Kohima Village Council (KVC) on Thursday warned the Nagaland government of an explosive situation if it goes ahead with the implementation of 33 percent reservation of seats for women in the urban local bodies of the state, a law that it passed recently.
The resistance comes at a time when Kohima, the capital city of Nagaland, is ready for a facelift under the smart city initiative taken by the central government.
In a statement issued by its chairman Medoselhou Keretsü, and press secretary Thejao Sekhose, the KVC said that in spite of intense objection from several quarters to the implementation of the 33 percent reservation of seats for women in civic bodies, the state Cabinet had gone ahead in passing the Women Reservation Bill in August 2016 without holding discussion or consultations with Naga society groups, who are also stakeholders.
They, however, demanded that elections for urban local bodies should be held as early as possible without any kind of reservation for women, as lack of municipal committees and town committees have caused great losses.
The village council claims that reservation for women is "contrary to Naga Culture" and "alien" to them. Article 371A(1) of the Constitution preserves the social and religious practices and customary laws of the Nagas.
Rosemary Dzuvichu, a Naga feminist leader and adviser of the Naga Mothers Association, a civil society organisation, sees this move by the village council as patriarchal.
Dzuvichu, who has been fighting a case in the Supreme Court for a long time demanding reservation for women in the urban local bodies, says that the election is outside the purview of villages.
She categorically adds that this election has nothing to do with Naga culture as per an earlier order passed by the apex court. Rather, she says that, as per the order, it is directly related to the implementation 74th Amendment of the Constitution that hands over the powers, to develop their own towns and cities, to the localites through urban local bodies. "Hence, you can see what is at play," she laments.
She further says, "Some of the members of the village council, who are male, are also ex-councillors of the local civic body. If the reservation law is implemented, then some of them will lose seats previously held by them to women candidates."
Since the apex court has not stayed the election process, she expects that soon the elections will be held, and the dream of making Kohima a smart city will be realised.
As per the guidelines, a special purpose vehicle with the members of the local body has to be constituted to implement the smart city project. But Kohima has not held its urban local body election for half a decade.
The KVC press release further claimed that in Nagaland "there is no discrimination between menfolk and womenfolk and that our Naga women in general were never underprivileged in any form in society."
It also went on to say that "Menfolk are never more privileged than the womenfolk. Men and women alike get their due importance in different segments and their status, identities, importance differ in different arena."
But a renowned ethnographer in Kohima, who is unwilling to express identity, says that it is hardly the case. "Naga society, like many other societies in northeast India, is patriarchal. Women even do not enjoy the right to inherit ancestral property and rarely get an opportunity to share power."
Temsula Aao, a Sahitya Academy award winner and writer based in Nagaland, believes that the reservation law should be implemented as early as possible to bridge this divide.