The cause of gender justice and women’s rights has suffered a setback in Nagaland with the state government being forced to cancel local body elections which provided 33% reservation for women. The elections were to be held last week after a gap of 10 years. But various tribal organisations which were opposed to women’s reservation resorted to widespread and large-scale violence, making it impossible to hold free and fair elections. Bandhs were held and the offices of the Election Commission and the state government were attacked and two people were killed. The Naga Hoho, which represents the state’s tribal groups, has opposed women’s reservation, claiming that it violated the customary rights guaranteed under Article 371(A) of the Constitution to Nagaland. The Article is intended to ensure that the social and religious practices and customary laws of the tribal groups are not infringed upon by central laws. But it cannot be used to deny women their rights.
The action council of the tribal groups have been protesting against the plan to grant reservation for women for a long time. After forcing the government of T R Zeliang to take a step back, the groups are now demanding the chief minister’s resignation. It is unfortunate that the most retrograde and conservative elements in the society have won the day. Women’s groups and a large number of youth in the state have demanded and supported reservation for women. The Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) has in the past moved the courts for it. The Supreme Court had given the go-ahead for elections based on reservation for women. It is indeed doubtful if the government would have gone ahead with the reservation-based election plan in the absence of the court order.
Nagaland has a highly patriarchal society which has not given women any space in politics. Not a single woman has been elected to the state Assembly in its entire history. This is surprising in a state which has a high literacy rate even for women. Customary laws were formulated during the colonial period when the interests and attitudes of the society were very different. The tribal groups’ leaders are going against the interests of the wider society by opposing reservation for women. Quota for women in local bodies has been provided by Article 243 (D) of the Constitution. The constitutional rights of women should have precedence over interpretations of customary laws which reflect the entrenched interests of a male-dominated society. Laws that do not keep pace with the times should be disregarded or changed for the good of society.
Source: Deccan Herald