Addressing OBC exclusion in India’s Women Reservation Bill

The Women Reservation Bill is a substantial piece of legislation aimed at bolstering gender equality in Indian politics. It has undergone a long and intricate journey to reach its current state. While acknowledging the bill’s intent to promote gender equality, Gurmeet Kaur expresses concern about its timing and lack of provisions for OBC women.

A survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) reports that the OBC population in India is 40.94%.

Reading multiple perspectives in the news articles and Op-Eds on the Women Reservation Bill, my thoughts take me back to a lecture delivered by Dr Ameer Sultana on Women and Politics at the Department Cum Centre for Women’s Studies & Development, Panjab University, in 2016. During this lecture, fellow students, both men and women, engaged in a debate on the necessity of such legislation. This legislative initiative was initially introduced in the Lok Sabha by HD Deve Gowda nearly three decades ago (81st Amendment Bill). It was later re-introduced by PM Manmohan Singh’s government through the 108th Amendment Bill in the upper chamber of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha. Now, under the rule of the  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Women Reservation Bill has finally transformed from an aspiration into a legal enactment through the 128th Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha.

Feminists all over India have a deep appreciation for the bill’s intent. However, as an engaged citizen and fervent advocate for gender equality, my appreciation is tinged with concern about the timing of its reintroduction and subsequent passage. The promise to foster the well-being of ‘Behen and Beti’ (sisters and daughters) from minority communities has regrettably remained unfulfilled over the past nine years whether it is Hathras Gang Rape and Murder or recent atrocities in Manipur. More concerning is the no particular provision for OBC (Other Backward Classes) women from the bill’s provisions. It is imperative to clarify that this concern transcends the boundaries of any particular government; it is instead indicative of a collective disregard exhibited by those in power, as well as within opposition parties, spanning several decades. This apprehension is compounded by the possible formulation of a sub-quota once the constitution is amended to provide political reservation to OBCs.

A closer look at the past reveals recommendations made by joint parliamentary committees led by Geeta Mukherjee in 1996 and Jayanthi Natarajan in 2009. These reports strongly recommended that the government should contemplate the possibility of extending reservation benefits to OBCs in due course, thereby ensuring that women from OBC backgrounds can also avail of these reservation benefits.

This prompts an inquiry into the rationale behind the omission of these recommendations in the legislative process leading to the bill’s passage. Was it driven by haste or a selective exclusion of certain groups? What awaits OBC women in the realm of Indian politics? These questions, I contend, are pivotal to comprehending the multifaceted implications of the Women’s Reservation Bill and the critical mass it may or may not usher into the political landscape.

It is essential to recognise that this concern is not specific to any single government but represents a more pervasive problem of oversight and inaction that has persisted for decades. The suggestions made by parliamentary committees led by Geeta Mukherjee and Jayanthi Natarajan emphasise the necessity of expanding reservation benefits to include women from OBCs. Unfortunately, these recommendations were disregarded during the legislative process, resulting in a situation where OBC women find themselves in a state of political uncertainty. If the present government continues to foster divisive inclinations, it may undermine the progress achieved by feminists working towards gender equality.

The Women Reservation Bill’s journey in India has been protracted, marked by promises, delays, and a significant oversight regarding the inclusion of OBC women. To address this issue, the Women Reservation Bill must be amended to explicitly include provisions for the representation of OBC women. This should involve consultations with OBC communities to ensure that their specific needs and challenges are adequately addressed in the legislation. The amendment should aim to provide equitable political representation for women from all backgrounds. Further, to understand the far-reaching implications, the government should conduct a nationwide, inclusive consultative process involving representatives from OBC communities, women’s organisations, and civil society. This process must gather feedback on the Women’s Reservation Bill, especially about the inclusion of OBC women. Engaging in a participatory and democratic dialogue ensures that the legislation reflects the diverse voices and concerns of the population it aims to serve.

Inclusive Action: A Necessity

In summary, the Women’s Reservation Bill represents a commendable effort to advance gender equality within the realm of Indian politics. However, its effectiveness in achieving these goals, as mandated by Article 15 of the Constitution of India, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5), hinges on addressing inclusivity. Furthermore, the potential emergence of a sub-quota necessitates thorough examination and proactive measures by policymakers. This holistic approach is imperative to ensure that the legislative agenda aligns with the broader objectives of fostering gender parity and uplifting marginalised groups, particularly OBC women, within the political landscape.


*The term “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs) constitutes an official classification within India, encompassing social groups distinct from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Typically, the population encompass Hindu lower castes positioned above the “untouchable” scheduled castes, and may also include analogous lower-caste groups within other religious communities like Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Buddhists

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