India Today - - UPFRONT - By Kaushik Deka

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

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