NEW DELHI: Congress President Sonia Gandhi today used the occasion of the International Women's Day to seek early passage of the "long-awaited" Women Reservation Bill, asking the government to "give us women our legitimate due".
Addressing the Lok Sabha where women members were allowed to speak on women's issues by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, she also criticised a law, making educational qualifications mandatory for contesting local polls in some BJP-ruled states, saying it denied women their right to contest.
Gandhi attacked the government over its 'maximum governance' slogan, saying this also meant expanding the base of disagreement without inviting retribution, a reference to its crackdown on several NGOs.
Criticising the law in some BJP-ruled states like Haryana and Rajasthan which makes mimimum educational qualification necessary to contest local elections, the Congress chief said it denied a large number of women from SC/ST groups to exercise their constitutional rights and called for "urgent legislative attention" to undo it.
Gandhi, who was the first member to speak on the issue of women empowerment, highlighted her party's role on the issue, saying the Congress gave the country the first woman Prime Minister, the first woman President and first woman Speaker.
She noted that it was due to Rajiv Gandhi's vision that women accounted today for over 40 per cent of elected local body and panchayat posts. Gandhi then took a dig at the government over a host of issues including its slogan of 'maximum governance and minimum government'.
"Maximum governance is more than just accelerated pace of economic growth. It is also expanding the base of disagreement without inviting retribution or retaliation. Surely, maximum governance does not mean to have double standards in dealing with women's rights.
"Surely, maximum governance also means to give us women our legitimate due -- the long awaited women's reservation bill," Gandhi said and told Speaker Sumitra Mahajan that "we can expect in you a strong ally..."
Though she did not make a direct reference to the government's crackdown on some NGOs, her reference to it was obvious as she sought giving "freedom" to the civil society, NGOs and activists.
She also referred to social evils like discrimination against girl child, foeticide and dowry and pitched for male colleagues' cooperation in confronting these challenges. It was Congress, she said, that had pledged itself to the woman's voting rights when the country became independent.
Following Sonia's pitch for the early passage of the long-awaited Women Reservation Bill, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu reacted saying the government was trying to evolve consensus on it.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the NDA government is sensitive to the problem of crimes against women and is working for their safety, as he extended his greetings on the occasion of International Women's Day.
"The government is sensitive to the problem of crimes against women and it has strengthened legal and institutional infrastructure to deal with it," he said in a message. The Minister said the Home Ministry has initiated the process for setting up the Nationwide Emergency Response System (NERS) and having '112' as the emergency number.
"We as a nation are committed to empower women and work towards making a safer environment for girls and women in our society," he said. Singh said the International Women's Day is celebrated as the milestones reached on the road to women security, gender equality and women empowerment.
RS MPs plead for passage of women's bill in Lok Sabha
Members, cutting across party lines in Rajya Sabha, made a passionate plea for early passage of the legislation to provide 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliament and state assemblies on the International Women's Day today.
While the Rajya Sabha had exactly six years ago passed the Women's Reservation Bill, the legislation has since been pending in Lok Sabha. To mark the Women's Day, the Upper House decided to allow all women law-makers, who had given notices to raise Zero Hour mentions, the first chance.
Congress members took credit of getting the bill passed in Rajya Sabha during the UPA rule on March 9, 2010 and sought to know what the present government was doing when it had absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.
Deputy Chairman P J Kurien suggested a discussion on the women's reservation issue. "We can put indirect pressure so that bill is passed (in Lok Sabha)," he said. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the government was ready for a discussion on the issue.
Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla said she, as a minister, cannot give zero hour notice but would want to speak on the issue. She lamented that the Constitution Amendment Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha but was still pending in Lok Sabha, adding that the matter was first debated in 1995.
"I hope this year, the Bill will be passed," she said and observed that she would be happy when ordinary women get empowered. Heptulla said women are still discriminated against and the House should pass a resolution for a cleaner society where women are protected. "I feel not only women but time has come for men too to speak about women's empowerment," she said.
Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said Rajya Sabha can take pride that it has passed the women's reservation bill. "All of us expect and hope it becomes law of land."
Viplove Thakur (Cong) said child marriages are prevalent even today in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Telengana and Andhra Pradesh and added that this day should not be merely celebrated as a mere ritual.
Rajani Patil (Cong) said Rajiv Gandhi showed the way through the 73rd Amendment providing reservation in village panchayats and Manmohan Singh showed political will by getting the women's bill passed in Rajya Sabha.
She asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to show political will and "pass it in Lok Sabha where you have majority" and said there was a need to change the mindset.