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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 17:05 GMT

World: South Asia

India introduces women's bill

Indian women want greater representation in parliament

By Jyotsna Singh in Delhi

Women's groups in India have welcomed a decision by the federal cabinet to put forward a bill seeking to reserve a third of parliamentary seats for women.

The bill will be presented in the coming winter session, which begins later this month, but some of its supporters are doubtful about its passage.

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Late on Wednesday the federal cabinet decided to reintroduce the Women's Reservation Bill - an earlier bill collapsed with the dissolution of parliament in April, when the government of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee lost a confidence vote.

A government spokesman says there will be no changes to the bill.

Earlier attempts to pass the bill in parliament were blocked by various political groups. Some of these groups have demanded separate reservations for women from Muslim, or Dalit or low-caste communities.


Although women's groups have largely welcomed the decision to reintroduce the bill, they remain sceptical - as is the Law Minister, Ram Jethamalani, who says he is pessimistic about its passage.

But he added that the government is determined to bring it up again.

[ image: Parliament will vote on the bill]
Parliament will vote on the bill
Vice-President of the All-India Democratic Women's Association, Pramilla Pandhe, told the BBC that the future of the bill is still uncertain, as several of the government's coalition partners remain strong opposed to it.

But the head of the government-run National Commission for Women, Vibha Parthasarthy, says that the climate this time is more positive.

She says the issue of women's rights has become more prominent in the last few years and she is hopeful that the bill will go through.

Observers say Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee promised to seek the approval of the bill as soon as he took office last month.

The decision to present the bill is aimed at sending the right signal to Indian women, but the real test of the government lies in getting it passed.

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