WOMEN CAN’T STAND IN NAGA POLLS
The state argues that quotas for women do not infringe on tribal customs as polls for urban local bodies are a new concept
Violent protests in Nagaland for over a week now have led to the opposition Congress calling for President’s rule in the state followed by early elections. The trouble stems from 33 per cent reservations for women in urban local bodies (ULBs), in accordance with Article 243(T) of the Constitution. Tribal bodies, including the Naga Hoho—the apex body of the hill state’s 18 tribes—contend that the reservations for women infringe on Naga customary laws and traditions as protected under Article 371(A) of the Constitution. When Nagaland state was created in 1963, a special provision was made so that no act of Parliament could apply if it infringed upon the religious and social practices of the Nagas. Elections to the ULBs have not been held since Article 243(T) came into force in 1993, under consistent opposition from the Naga Hoho and other tribal bodies.
ULB elections were scheduled to be held on February 1. Protests by tribal bodies forced Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang of the Nagaland People’s Front to postpone the polls for two months. A Gauhati high court order on January 31, following a petition by social activist Rosemary Dzuvichu, forced the government to hold elections in 12 of the 32 ULBs. Protesters took to the streets of Dimapur and two youths were killed and several injured.
Meanwhile, threats of excommunication and social boycott forced 140 candidates to withdraw. The elections were declared “null and void”. The state government argues that 33 per cent reservation for women does not infringe on tribal customs because the concept of ULB is new. In support of its position, it cites the 25 per cent quota in the state’s Village Development Boards. The tribal bodies counter by pointing to a 2012 resolution, passed in the Nagaland assembly, opposing reservations for women in civic bodies. But the state government passed a bill last year overriding the resolution and paving the way for reservations.
The Naga Mothers Association (NMA), of which Rosemary is a member, has argued that quotas for women “only aim to translate to full fruition the very idea of gender equity under the Naga Customary Law”. The NMA now says it is not responsible for Rosemary’s actions as an individual. Despite many attempts, Rosemary could not be contacted for comment.
Not a single woman has been elected to the state assembly since elections began in 1964. Only once, in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls, has Nagaland elected a woman, Rano M. Shaiza, to Parliament. Naga women are not allowed to participate in traditional village councils; they also have no land, property or inheritance rights.
LIGHT THE FIRE Anti-reservation protesters burn effigies of CM Zeliang and others in Dimapur, Feb 7, 2017