Children from Delhi's slums perform a skit on Sept. 14 before a gathering of women who were protesting the Indian government's delay in turning the Women's Reservation Bill into law. (ucanews.com photo)
Activists say that the Indian parliament's failure to make a 1997 bill — that reserves parliamentary seats for women — into a law is evidence that women are still not treated with equality or respect in the country.
Some 200 women from 27 organizations gathered in New Delhi on Sept. 14 to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Women's Reservation Bill that set aside a third of the seats in parliament and state legislatures for women.
"It's really unbelievable that even after nearly 20 years the bill is still waiting to see the light," said Sister Talisha Nadukudiyil, Secretary of the Indian Catholic bishop's Office for Women. "Unless the patriarchal mindset of people changes, I'm afraid things will stay the same," said the nun from the Sisters of the Destitute congregation.
The one-day program remembering years of women's struggle in India was organized by the Joint Women's Program, Catholic Bishop's Office for Women, Caritas, Conference of Religious India, Women's Christian Association and others.
The women's bill was discussed several times in parliament but failed to get the consensus needed to pass. Successive governments have re-introduced it to show their interest in gender equality.
"The bill seems to have completely disappeared from the agenda of the present government," said Jyotsna Chatterjee, director of the Joint Women's Program of the Church of North India.
Chatterjee, who has been working to achieve equal rights for women, said that the review of women's status carried out by national and international agencies have repeatedly stressed the importance of their political participation to facilitate equitable development.
The Hindu nationalist government that came to power in May 2014 "has not moved on this front at all. And 23 months and five parliament sessions later, the reality is that this issue has never figured in parliament," she said.
Charity Sister Mary Scaria, a Supreme Court lawyer, said a change in the law some three decades ago reserved seats for women in the elected bodies of villages, small towns and cities. "It was welcome step to empower women," she said.
"Women of India are still struggling to secure the same in parliament and state legislatures. At the moment females only account for 10 percent or less of the total number of house members," Sister Scaria said.