Amend Con­sti­tu­tion, Set Naga Women Free

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

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.

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