December Edition, Statewide Nagaland, Partha Prawal
In a historic move, on November 24, 2016, Nagaland revoked a 2012 resolution passed by the state assembly, and will now join the rest of the country in implementing reservation for women in local bodies. Northeast Today reports
Few scattered notes
According to the NCRB data for 2015-16, the State of Nagaland was considered as the safest state in the country for women with the registration of minimal numbers of crimes against women. The young men and boys here readily leaves their seats to the elderly and young ladies in public buses even though there is no seat reservation for women in the buses. In a nutshell we can say that gender equality in Nagaland is very much prevalent and in almost all sectors women walk shoulder-to-shoulder with men. But when it comes to the political representation of women in Nalagaland the scenario is however completely opposite! But a recent Supreme Court verdict is certain to make a sea change.
Despite being a state having the highest literacy rate in case of women, they are however mostly absent from every single political process. It is the only state in the country that has never had any woman MLA and even though every village and tribe has its own women’s wing, yet the village councils have no women representatives. Even the Naga Hoho – Naga tribe’s supreme decision- making body- also is void of any women representative. Thus, the November 24 decision is not only historic, but it is also certain to dawn a new chapter in the political and gender equality history of the state.
If we travel back to time then we will come to know that Nagaland in 1969 had two women candidates in the state Assembly polls and thereafter 12 more women have contested in Assembly elections intermittently in the 53 years of Statehood (highest being in the 2008, when 4 women candidates were in the fray). And in 1977, Rano M Shaiza became the first and only woman from Nagaland to get elected either in a state or union election. But since then the trend has been a depressing one. The women were either destined to lose or they were fielded as a token candidate. Summarising it all, we can say that a platform for women to contest or participate in the electoral process was considered next to impossible owing to the prevailing societal and institutional system.
The victory, however, was not an easy one and there has been a long history behind this achievement and in the road leading to this victory, the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) has have played a very crucial role.
NMA was formed in 1984 and according to its constitution; every adult Naga woman automatically becomes its member by paying a nominal annual membership fee of Rs 1. Apart from taking up women issues of its eight member tribes, the NMA also takes up issues related to women from the non-Naga communities. The membership and the leadership of NMA is an ensemble group of women representing various sections of the society including housewives, working professionals, teachers, public servants etc.
It is important to mention here that according to the Article 371 (A) of the Indian Constitution, the state of Nagaland is permitted to frame its own laws that align with its customary laws in certain issues. In 2006, the then Nagaland Government introduced 33 percent reservations for women in several urban local bodies. But when the NMA began to put pressure on the government to hold elections with quotas, the government expressedits hesitation and making its stand clear said that women reservation would be in conflict with the prevalent customary law. And thus, taking support of the special Constitutional provisions, the Nagaland Assembly in 2012 passed a resolution exempting the state from the application of Article 243(T), Part IX A of the Constitution, dealing with reservation of seats in municipalities. The state government’s stand was even upheld by the High Court and the NMA went on to appeal at the Supreme Court and on November 24 last the apex court gave its ruling in favour of the NMA, quashing the earlier HC verdict.
While talking to the press after the verdict was out, NMA’s advisor Rosemary Dzuvichu had said that the SC’s decision is a moment of pride for the Naga women and that it was a long struggle for the women o the state to get their Constitutional right. She added that she was positive of witnessing positive changes in Nagaland owing o this verdict.
Not just Dzuvichu, even the common Naga woman, who is not related to any organisation or has never ever thought of taking part in the electoral process, has expressed her happiness and satisfaction on the Supreme Court’s decision. For a common Naga woman, the decision not just brings her to the gender equality map, but it also squashes prevalent patriarchal societal customs and traditions. The social barriers that have prevented women from participating in politics need to be corrected and the Supreme Court’s verdict is a right step taken in this direction.
Here, a thing must be understood well that the reservation for women, a supposedly “weaker section”, must not be considered as a charitable grant. It must be seen as an impetus in creating equality in policy and decision making process.