Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the historic women’s reservation bill set to pass in the Rajya Sabha Tuesday was “a historic step forward” for the emancipation of the Indian women.
“This is a momentous development in the long journey of empowering our women,” he said at the end of a lively debate on the bill that reserves a third of all seats in parliament and state assemblies for women.
“The bill that is going to be passed today is a historic step forward, a giant step forward in strengthening the process of emancipation (of women),” he said, drawing thunderous applause.
Speaking extempore, Manmohan Singh said that despite the many progress achieved by women in India, “we have also to recognise that … our women have faced enormous difficulties…”
“Our women faced discrimination at home, there is domestic violence, they face discrimination in equal access to education, healthcare, there are all these things. All these things have to end if India were to realise its full potential.”
He went on: “What we are going to enact today is a small token of homage to the sacrifices our women have made in nation building, in the freedom struggle, in all other nation building activities.”
The prime minister admitted that some members had reservations about the bill.
“They would have liked some recognition of the disabilities of the minorities, the disabilities of backward classes, of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
“I do recall and I do recognise that our minorities have not got adequate share of the fruits of our development. Our government is committed to work sincerely for the empowerment of our minority communities.”
He underlined that the proposed legislation was “not an anti-minority bill, it is not an anti-Scheduled Caste bill, anti-Scheduled Tribes bill.”
“It is a giant step forward, it is a historical occasion which calls for celebrations.”
The prime minister also expressed “deep sorrow” and apologised to Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari for the “disrespect shown to you” by MPs ranged against the women’s reservation bill.
“I owe you a profound apology for the disrespect shown to you. These things should never have happened. They have happened, and we have to reflect how to we have to streamline our functioning in future so that these things don’t take place,” he said.
Although he did not name any political party, he was referring to the noisy and unruly protests by members of the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal in particular, some of whom snatched the bill from Ansari Monday, tore it up and flung the pieces at him.
On Tuesday, a disgusted Ansari suspended seven MPs, who were thrown out of the house by marshals for the debate to begin.
In the same breath, Manmohan Singh acknowledged the role played by “all political parties whose cooperation has made it possible for us to enact this historic legislation”.