Nagaland crisis: It's not just sexism, the North Eastern state also has a problem with implementation of law

By any reasonable yardstick, the fact that the North Eastern state of Nagaland does not have a single member of the Opposition is insane. No, a single party or coalition did not win all of the 60 seats in the Legislative Assembly Elections. The mind-boggling fact is that every elected member joined the ruling coalition, the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN). It is the antithesis of just the very basis of democracy. An opposition is as much the desired result of an election process as a ruling party. It is the other half, the check and balance of the legislative.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

So, when the state erupted in demonstrations and violence not because of the cancer of militancy that has plagued it for decades, but of a conflict between differences in ideology, it surprised many. Especially because of what the fight was all about, the demand for the rollback of a 33 percent reservation for women in municipal and town councils. No sooner had the fight for it by various women’s’ groups taken on a genuine tone, than many traditional and groups of the establishment opposed it with vigour. In the violence that has raged since the fight spilt to the narrow and dilapidated streets of its towns and villages, many people have been seriously injured, and at least three have died. Buildings, most belonging to the state have been firebombed, and cars set on fire.

There are two primary questions that need to be asked here.

For the sake of argument, let’s call the perpetration of the violence that has been witnessed so far the worst of patriarchy. So, is it just plain sexism and misogyny that are at play here? J Sema (name changed), an engineer who works at a state department but did not want her details disclosed, calls it hypocrisy.

“We pretend like we are progressive when it comes to how women are treated because we get to wear what we want,” she explains. “But when it comes down to the bare basics of it, men control everything, and sons are still so much preferable to daughters.”

If it is pure and simple sexism — the belief that women should not be elected representatives, then the remedy is simpler. Because laws can be enacted, and before one knows it, people start becoming comfortable with a civic or a municipal body where one in three is a woman. It is a problem with a solution, no matter how long that solution takes to materialise.

But the problem here is one of the law, too.

In the midst of the violence and confusion, what has been lost is the fact that the law should actually be on the side of the people who are fighting for the implementation of the reservation for women rather than on those who oppose it in the civic and municipal bodies. In 1992, the constitution was amended to provided 33 percent reservation for women in municipalities, and the Nagaland government in 2005 included the provision in the amendment of its Municipal Act after the Guwahati High Court directed the state government to enact it.

But activism led by a prominent women’s group called the Naga Mother Association eventually reached a dead end when in September 2012, a resolution was passed in the Nagaland Legislative Assembly which concluded that the constitutional Amendment providing for 33 percent reservation for women in Municipal bodies infringed on the special status of the state as conferred to it by Article 371 A.

Article 371 A of the Constitution confers special rights on the state of Nagaland and protects the religious or social practices of the Nagas, Naga customary law and procedure, and administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law.

Civic polls should have included the provision for the reservation of women when they were last conducted in 2004, but have been put on hold ever since because of continued opposition by tribal bodies, and on 2 February, this issue simmered over to unreasonable levels.

And the chief Minister of the state, TR Zeilang, had to step down after the withdrawal of support from the 49 legislators who opposed him. Speculations are rife that he will be replaced by former Chief Minister and Lok Sabha MP Neiphiu Rio.

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2017 14:56:25 IST

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