Stop saluting us, treat us as equals, TN MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi’s impassioned speech on the Women’s Reservation Bill

Delivering a short but powerful speech the DMK MP from Thuthukudi (Tamil Nadu) traces the history of this yet to become law and points out how it was in her state, that the Justice Party, Nidi Kachi passed a resolution on May 10, 1921 to grant voting rights for woman for the first time in India
Image: PTI

Without consultation, shrouded in secrecy, Kanimozhi launched a subtle attack on the Modi regime’s lack of basic parliamentary procedure. The speech was delivered in the Lok Sabha on September 20, 2023:

Sir, I stand here, and I am happy to be speaking about the Women’s Reservation Bill and it is one of the very few bills I think most of us would agree on and we thought this bill would be passed with all of us supporting each other and standing together.

But unfortunately the BJP has taken this also as an opportunity for politicking and it is very unfortunate.

I am just reminded of what Periyar said when I see the BJP speaking here and heckling us that “the pretense of men that they respect women and that they strive for their freedom is only rules to deceive them.”

I like to quote the former Chilean President Michelle Bashel “a better democracy is a democracy where women do not only have the right to vote and to elect but to be elected.”

In 1919 after the Montagu-Chemsford reforms were passed, we got the right to vote, especially in The Madras Presidency and the Bombay Presidency. The Justice Party, Nidi Kachi passed a resolution on May 10, 1921 to grant voting rights for women for the first time in India.  In 1927 Tamil Nadu elected its first woman legislator in the country Dr. M Laxmi Reddy who was instrumental in abolishing the Devdasi system. But Sir, nearly 100 years after that we still have not passed the Bill.

In 1929, Periyar in the Self-Respect conference in Chengalpet passed a resolution insisting on reservations for women in education, employment and politics.

The Women’s Reservation Bill was first brought in with the support of the DMK during the United Front Government in 1996 (September). And then, Thiru Devegauda who was the Prime Minister brought in this Bill and the Law Minister Ramakant Khalap was the one who presented the Bill in this house.

Then, again, our respected former Prime Minister, Vajpayee ji again brought in this bill. But it was the UPA Government in 2010 which passed it in the Rajya Sabha and I got an opportunity to speak on the bill in the Rajya Sabha and that was 13 years ago, and I have got an opportunity to speak on this bill again here and we are still speaking about this bill and debating it for the past 13 years.

The Women’s Reservation Bill is a poll promise of the BJP, yet many leaders had to urge them to bring in this Bill and to pass it. Our leader Kalangar had written to the Prime Minister in 2014 to pass this bill. Madam Sonia Gandhi wrote to the Prime Minister in 2017 requesting him to pass this bill. Our Chief Minister, M K Stalin wrote to the Prime Minister again in 2017 requesting and urging the government to pass the Bill.

He (Stalin) said the bill which was moved to empower women’s voice in the legislatures and Parliament of our Great Nation is struggling to succeed. This is really disheartening. The DMK even conducted a rally in Delhi from the Mandi House to the Jantar Mantar and we had a march and like-minded women leaders and women’s organizations participated in the rally.

I myself have raised this issue of bringing the (Women’s) Reservation Bill many times in Parliament and to many of my starred and unstarred questions the Governments’ reply was very consistent. They said that they have to involve “all stakeholders, political parties and then build a consensus before bringing the Bill”. I would like to know what consensus was built? What discussions were held; this bill was brought in, shrouded in secrecy.

We did not know why this session was called; in the all party leaders meeting there was no mention of this bill. I don’t know if any of the political party leaders were called for discussions and deliberations about this upcoming Bill and suddenly the bill popped up from our computer screens like “Jack in the Box”.

Is this going to be the way this Government is going to function, like we have suddenly seeing that there are “lotus(es) is blooming springing from the uniforms of our secretariat staff is everything going to be a surprise like this?

Inspite of all this when the when the Prime Minister mentioned the Women’s Reservation Bill and when our own Meghwal ji introduced the bill our minds were so full of happiness and the lines of the Mahakavi Bharati rang in my heart. (Tamil verse) which, if I translates says that we have come to make laws and to rule now we are equals and let us cherish it!

But then like crores and crores of my sisters who are waiting for this to be passed. My heart also sank when you said we had to wait for it and we don’t know when actually the bill is going to be implemented.

In 2010, when the Bill was brought by the UPA Government there were no conditions. The bill was to take effect immediately after the passage of the Bill but the Bill which was presented yesterday clearly says the reservations (seats of House of People, NCT, States )in Clause five it states the reservation of seats for woman in the house of the people the legislative assembly of the state and the legislative assembly of the national capital territory of Delhi shall come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first Census taken after the commencement of the constitution.

And our leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin in his statement today has said that India is the only country which has not conducted the decadal census. And if delimitation is going to be based on population census it will deprive and reduce the representation of the South Indian States. It would become like a sword hanging in our heads. Yes, he has said that we support the Bill, but he asked this question: why should the implementation be connected to the de-limitation?

And, as he says, here is a strange drama staged by the BJP keeping in mind the 2024 elections. And we cannot ignore the representation for women from the backward classes either. He has emphasised the doubts and the fear in the minds of the people of Tamil Nadu and the South Indian States about our representation being reduced (after de-limitation) and this should be clarified. There is a fear in the minds of the people that our voices will be undermined. There should be a clear clarification about this because we do not want our representation to be reduced in any way. Just because you give a reply saying we will not allow you to be under-represented because the numbers will be the same, and other states will get more representation!! This is as it is…it must continue as it is so that we get equal say in what is being discussed.

Sir the 17th Lok Sabha has passed 40 bills on an average every year and without hardly having opinions of women and without even hearing our voices in this House or the Rajya Sabha and India ranks 141 out of 193 countries falling in women’s representation, falling behind our neighbours like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

How long should we wait to see this Bill being implemented? It can be easily implemented in the coming elections, the Parliamentary elections. This Bill, you should understand is not a reservation but an act of removing bias and injustice and if you do not remove the Clause which says “after de-limitation” then there is no point because we do not know until when this inordinate delay will continue? It can go on. You can do the census, the delimitation after 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, and the wait for this Bill will carry on.

And, of course some of our leaders are very worried that if a Woman becomes like a Man like if a man becomes like a woman he gets Qualities of a Woman then he becomes a God but when a Woman becomes Strong, brave then it is not something which is (not) acceptable and she becomes a Devil.  You believe in God, you believe in Hinduism and I would like to ask what is (Goddess) Kali. Isn’t she brave? Isn’t she strong? So who are you insulting? Why cannot a woman be strong, why cannot a woman be brave. There are stories of women who didn’t participate in the independent struggle; haven’t women fought wars, haven’t you seen strong leaders like Mrs. Indira Gandhi in this country?

It is these kinds of words which actually put fear in our hearts and yes, Jaylalitha was a strong leader. I accept I have no hesitation and accept that she was a very, very strong leader.

And Mayavati Ji, Madam Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, and the one of the names you (treasury benches, BJP) often forget is Sushma Swaraj ji. And I also like to quote what Shri Arun Jaitley ji said during the discussion in the Rajya Sabha that the argument that men can also ensure justice to women has been weakened. Under representation and discrimination stare us in the face. Politics of tokenism must now evolve into politics of ideas. So please stop this tokenism and this bill is called Nari Shakti Vandan Bill. Stop saluting us.

We do not want to be saluted, we do not want to be put on pedestals. We do not want to be worshiped. We do not want to be called mothers. We don’t want to be sisters, your wives.

We want to be respected as equals. Let us get down from the pedestal and walk as equals. We have as much right to this country as you have.

This country belongs to us.  This Parliament belongs to us and we have a right to be here.

Thank you.

The speech is available here

(Discussions in Parliament again sunk to a low, when senior members of treasury benches heckled the senior woman leader, refusing to let DMK Kanimozhi Karunanidhi begin her speech. NCP MLA Supriya Sule was heard intervening as did others. Many said this revealed the attitude of the BJP to women)



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