The glass is always full effect?

“61 women in this Lok Sabha, highest ever” – headline in The Times of India, 17 May 2014.

“The 16th Lok Sabha will have the highest number of women members at 61.  ‘This is the highest number of women members elected to the Lok Sabha in the history of the country, although by a small margin. Fifty-eight (58) women were elected to the 15th Lok Sabha in the 2009 election,’ said PRS.” – report in The Times of India, 17 May 2014, credited to IANS, which neglected to reveal what the consequent percentage of women in the new Lok Sabha is.

The PTI report used by various news outlets began in a similar way:  “The 16th Lok Sabha will have a record number of 61 women leaders as compared to 59 women MPs elected during the previous General Elections.”  But it did refer to the percentage:  just 11% of the total of 543 parliamentarians, and pointed out that this is a far cry from the 33% mark that the Women’s Reservation Bill seeks to achieve.

Interestingly, while NDTV gave a neutral headline to the PTI story published on its website (“Election Results 2014: 61 Women Elected to Lok Sabha”), Rediff was more forthright (“The 16th Lok Sabha will have just 61 women MPs”) and included graphics that drove home the point.

The Hindu’s bylined election analysis, headlined “Fewer Muslims, more women in new House,” made the point that “the 16th Lok Sabha will be under-represented by women as usual,” though the figures quoted in it were slightly different from those cited in the PTI and IANS reports.

On 22 May, DNA carried a story by Krishna Uppuluri, headlined “Will Women’s Reservation Bill see the light of day with highest number of women ever in Lok Sabha?quoting  Rajya Sabha MP and BJP leader Najma Heptulla.

This was followed by an editorial the next day (23 May), headlined “Parliament of men, by men,” which pointed out that the persistently low number of women MPs “reaffirms the regressive tradition that women will have a limited role to play in nation-building and legislation.”  Quoting prime minister-elect Narendra Modi, who recently said the new government is “dedicated to the poor, millions of youth and mothers and daughters who are striving for their respect and honour,” the editorial pointed out that “women are not just mothers and daughters, or wives and sisters for that matter. They have their own identity. The leitmotif of change must be empowerment and participation.”  If that does not happen,it continued, “it will continue to be to a man’s world — or Parliament if you will.”

Meanwhile, one of the most detailed post-poll analyses of women’s representation in the 16th Lok Sabha appeared in an online publication, Scroll.in.  The article by Sabarathinam Selvaraj, headlined “Even India’s neighbours have more women in Parliament,” includes graphics providing historical statistics as well as data on women’s performance in the 2014 elections disaggregated by political party as well as states.

Ammu Joseph

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