Cus­tom­ary Law Must Bend to Ba­sic Rights

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

Na­ga­land is con­vulsed over a con­tra­dic­tion of In­dia’s Con­sti­tu­tion by it­self. Last year, the Supreme Court up­held an ap­peal by the pow­er­ful Naga Moth­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (NMA), to al­low 33% reser­va­tion for women in ur­ban lo­cal body elec­tions. The gov­ern­ment of chief min­is­ter T R Zeliang wanted to con­duct mu­nic­i­pal polls on Fe­bru­ary 1, with such reser­va­tions. Var­i­ous tribal or­gan­i­sa­tions im­me­di­ately swung into ac­tion.

They cited Ar­ti­cle 371(A) of the Con­sti­tu­tion, which says, “No Act of Par­lia­ment shall ap­ply to Na­ga­land in re­la­tion to re­li­gious or so­cial prac­tices of the Na­gas, Naga cus­tom­ary law and pro­ce­dure, ad­min­is­tra­tion of civil and crim­i­nal jus­tice in­volv­ing de­ci­sions ac­cord­ing to the Naga cus­tom­ary law, own­er­ship and trans­fer of land and its re­sources.” This con­tra­dicts Ar­ti­cle 243(D) that guar­an­tees reser­va­tions for women. Op­po­si­tion, in­clud­ing from the Naga Hoho, the apex coun­cil of tribal chiefs, led to can­cel­la­tion of the polls. The chief min­is­ter might be evicted. Yes, our Con­sti­tu­tion does al­low tribes to ob­serve cus­tom­ary law in many so­cial and eco­nomic spheres, a recog­ni­tion of the di­ver­sity of our pop­u­la­tion. Not all cus­tom­ary law — mostly cod­i­fied in colo­nial In­dia from oral rep­re­sen­ta­tions — fits 21st-cen­tury In­dia. Naga cus­tom­ary law has cre­ated a po­lit­i­cal so­ci­ety dom­i­nated en­tirely by men. Since its first elec­tions in 1964, there has never been a sin­gle woman rep­re­sen­ta­tive in its assem­bly. Its sole woman MP was the late Rano Shaiza, elected in1977. This glass ceil­ing is an anachro­nism in Na­ga­land, where the likes of NMA play a vi­tal pub­lic role. Half the pop­u­la­tion can­not be kept out of demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The Hoho must amend cus­tom­ary law to end women’s sub­or­di­na­tion. Else, the con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tee of ba­sic rights must pre­vail over cus­tom­ary law.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.