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Nagaland unrest: Violent protests against women’s quota highlight dominance of patriarchy in the state

The recent eruption of violence to subvert the implementation of a 33 percent quota for women in Nagaland’s urban civic bodies has put paid to the often-circulated myth about the state’s gender sensitive credentials.

United under the Joint Coordination Committee (JCC), a host of Naga tribal bodies have unleashed a violent agitation – leading to two deaths – to oppose this month’s elections to the state’s urban local bodies.

Last April, the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of Nagaland’s Naga Mothers’ Association, which had petitioned the court five years ago, urging it to direct the state government to ensure 33 percent reservation for women in the local government. The gender-based quota is already in operation in several states across the country.

Women in Nagaland have a low political and relatively higher social status, eading to conflicts in the state. Reuters

Women in Nagaland have a low political and relatively higher social status, eading to conflicts in the state. Reuters

Falling in line with the Supreme Court directive, Nagaland’s cabinet had given the go-ahead for holding elections, which have been pending for the last 16 years. In 2006, under pressure from powerful tribal bodies and unhappy with the reservation quotas allotted to them, the State Assembly had passed a resolution that kept the polls in abeyance. The cabinet’s decision to sanction women’s reservations for the present electoral cycle on 1 February, has now acted as a fresh catalyst to the already existing tribal discontent.

According to tribal groups, the women’s quota stands in breach of Article 371A of the constitution, which grants special status to Nagaland and safeguards the state’s traditional laws. Even today, tribal laws continue to bar women from occupying administrative positions. It’s important to note that since Nagaland attained statehood in 1963, the state has not had a single woman legislator.

The exclusion of Nagaland’s women from formal political and electoral spheres is all the more conspicuous given that women, through the decades, have played an active and invaluable role in the state’s non-electoral political and social life. Traditionally, Naga women have played peacemakers in inter-tribal and inter-village feuds. The absence of women in public life, beginning at the micro level of villages, has held women back from exercising their influence and raising their concerns in important formal fora.

Nagaland’s present anti women's quota agitation validates what many women’s organisations as well as independent, professional women have been complaining of for many decades. The sharp contradiction between the low political and relatively higher social status of women in Nagaland has been a bone of contention in the state – not just now, but for many decades.

That incidents of female foeticide or dowry are rare in Nagaland suggests that women occupy a higher social status than in rest of India. Some would even argue that the levels of violence against women are far lower in Nagaland as compared to the ever-rising graph in the rest of the country.

On the other hand, consider the fact that women in all other parts of India, despite their low social status, regularly contest elections at every level of public life. Women panchayat leaders play an active role in prioritising important concerns like access to education, health and clean drinking water in their villages.

Public life in Nagaland begins with the village councils which decide important economic, social and political matters. The invisibility of women in such an important public sphere prevents women from exercising their rights and influence. The retrogressive and exclusionary policy is a telling comment on the continued dominance of patriarchy in Nagaland. Many women’s organisations have contended that the absence of women in village councils reflects the real status of women in the state.

Naga men seem to have no quarrel with women leading social and political movements. Yet they continue to staunchly oppose women’s entry into decision-making elected bodies. This, despite the fact that organisations like the Naga Mothers’ Association have been the backbone of the Naga society through the highs and lows of political struggle – whether in the period of siege by the Indian army, or in the movement to create a Naga identity. In fact, in Nagaland’s long history of political conflict, women have suffered more than men. As in every war unleashed by the state or militant groups, women in Nagaland too, have been the most vulnerable targets.

Representing Naga women as victims rather than as agents of change, has therefore been easy. The women, however, do not wish to be seen as passive victims. They want to claim their rightful place in the sun – to become active participants in Nagaland’s public life. They have been denied this important right for far too long.

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 10:50 AM

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