Going Beyond the Gender Divide in Nagaland
The anger over constitutional reservations for women is being expressed in a negative way only because of a larger atmosphere of frustration in the state.
- Elections to 32 municipal and town councils in the state were notified after a gap of more than 12 years
- The provision of 33% reservation for women in urban local bodies (ULBs) was staunchly opposed by various male-dominated tribal bodies and ‘civil society organisations’, who said that it infringed on article 371A of the constitution which provides special rights to Nagaland and protected its customary rights and traditions (without defining the latter)
- Article 371A says that no Act of parliament will apply to Nagaland unless passed by the state legislature; after many delays, much debate, a lot of hesitation and turnabouts, the state government of T.R. Zeliang approved the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments applying to local bodies, which included the proviso for 33% reservation for women. Opposition to this triggered demands for withdrawal, boycotts and other intimidation of women contestants as well as threats of ex-communication, which are totally unacceptable. There were firings on protesters in which three persons were killed, public buildings torched in Kohima, the state capital, and curfew clamped on both Kohima and Dimapur, its commercial hub. Women leaders are moving about with security guards, a sad day.
- For the first time, at least in Nagaland, article 371A is being interpreted by ‘pro-tradition groups’ as conflicting with the constitutional provisions empowering women
- A consequence of the agitation is a growing demand seeking the resignation of the chief minister and of MLAs; those issuing the call include male-run tribal organisations
- Both sides (the traditionalists and non-traditionalists) are using the constitution to buttress their respective positions
- But the state government seems to be in a funk and hastily passed a cabinet resolution which seeks the exemption of Nagaland from the constitutional provision of implementing ULB elections – a classic copout if there was one. Essentially, it amounts to throwing the baby out with the bathwater and the Centre must not acquiesce but use whatever good offices and the little goodwill that it has among the Nagas to stitch up an agreement based on trust, equality and consensus, without compromising on the constitutional assertion of equality of all. If it can’t do this, then it needs to find people who are respected among the Nagas and who can play a role, with government backing, in bridging the differences.