Amend Constitution, Set Naga Women Free
Nagaland chief minister T R Zeliang quit on Sunday. His party, the Naga People’s Front, has 46 lawmakers in a house of 60. Its allies, the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland, have the rest: Nagaland has no elected opposition. Yet, Zeliang’s ouster shows the real opposition comes from conservative outfits like the Naga Hoho, an all-male body of tribal elders. Trouble started last year, when the Supreme Court upheld an appeal by the Naga Mothers’ Association to allow 33% reservation for women in urban local body elections. Zeliang wanted to conduct municipal polls on February 1, with such reservations. Tribal organisations protested, saying the Constitution upholds tribal customary law, which allows little space for women in public life. After protests paralysed administration, Zeliang called off municipal polls. But that was not enough: zealots prevailed upon cowed legislators, who got Zeliang to quit. This has revealed the deep patriarchal bias in Naga society. Since Nagaland’s first election in1964, there has been no woman representative in its assembly. Male chauvinism prospers on the back of a constitutional ambiguity. Article 371 (A) 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 not just Article 243(D) that guarantees reservations for women, but the basic right to equality and the overall principle that when custom conflicts with fundamental rights, rights must prevail. The Constitution should be amended to make this explicit. Nagaland’s women have the right to be part of the democratic mainstream.