Tradition and Change

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The news yesterday that Ringui (Tongou) village in the Ukhrul district decided to allow women in the traditional village court of the village, deserves universal applause. The village assembly also resolved to plea to the Church not to discriminate against women holding various positions of responsibility in the clergy, including Deaconship and Pastorship. The proposal, it is learnt has been endorsed by the chief of the village, Atem A Shimray and Speaker of the Village Assembly, Abel Ahum. The move to call for these revolutionary changes in the tradition of the village, as reported, was initiated by Ringui Shanou Long or Ringui Women`™s League. Their contention is that women have always played a big role in the Tangkhul society, and women`™s entrance into village decision making bodies can only be for the good of the Tangkhul society`™s future. The development is even more refreshing as it comes amidst the depressing news that the Nagaland Assembly had only recently passed a resolution to disallow reservation of seats in the State Assembly for women. In many ways traditional societies are liberal, but this fact should not be allowed to camouflage away all those attributes within any traditional society which are oppressive. One such oppressive quality in many traditional societies, including that of the Nagas, is gender inequality. Women, though respected, have never been allowed to be leaders. This is not only unfair, but also a question of a valuable human resource of a society not tapped optimally. Women have equal potential to be leaders as men, and given a level playing field, this fact would become more than evident sooner than later. We do hope more villages and communities in the state will follow suit.

The development should also be a caution to those who blindly eulogise customary laws and seek their unscreened codification. While the endeavour is essential and praiseworthy, they must be wary of the fact that even customary laws have features which are retrogressive. In fact, this is one of the sore points of the indigenous peoples`™ movement. Can by any standard of justice, gender discrimination, slavery, summary execution, extreme carnal punishments etc, be permissible. The development at Ringui village should also remind everybody of the notion of peremptory laws or jus cogens. These are norms which are deemed beyond compromise under any circumstance. Racial discrimination, slavery, colonisation, piracy, child soldiering, genocide, rape, gender discrimination, are some of these. Regardless of whether any of these is sanctioned by customary law or national law, it cannot just or legal from the standpoint of international jurisprudence. What Ringui village has done voluntarily is commendable, but even if there are other villages and communities which continue with similar practices, be it in the name of customary law, tradition or religion, the law must forbid them, or at least dissuade the practice through well charted out policies, such as entitlements to statutory incentives and benefits.

Tradition is great. It not only makes a society what it is, but also keeps it going effortlessly. But tradition if it is not ready to adjust to the needs of the times can become rigid and bigoted. This is precisely why a society`™s effort must be made continually strive to ensure a balance between tradition and modern. This tension is most acutely felt in the practice and application of law. No argument about it that tradition must influence good law making, and in turn the law must ensure bad tradition are done away with. In art, few others have been able to convey this message as poignantly as in the Broadway show of the 1970s, and subsequently made into a multi Oscar winning film, `Fiddler on the Roof`. Tradition can bog a society down, but without tradition, we all are reduced to fiddler on the roof, as the protagonist of the drama, the milkman Topol declares.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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