ADDRESSING FEMALE students in a college in Chennai, Rahul Gandhi said that he thought, “In general, women are smarter than men”, and drew immediate applause. But there is simply no evidence for such a claim, one way or another. It can also get contradictory from the point of view of what political feminism has been trying to do, which is again to show that there is no difference, exemplified by a movement against neurosexism, or the discrimination of women on the basis of brains. Just a couple of weeks ago, the journal Nature published an article titled, ‘Neurosexism: the myth that men and women have different brains’ with the intro reading: ‘The hunt for male and female distinctions inside the skull is a lesson in bad research practice’. It is difficult for both to be true: that women are smarter than men and the brains don’t differ.
It is however another area of Gandhi’s speech that has more practical implications: the announcement that if his party came to power women would have 33 per cent reservation not just in Parliament, but also in government jobs for women. At least at the state level, politicians of other hues have also paid lip service to such a policy. Two years ago, the then BJP Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced 33 per cent reservation in all government departments. Before the last UP elections, Samajwadi Party leader Dimple Yadav promised it. Numerous other states have similar provisions at different levels. The leap from the idea of 33 per cent reservation in representation, to reservation in jobs has been almost seamless. In this election it has reached the national mainstream. It is inevitable that the BJP and other parties will follow suit.
The complications of such a reservation are many. India is a country full of marginalised discriminated groups, all either being recipients of reservation or demanding it. There is an upper limit on reservations laid down by a Supreme Court judgment. Any further reservation must be a permutation and combination of all these groups, now add 33 per cent to it. One of the reasons why women’s reservation in Parliament has not succeeded is because OBC parties like Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party are asking for sub-reservations for caste groups within that percentage. While these parties are no paragons of gender equality, there is really no good argument on why their demand is unjust. Why shouldn’t, for example, Scheduled Caste women, have a fixed quota within that 33 per cent?
The main question when it comes to reservations is whether there should be equality of opportunity (reservations in educational institutions) versus equality of outcomes (reservations in jobs). India has in fact done very well with the former. In this election, Mamata Banerjee also demonstrated how to bring equality of opportunity by giving more than 33 per cent nominations for women to contest for the Lok Sabha elections. That brings in substantial change instead of ossifying a system which is built on largesse, symbolism and electoral profit.