchayats and the
relationship between the panchayats and higher government structures, it is clear that
this process has been unpredictable. In other words, it was not the initial gender
quotas that empowered women; but rather, and ironically, the unsupportive
reactions from the central and state governments, as well as from men. As Parpart,
Rai and Staudt point out in the above citation, power is fluid, relational and connected
to discourses and knowledge. This particular analysis demonstrates how the fluidity
and relationality of power may be manipulated, albeit in unpredictable ways, in order
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for women to take some of it back and carve out a space for their own actions and
personal empowerment.
The actions that women have taken as a result of their increased self-
confidence have also resulted in a transformation which transcends the bounds of
discursive normality (Parpart, Rai and Staudt 2003). Some women who never
before left their homes are now respected leaders in their villages; some Dalit women,
who have traditionally been expected to be submissive to not only men, but also
dominant caste members, are no longer willing to be walked on; and the road builders
in the Thiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu demonstrated their leadership capabilities by
completely owning the road project, in which they received no support from the
village men. These instances of personal empowerment are in turn causing significant
changes at the collective level. More women are leaving their homes, taking on
leadership roles and political and social responsibilities. In addition, dominant caste
members are beginning to recognize that hostility to lower-caste members serves a
counterproductive role in the development of their villages. Finally, women are
finding methods of accruing funds for local projects outside central and state
government structures. Remarkably, this has all occurred within a context of deeply-
ingrained male and upper-caste domination of political and social life. And although
this has been a slow and small-scale process, some rural Indian women have
effectively begun to challenge traditional gender and caste relations.
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And while the transformations that women are making to politics may be
indirectly unsupported by male state power, this does not make them insignificant in
themselves. As Parpart, Rai and Staudt describe:
Participation in challenges to hegemonic systems and discourses has often
inspired both greater self-understanding and political action in womens
private and public lives. Involvement in the politics of subversion is thus
empowering in itself, even if it fails to transform immediately dominant power
relations (2003: 7).
Building upon this analysis, I argue that empowerment is occurring within Indias
rural spaces, even if it is emerging in the face of adversity. While this phenomenon is
not widespread, or without challenges (particularly gendered and caste-related
challenges), it is occurring and changing the lives of some women. And, again,
consistent with Childs and Krook (2006), it is not a matter of when women are
making a difference, but rather how they are doing it; and, I would like to add, that
they are making a difference.
Some women panchayat representatives and leaders are becoming empowered
to challenge traditional power structures, as well as to exercise a voice in a structure
they were previously excluded from. In acting upon this challenge, women are also
beginning to transform the political and social environments in which they work and
live. Their actions and voices are changing these very structures.
Conclusion
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In this chapter, I explored the potential for womens empowerment in the
context of the panchayati raj. What emerged from my research is, simply put,
strength in adversity. While gender quotas have fueled the beginning of a process of
participation, they have also started a process of backlash from the central and state
governments. As the panchayats become more feminized, central and state structures
are simultaneously erecting more formidable barriers to participation, autonomy and
funding. From a gendered perspective, this dynamic may also serve as a metaphor of
traditional Indian gender relationswith male power asserting itself over female
power.
However, in the face of this play of power, some women panchayat members
and leaders have continued their political work, even finding alternatives to male state
support. As their participation and experience has led to increased self-confidence,
agency, and transformation; and as more women begin to experience personal
empowerment as a result; they in turn project this transformative experience of
empowerment onto the politics and societies in which they participate and live.
In the next chapter, I continue building on these ideas in the context of the
political drama surrounding the Womens Reservation Bill. While this chapter has
demonstrated how the relations of ruling may be subverted and manipulated, the next
chapter shows how these same relations can also be used to contort arguments for
womens empowerment in quite insidious and unpredictable ways. I end by analyzing
both of these contexts, the local and the national, and examine what they together
66


may imply for a more complete understanding of womens empowerment and the
discourses surrounding it.
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CHAPTER 4
GENDER, CASTE AND THE DIVISIVE NATURE OF THE WOMENS
RESERVATION BILL
In the previous chapter, I explored themes of empowerment and gender quotas
in the context of Indian womens participation in local self-governments. This
particular analysis demonstrated how the implementation of gender quotas at the local
level has in some ways feminized the panchayati raj. But as this local-level
institution has become more feminized, it has also in turn received unfulfilled
promises of increased support and autonomy from the more masculine central and
state levels of government. However, even as this phenomenon has unfolded in this
way, my research demonstrates how some women have considered the uses of
adversity. In other words, even as these local institutions experience increased
challenges from higher levels of government, some women have created alternative
methods of doing politicsmethods characterized by collaboration, subversion of
traditional social norms and collective empowerment.
While the prior chapter explored how gender quotas may open spaces of
opportunity for womens empowerment, this chapter addresses the obstacles that arise
when gender quotas are under debate. I do this by examining the discourse
surrounding the Indian Womens Reservation Bill, which would reserve one-third of
seats to women in central and state legislative bodies and is the source of a 13-year
dispute. By examining gender quotas in the context of this debate, I demonstrate
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further how the challenges to quota measures often arise under specific contextual
circumstances. In this case, caste issues play a major role and challenge to the
implementation of gender quotas at Indias formal level of politics.
I begin this chapter by offering a brief history of the Womens Reservation
Bill, what it is and the major sources of debate behind it. Then, I discuss my own
analysis of this debate, which is based on four themes of formal Indian politics that I
derived from my document analysis: first, male power tends to operate covertly;
second, Indian politics are marked by male exclusivity; third, lower-caste male
resistance to the WRB is overt and aggressive; and finally, caste and gender have
been pitted against each other within this debate. Following a discussion of the data, I
analyze these findings in light of the ideas presented in Chapter 2 and other academic
literature that addresses this particular debate. Based on my analysis, I argue that the
divisiveness of this debate has consequently resulted in a continued silence about the
cross-cutting issues of gender and caste within mainstream political discourse.
The Womens Reservation Bill: A Brief History and the Debate Underlining It
The Womens Reservation Bill was introduced to Parliament on September
13, 1996 by the United Front government. At its heart, the bill seeks to reserve one-
third of seats to women in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of Parliament) and State
Assemblies. Since its introduction, a subsequent 13-year conflict has manifested in
the Lok Sabha over its passage; and for the duration of these 13 years, the bill has yet
69


to see the floor of the Lok Sabha, as it is consistently tabled due to consensus
issues. The speaker of the Lok Sabha has time and again said that the bill will not go
up for vote until all parties agree on its primary principles.
One of the more popular arguments coming from the Womens Reservation
Bills proponents is that it will open the doors for womens empowerment and serve
to lessen the inequality between men and women. One columnist points out,
Political participation is a vital link towards total empowerment of women.
With that empowerment, she is not a threat to men, but a partner and effective
participant in the progress of the country (V.M. Giri, 7 January 2000).
Some refer to this sort of door opening as a step towards womens empowerment in
that it could challenge gender hierarchies. Brinda Karat, the general secretary of the
All India Democratic Womens Association and Member of Parliament (MP), denies
that the bill will undo all of the evils that dog Indias polity, but notes that it has as
its aim the reduction of the blatant inequality between men and women in
legislatures (B Karat, 3 December 1996). Similar to these arguments are also those
that claim reservations are the only way for women to get their issues addressed by
Parliament. In turn, this recognition becomes associated with empowerment. For
example, in a 1999 column entitled Political Women: Quotas Will Lead to
Empowerment, the writer argues,
Greater representation of women would bring in a female perspective in the
political arena. Issues like domestic violence, rape, abortion, child care
policies, social division of labor within the home and the workplace could
then be addressed {The Statesman, 3 April 1999).
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While all political parties have officially declared their support for the bill
according to Sakuntala Narasimhan (2002), it has been continuously scuttled by a
small group of lower-caste male MPs. The bill is consistently tabled due to
consensus issues, as male leaders from lower-caste parties routinely oppose it on the
grounds that it is elitist in nature. Lower-caste MPs, mostly those from Other
Backward Castes (OBCs), argue that that bill needs sub-quotas for caste in order to
protect the seats from being filled by exclusively rich, upper-caste proxy women
(see The Times of India, 19 July 1998; The Hindu, Madras, 30 March 1999).
However, rather than working these issues out in consensus meetings over the last 13
years, the issue is dropped and the bill is tabled, accompanied by a common sentiment
of maybe next session. Even though a majority vote to get the bill passed could
easily be obtained in the 543-member lower house, the speaker has not allowed the
bill to enter the floor until a consensus is reached (Narasimshan 2002: 184).
Reporting on the Findings from Discourse Analysis of Indian Newspapers
(1996-2008)
My research on the Womens Reservation Bill and the discourses surrounding
it consisted of reading more than 200 articles from English-speaking Indian news
sources from October 1996 to July 2008. As mentioned in the prior chapters, after
reading each article, I logged it into an Excel spreadsheet and categorized it by article
71


type, source, name, date, main ideas, and key words. When this process was finished,
I went back through the spreadsheet, which I put in order by publication date, and
analyzed what was said, how and when it was said, and who said it. For this particular
theme, the Womens Reservation Bill, I separated the articles based on subject:
stories on the drama of the bill and general stories about women in central and state
level politics. I noticed the unfolding story of the WRB and the reactions from
various columnists and MPs. In many ways, this story plays out like a soap opera
dramatic, suspenseful, and with no end. Based on my analysis of this drama and the
way women in politics are generally portrayed, I argue that the debate surrounding
the WRB indicates several barriers for womens empowerment in the transformative
sense. All of these barriers appear to be rooted in the ways in which male
institutional, material and discursive power manifests itself within Indias formal
political realm.
This claim is based on four themes that emerged as I conducted my analysis of
the documents that told the story of this debate. The first theme deals with the covert
nature of male power in the political realm, which serves to depoliticize and mask the
gendered concerns underlying the WRB. Second, male domination of political power
in India is characterized by its exclusive nature in relation to women politicians.
Third, the way in which lower-caste males display resistance to the Womens
Reservation Bill is more overt. Finally, the nature of their resistance has led to a
profound disconnect between gender and caste at the parliamentary and societal
72


levels of this debate. In this way, the nature of both gender and caste relations in
Indian politics appears to present significant obstacles for womens empowerment.
COVERT MALE POWER
The first theme that I derived from my analysis of the debate surrounding the
WRB focuses on the idea that male power existing in the formal Indian political
realm tends to be more covert than overt. For instance, the manner in which the bill is
dealt with, as it is persistently tabled due to consensus issues and never put up to
vote, masks any gendered reasons that may be existing underneath mere politics. By
consistently claiming to table the bill because of consensus concerns, the Indian
Parliament depoliticizes the bills underlying implications for transformative change.
It is important to note that tabling legislation due to a lack of consensus
among MPs does not appear to be a common practice. In 2000, MP Najma Heptulla
observed, In my 21 years of parliamentary career I have never seen consensus
building on any issue. Let the Bill come to Parliament and it should be decided on the
floor of the House (The Telegraph, 10 May 2000). And as Margaret Alva of the
Congress Party pointed out after the bill was tabled in 2001, You cant say you want
a consensus and do nothing about it, not take the initiative. The government wants to
avoid the issue altogether {The Times of India, 24 November 2001).
Avoidance of this issue was also demonstrated in 2000 when the Elections
Commission offered an alternative to the Womens Reservation Bill that would also
73


serve to heighten female presence in higher office. The alternative made political
parties fill at least one-third of their ballots with women candidates each election. It
was subsequently rejected by all the parties. One columnist suggested that the real
reason for parties shunning of the EC recommendation is because they do not want
the debate over womens reservations to end because it has has always served the
politicians purposes {The Telegraph, Calcutta, 24 April 2000). This observation is
consistent with the positive rhetoric that tends to manifest around the bill during
election periods. Promises to bolster the bills passage are made excessively before
elections.
In addition to inner-party quotas, the EC also suggested the delimitation of
constituencies, which would increase the number the Lok Sabha seats. Most parties
were in favor of this particular suggestion, as it implied that men would not have to
lose seats to women. One columnist from The Economic Times pointed out that of
all the ECs recommendations, the delimitation of seats and constituencies is
unequivocally advocated by all parties. The columnist says, Club the reservation
of seats for women with the delimitation exercise by increasing the total number of
seats so that the proposed quota does not reduce the existing number of seats that
male politicians can aspire to represent (The Economic Times, 25 April 2000). It is
also important to note that before the EC made either of these recommendations, the
Congress Party, under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, attempted to reserve one-third
of seats for women in all of the partys bodies in 1999 in efforts to increase its female
74


voter base. However, these attempts fell through, as party posts was soon altered to
mean committee level, with the final result of womens underrepresentation within
the party due to a lack of suitable and/or sufficient women (The Pioneer, Delhi,
27 January 1999 and The Asian Age, Bombay, 27 January 1999). Some women, such
as Meira Kumar, were demoted within the party under reasons of sheer ineptitude
(The Asian Age, Bombay, 27 January 1999).
As mentioned earlier, a majority vote to pass the WRB has already been
obtained in the Lok Sabha. When this fact is taken together with the so-called
avoidance of the issue (except at election time), as well as the unified support of
constituent delimitation, it raises questions about the intentions of the parties who
claim to support womens reservations. Their rhetorical support for the bill around
election time and simultaneous rejection of inner-party quotas is suspicious. None of
the parties want to field one-third of their seats to women and when the Congress
Party attempted to do this on their own, they failed miserably, citing womens lack of
winnability and experience (The Asian Age, Bombay: 27 Jan 1999). In this way, the
maintenance of male power in Indian politics is more covert than obvious. By
expressing rhetorical support for the WRB, parties can appear woman-friendly
without having to actually lose seats to women or even field female candidates to
their party ballots.
In addition, if the majority of the Lok Sabha genuinely supported womens
reservations, it doesnt seem logical that they would continuously allow a small
75


clique of male hecklers to stall it. I take up the behavior of this band of detractors in
the following pages, but first I discuss the second theme that emerged from my
document analysis, which sets the gendered context of formal Indian politics.
MALE EXCLUSIVITY OF INDIAN POLITICS
While engaging my discourse analysis, I found Indias formal political realm
to be characterized by male exclusivity. Women MPs on average make up about 8
percent of the Lok Sabha (Rai 1999), few of which earned their seat due to prior
involvement in womens groups or similar political work. Several women MPs are
movie stars and some have won their seats through the reputation of a male family
member. In this way, the political realm of the central and state levels of decision
making displays undertones of exclusivity when it comes to the selection of women
MPs and MLAs (Members of Legislative Assemblies). Shirin Rai (1999) refers to this
dynamic as the selective inclusion of women into mainstream politics (Rai 1999:
96).
The concept of gendered selective inclusion is also made evident by the
discourses that surround the roles of women MPs and MLAs. Women in politics are
often spoken of as other women, and widely perceived to be outside the norm of
what it means to be a woman in Indian society. In a 1996 opinion piece discussing the
introduction of the Womens Reservation Bill, a columnist refers to women in politics
as those other career women. He suggests that special facilities and service
76


conditions should be provided to enable them to combine their dual role of
politician and mother assuming that a) all women are mothers and b) that politics
and motherhood are naturally conflicting (The Pioneer, 1 November 1996). In
another 2001 editorial within the Times of India, the writer notes:
In the sub-continent, politics is for that Other woman, privileged and protected
by powerful families by birth and/or marriage. Even the progressive young
woman is notoriously disinterested in politics, not just formal parliamentary
politics but politics per se of the family, the profession or civil and human
rights issues as such (The Times of India, 29 April 2001).
While both commentators come from different positions in their othering of
political women, both point to a common observation: politics is not conceived as a
natural realm for the majority of women; and those women who do participate are
thought to be outside the norm.
This phenomenon tends to bolster the proxy argument, which is often cited
by media and political critics of the WRB. This argument is centered on the idea that
the Womens Reservation Bill would not empower women, as it would only open up
political space for proxy politicians who would keep seats warm for male family
members. However, while it is true that the large majority of women MPs and MLAs
attained their seats through the reputation of a male family member, this argument
neglects the fact that male proxies also exist (see Narasimhan 2002; Menon 2000).
The proxy argument leads to a further assumption that women are simply incapable
of taking part in politics. Their assumed role is that of benchwarmer.
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The way in which women politicians are expected to behave within the formal
political realm is also framed by male exclusivity. Overall, higher expectations are
put on women MPs and MLAs. These expectations come from both Indian society
and their male colleagues.
A 2000 article from The Hindu, titled Women yet to make their presence felt
in House, notes the visibility of eve-teasing in state assemblies. One female MLA
of the Tamil Mahila Congress Party (TMC), who is reported to have raised more than
100 questions in the previous assembly, is quoted as saying, There are biases against
women within the party. They dont want me to make it to the newspaper headlines,
so, they deny me opportunities to speak (The Hindu, 8 March 2000). In response,
TMCs leader is quoted as saying, There is no bias. The (TMC) women MLAs dont
prepare well, they lack concentration and talk irrelevant things. Despite their
drawbacks, we encourage them to speak (ibid.). In addition, women MPs are often
expected to take up only womens issues. This expectation rises from both womens
groups and organizations and other male politicians. The 2000 article from The Hindu
also reports that women members of Tamil Nadus Legislative Assemblywhose
numbers represent the size of a cricket teamlack performance, especially when
it comes to womens issues (ibid.).
As female politicians are defined, contained and chosen according to a male-
dominated discourse, women MPs and MLAs appear to experience difficulty in
owning their respective positions. Othered by society and held to unreal standards
78


by their male colleagues and general constituents, female politicians spend more
energy maintaining and defending their positions than actually carrying out real
instances of transformative change.
OVERT RESISTANCE FROM LOWER CASTE MALES
The third theme that emerged from my discourse analysis is that a few lower-
caste men have dominated the debate over the Womens Reservation Bill. Though a
small minority, their aggressive opposition to the bill has effectively led to its tabling
time after time. Their arguments center upon the demand for caste-based sub-quotas
within the one-third seat reservations for women, claiming that without such a clause,
the WRB would lead to an influx of elite, upper-caste creamy women (G. Pandu
Naik, 21 May 2000).
However, their arguments are also accompanied by a dark anti-women
sentiment. A Times of India editorial from 2004 cites Laloo Prasad Yadev, the then-
party chief of Rashtriya Janata Dal and key member of the opposition to the WRB, as
saying that women should be at home making rotis instead of seeking their fair
share of political power (The Times of India, 7 June 2004). In addition, some of these
men have admitted in consensus meetings that they would support the bill if it
reduced the quota from 33.3 percent to 10 or 15 percent (The Hindu, 23 August
2005), a request in which concerns about caste are absent.
The way in which this resistance and opposition among male lower-caste MPs
79


is carried out is also significant. Rather than professionally and democratically stating
their reasons for opposing the bill, they have consistently acted out in more than one
instance by literally shredding the bill, crumpling it, tossing it up in the air, and loudly
chanting withdraw the womens bill. In several cases, these men caused so much
pandemonium and uproar that the speaker had to adjourn the House. This proverbial
dance against the bill has successfully stalled it on more than a few occasions. A 2003
article that reported one of these many instances referred to this behavior as a
familiar charade in the House with choreographed and predictable reactions {Indian
Express, 7 May 2003).
In addition, these men are never scolded or suspended by the Lok Sabha
speaker for their childlike and rather undemocratic behavior. To the contrary, this
behavior is persistently catered to by the majority parties, as the bill is never put up
for vote. Conversely, women MPs such as Sonia Gandhi, have been scoffed at for
raising the issue of the bill right before a scheduled recess. In 2000, an article from
The Times of India reported that Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee attacked Sonia
Gandhi in the Lok Sabha for breaking parliamentary traditions and bringing up
contentious issues on the last day of session {The Times of India, 22 December
2000). This verbal attack came one day after both houses were forcibly adjourned due
to male members erratic behavior over their opposition to the bill, which was listed
on the agenda for passage that day.
Several media sources refer to the behavior of these MPs as an expression of
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extreme, pent up, and deep-seated insecurity about the possibility of losing
power to women. In 1998, right after the first incident of hysterical resistance from
male lower-caste party leaders, an article from India Today reported that the success
of these men in getting their way is due to the pent up insecurity in their minds that
a gender reservation would, apart from robbing them a third of their seats, also put
their communities at a disadvantage {India Today, 22 July 1998). In the same article,
one OBC MP is quoted as saying, Who has the right to put gender above caste?
(ibid.).
The common sentiment among lower-caste male members is also resulting in
a kind of brotherhood, another term that is often used by the media to describe the
opposition, which spans across party lines. In turn, gender has been pitted against
caste in the political realm, and discourse around the Womens Reservation Bill in
particular.
LOWER-CASTE RESISTANCE AND WOMENS REACTIONS
The final theme that I derived from my analysis focuses on the general
reactions from womens organizations to the lower-caste MPs opposition.5 With the
exception of a few lower-caste women MPs and some individual voices,6 virtually all
5 The reactions taken up in this thesis are not conclusive of the Indian womens movement as a whole.
Rather, these are the particular reactions that I noted as I conducted my analysis of the WRB through
the lens of the Indian English language press.
6 For example, Madhu Kishwar, editor of the feminist magazine Manushi. supports womens
reservations with the caste-based sub-quota. Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self Employed Womens
81


women MPs, and womens groups in general, have argued for the immediate passage
of the bill as it stands. They do not defend the demands for caste-based sub-quotas
because they think that lower-caste males are only making these demands for the sole
purpose of stalling the bills passage. Indeed, the demand for caste-based quotas
within the bill has successfully stalled it for the last 13 years.
This common sentiment has fostered an assumption that caste issues are
deliberately being used to keep more women from participating in formal politics. In
1998, one female columnist from The Hindu magazine called the OBC calls for sub-
quotas as a ploy to stall the bill, and referred to the Indian Parliament as
demonstrating sexual apartheid. She said, The politically shrewd will perceive this
as a camouflage for the mens unwillingness to give up their constituencies for
women (The Hindu: August 2 1998). In 2000, Vibha Parthasarthy, chairperson of the
National Commission for Women, supported this assumption when she expressed that
the addition of sub-quotas for caste and minorities within the bill should be avoided at
all costs because they were deliberate attempts to stall the bill. She said, Women are
equal in category as well as caste and hence ought to be viewed with oneness and
entirety (The Pioneer, Delhi, 16 May 2000).
As a result, the debate has served to segregate the cross-cutting issues of caste
and gender. For instance, while lower-caste men find themselves resisting in the name
of social justice, gender has been deliberately left out of the concept. Indian political
Association (SEWA), is skeptical about the ability of reservations to empower women. Instead, she
argues that opportunities need to be created for women in order to foster an environment of equality.
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science professor Niraja Gopal Jayal pointed out in a 1998 opinion piece written for
The Telegraph, In the phrase, social justice, social apparently refers only to caste
(8 August 1999). The male framing of this term has resulted in the neglect of gender,
and how gender cross-cuts caste, from the argument.
Similarly, while womens groups and supporters of the bill argue for gender
justice, they leave caste out of the concept. To be for caste-based sub-quotas has
come to imply that one is against women, or that women who support the bill do not
support lower-caste women. Shirin Rai refers to this dynamic in 1999. She says:
The result (of men demanding sub-quotas for caste within the bill) was a
rather nasty and divisive debate where those demanding a quota for women
were portrayed as manipulative, westernized feminists wishing to keep low-
caste women out of the equation, and therefore working against the interests
of the ordinary Indian woman (Rai 1999: 97).
As Rai notes, this very serious charge went largely unchallenged by
womens groups, which continued to rally wholeheartedly for the immediate passage
of the bill without sub-quotas for caste. In this sense, the way in which lower-caste
male politicians framed the debate around caste and minority sub-quotas also framed
arguments by some mainstream womens groups, as well as women MPs, in favor of
the bills immediate passage. Jaya Jaitley, then-MP of the Samata Party, pointed
out this dilemma in 1998: The minute you mention the OBC quota, you are branded
anti-woman. And if you were willing to pass it (the bill) without a debate, you were
then labeled anti-OBC {The Times of India, 15 August 1998). When discussing the
83


way in which gender has been pitted against caste within the quota debate, columnist
Samita Sen pointed out in 1998:
The assumption behind the bill is that in some respects mens and womens
interests are conflicting since the former have a great stake in the power they
wield over the latter. But it must be remembered that women are not a
homogenous group as they are fractured by class, caste and community (The
Telegraph, 6 August 1998).
The way in which arguments for and against the WRB were framed in the
parliamentary context has resulted in a perceived fight against men and women, with
caste serving the interests of the former. In this way, the needs and issues of lower-
caste women are effectively left out of the debate. While lower-caste MPs adopt a
protectorate role (in their own interest, no doubt) and a portion of the womens
movement (as observed in these particular documents) shuns sub-quotas with the goal
of the WRBs immediate passage, lower-caste women have been denied a voice in the
matter.
Analysis of the WRB Debate and Implications for Empowerment
The ways in which male dominated politics have framed the debate over
womens participation in formal politics point out significant institutional, material
and discursive constraints for Indian womens empowerment. While the first two
themes demonstrate the extent to which patriarchal power dominates the formal realm
of Indian politics, the second two themes illustrate the consequences of such when
84


this power begins to dominate the discourse surrounding gender quotas.
POWER RELATIONS AND THE WOMENS RESERVATION BILL
That male political power generally operates more covertly, through rhetoric
and false promises, presents a significant obstacle for womens empowerment in the
transformative sense. As the male-dominated Indian Parliament bolsters its support of
the WRB without ever taking action allows it to insidiously appear women friendly
while guarding and perpetuating its patriarchal character. Sakuntala Narasimhan
(2002) acknowledges this dynamic as well and explains it using the notion of
political-patriarchal expediency (187). Commenting on the political behavior of
both the majority of parliamentary figures and the lower-caste opposition, she says,
Both sides of male players are engaged in tactics that will enable them to project
themselves as champions of womens progress without having to actually yield
ground toward gender equity (188).
Political-patriarchal expediency is also evident when the position of women
MPs and MLAs are examined. Because of the exclusive nature of male-dominated
politics, only certain women are welcomed into the formal realm of parliamentary
politics. Even when a woman does make it into a seat, she is ostracized by her society
and stripped of her agency by her male colleagues. Acknowledging this particular
masculine context is absolutely pertinent to the understanding of the WRB. As
Nivedita Menon (2000) points out, The passing of apparently feminist legislation
85


has to be located in the context of the compulsions of ruling elites in order to
understand the complex dynamics involved (3837). In this sense, the patriarchal base
of Indian society and politics needs to be fundamentally called into question before
women politicians can engage in truly transformational change. Similarly, Rai (1999)
points out that:
The question of empowerment cannot be disassociated from the question of
relations of power within different socio-political systems. In order to
challenge structural impediments to greater participation of women in political
institutions, we need to have regard to the multi-faceted power relations which
contextualize that challenge (98).
This argument is consistent with the theme of the relations of ruling, which is
mentioned throughout this project. These ruling institutions, as Dorothy Smith (1993)
points out, create and support ways of thinking that structure how members of
society perceive themselves and their role in the environments they live in (Smith
1993: 2). In this particular case, the male domination of political power has not only
shaped the roles of women MPs and MLAs, but also the debate around legislation
that would allow more women to participate. In this way, one should be skeptical that
the Womens Reservation Bill alone would be able to empower and transform the
lives of Indian women.
This claim is consistent with Susheela Kaushiks (1993) argument, discussed
in Chapter 2, that in order to go about transformative change, dominant structures and
ideologies must be recognized and dealt with, lest women serve to strengthen the
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present pattern of patriarchal power. Indeed, the exclusionary nature of Indian politics
is seemingly creating such an environment that continually goes unchallenged by
women in their limited positions as MPs and MLAs. Most women politicians spend
so much energy living up to expectations and defending their posts, that there is no
space for transformative change. And, as one columnist notes, women who arent
silenced tend to be biased toward the male way of doing politics (The Statesman,
Delhi, 3 April 1999). This columnist notes that even Indira Gandhi did not think
having more female parliamentarians would further the cause of women politically
and frequently talked of womens primary duties as that of mother, wife and
homemaker (ibid.). Rai also points out this dynamic, stating, As party women with
political ambitions, women MPs respond to the institutional incentives and
disincentives that are put to them (Rai 1999: 96). Even Sonia Gandhi, who is among
the leaders of Parliament, experienced obstacles in fielding women candidates for
party lists and bringing up contentious issues (the WRB) on the last day of session.
Drude Dahlerups (2006) call for contextual understanding that goes beyond
sheer numbers of women is helpful here. As discussed in Chapter 2, Dahlerup lists
several factors that may influence the adoption of feminist public policy: political
context, state feminist machineries, prevailing discourses, issue framing, coalition
building, and movement strength are among these examples. As seen in this particular
document analysis, the factors existing among Indian parliamentary politics tend to be
unsupportive of transformative change. In addition, there does not appear to be
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considerable support among and across women MPs for such change. Returning to
Sandra Greys (2006) statement that women politicians have more readily acted as
and for women when they have a team of sufficient size, whose members have
feminist leanings, and when they find themselves in a general environment supportive
of feminist leanings (2006: 500); the context Grey describes is not reflective of the
Indian parliamentary environment.
PRESENCE AND LOWER-CASTE WOMEN
To return to one of the main themes brought up in Chapter 2, that
representation is a dynamic characterized by the mutual support between women
officeholders and the women they represent, this particular analysis also demonstrates
how Indian womens political presence has been thwarted. This is illustrated by the
second two themes derived from my document analysis, those being the behavior of
the lower-caste opposition and the subsequent reactions of some voices from
mainstream womens organizations.
These themes show how the presence of lower-caste women in particular has
been diminished. As mentioned earlier, their voices have been masked by both lower-
caste males and a portion of the mainstream Indian womens movement. The former
fails to collaborate with lower-caste females as they aggressively bolster their
demands; and the latter sacrifices the particular issues of lower-caste women in order
to demand immediate passage of the bill. Rai (1999) points out the main problem
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with the strategy of latter:
If development agendas are to be re-articulated, if transformation of the lives
of women has to take place in tandem with that of the gender relations within
which they are enmeshed, then the issues surrounding economic and social
class relations have to be addressed (89).
In other words, if empowerment is to be conceived as a holistic project, women must
be willing to acknowledge their differences while working across them as well.
The truth is that caste and gender do cross-cut each other, with lower-caste
women experiencing the largest degree of exclusion and oppression in political and
cultural realms. As one columnist pointed out in 2005,
Indeed it is one of the dirty secrets of Indian society that caste struggles often
cover up great inequalities within the castes. Dalit woman writers are
applauded when they write about caste and hounded when they write about
the condition of women in the lower castes [emphasis added] {India Together,
9 September 2005).
Rai (1999) also discusses the significance behind the dismissal of the caste-
based sub-quota argument among portions of the womens movement:
It establishes the importance of dealing with difference among women within
socio-economic contexts of great inequality. In the Indian context, the long-
standing caste-based quotas should have been taken centrally into account by
womens groups articulating demands for quotas for women.. .Why an
alliance of strong, sophisticated and active womens movements was unable
to do so is another issue that merits exploration (Rai 1999: 97).
I argue that the answer to Rais question lies in that womens groups did not take the
sub-quota argument seriously due to the oppositions vehement behavior toward the
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bill. In other words, the intentions of lower-caste male MPs demands were
scrutinized more than the actual demands were. However, if womens organizations
are claiming to represent the interests of women, they should aspire to do just that.
Without collaborating across caste lines, the position of the womens movement as a
whole is much like the WRB itself: stalemated.
Ironically, because they know caste-based sub-quotas will never be accepted
into the bill, lower-caste males continuously use this argument to stall it. In turn, the
backlash carried out by males from the lower-caste parties has not only kept the bill
from going to vote, but has also discursively divided gender and caste issues, which
are arguably inextricable from each other. Whether the consequential neglect of caste
issues by some mainstream womens groups was intentional or not, the insecurity
expressed by male lower-caste MPs is arguably rooted in a protection of power and
worked to stall more than just the Womens Reservation Bill. Also held back was the
chance for a significant conversation about the dark side of gender and caste relations,
which underline Indias social and political life. Such a conversation may lead to
transformation in the sense that Parpart, Rai and Staudt (2003) outline, one that
transcends the bounds of discursive normality.
Conclusion
In this chapter, I explored several themes that characterize the formal Indian
political realm and debate over the Womens Reservation Bill. What emerged from
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this analysis demonstrates some of the challenges that may accompany the process
and project of gender quotas. In this particular context, while Indias formal political
realm is characterized by political-patriarchal expediency, the discourse surrounding
the WRB in particular has served to further divide the cross-cutting aspects of gender
and caste. In turn, the debate over the WRB presents a challenge in itself to gender
equality across caste lines. In addition, even if gender quotas were implemented at the
national and state levels of government, women may still need to grapple with the
inherent relations of ruling that structure these realms and womens positions within
them.
The next chapter concludes this thesis with a synthesis of the themes
discussed in Chapters 3 and 4 in order to illustrate what these two document analyses
may imply for Indian womens empowerment. To compliment this synthesis, I also
utilize the themes of context, process and transformation from Chapter 2. In addition,
I return to Chandra Mohantys (1991) notion of common differences in solidarity in
order to develop what the differences between these two analyses may imply for
womens empowerment on a larger scale. In this way, I attempt to locate the themes
that do tie women together while acknowledging their differences as well.
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CHAPTER 5
CONSIDERING THE SPACES FOR WOMENS EMPOWERMENT:
OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLLABORATION AND SUBVERSION
While the changing situation at the local level demonstrates the potential for
womens empowerment, discourse surrounding the Womens Reservation Bill
demonstrates some of the challenges that arise for women seeking empowerment on a
grander scale. Indeed, the strongest factor binding these two stories together is the
high usage of the term empowerment. In my coding sheet alone, I noted 65
instances of its usage throughout these articles; it was my initial interest in this term
that brought these articles to me in the first place. And while both the local and
national realms of politics are contextually rooted in historical male, upper-caste
power, the analysis of each context has its own peculiar character. I focus the
remainder of this project on the differences between the two analyses and conclude
with a discussion about what these two stories imply for the possibilities of Indian
womens empowerment.
In returning to the themes explored in the first two chapters, I use context,
process and transformative change to shape this final analysis. For context, I focus on
the difference of place between the local and national realms of politics. While the
local realm is characterized by informality, in that it does not draft legislation and
exercises power at the village level only, the national realm is characterized by
formality and centralized power. For process, I focus on the concept of collaboration.
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