Insights into Editorial: Bowing down to patriarchy
Nagaland has been under strife since the announcement of civic bodies’ poll, the matter reaching its peak in the last week.
What’s the issue?
The Nagaland government announced civic bodies’ elections in December 2016 followed by the announcement of 33% reservation of seats for women. Various tribal bodies including Naga Hoho, the apex organisation of all major tribes, have been opposing the civic elections, which were due on February 1. Their contention is that granting 33% reservation for women would infringe on Naga customary laws and tradition as protected under Article 371(A) of the Constitution of India.
Now, the State government has written to the Centre seeking exemption for Nagaland from Part IXA of the Constitution.
The local elections have been due for more than 16 years now. In September 2012, the Nagaland state assembly had passed a resolution opposing the quota for women. However, this resolution was revoked by the assembly in November 2016, clearing the way for the elections to be held.
Why reservation is necessary?
In rural areas the quota has helped improve local governance, enhancing outcomes in delivery of civic services related to drinking water supply, sanitation and irrigation, among others. In urban local bodies, the visible impact has been more quantitative in terms of representation rather than qualitative, with success being linked to emphasis on gender sensitisation by civil society and political parties.
Why reservation for women in Nagaland is necessary?
In Nagaland, no woman has ever been elected to the state assembly in over 53 years of Nagaland’s existence as a state. It has sent a sole woman representative—late Rano M. Shaiza in 1977—to Parliament. The village development boards in the state, on the other hand, do have 25% seats reserved for women. But most of the tribal bodies which act as the custodians of tribal culture and traditions are dominated by men. As a result, the property and inheritance rights are highly skewed against women. This is also a system developed over the years to keep property from being taken outside the community in the eventuality of a woman deciding to marry outside the tribe.
What the opponents say?
Opponents contend that article 371(A) gives precedence to Nagaland’s customary traditions and laws over the laws passed by Parliament. Moreover, the male-dominated tribal bodies assert that Naga society offers equal opportunity to their females obviating the need for any kind of affirmative action.
Article 371 (A):
The Article 371(A) that Nagas wear as a badge of pride, states: “Notwithstanding anything in this constitution, no Act of parliament in respect of religious or social practices of the Nagas, Naga customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law, ownership and transfer of land and resources, shall apply to the state of Nagaland unless the legislative assembly of Nagaland by a resolution so decides.”
Article 243T prescribes that 1/3rd of the total seats meant for direct election should be reserved for women.
What should the government do now?
Rather than bowing to this pressure, the State government should enforce the rule of law. It should make suitable arrangements for elections despite the opposition by the tribal bodies. This reflects public support for affirmative action as mandated by the 74th Amendment to the Constitution.
One of the success stories of affirmative action in India has been the implementation of reservation of seats in local body elections for women, to the order of 33% or more. The importance of democratising the public sphere by inclusive participation of women in a largely male-dominated society cannot be stressed enough.
- Article 371A of the Constitution secures a special status for Nagaland. But as the civil society groups striving for reservation have argued, urban local bodies are not part of traditional Naga society, and ULBs are constitutional bodies to which customary Naga laws cannot be applied.
- Now, women groups under the banner of Nagaland Mothers’ Association (NMA) and Joint Action Committee for Women’s Reservation (JACWR) have approached the Supreme Court.
- The ball is in the Centre’s court, seeing that the Nagaland government and Naga tribal bodies are seeking no less than an amendment to certain parts of Part IX-A of the Constitution.
A critical question arises: is it time for the government or the courts to come up with a clearer interpretation of Article 371 itself in the context of demands for greater autonomy or federal restructuring in Nagaland? After all, the situation in Nagaland clearly proves that the state is not in a position to implement even an order of the highest court due to pressure from certain groups. In fact, the Supreme Court had come up with an “interim relief order” on April 5 last year allowing 33% reservation of seats for women based on the special leave petition, pending a final judgment. It is quite possible that only a handful of people are behind the unrest or the opposition to the quota for women, but if that is so, why has Naga civil society or the state government not been successful in going ahead with the polls after convincing different stakeholders. These are questions that require answers. Until then, it is a new front the government has to tackle in Nagaland in the days ahead. One cannot also rule out the possibility that this situation will impact the ongoing peace talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM).