Nagaland: A case of congenital dystopia– By Patricia Mukhim

Nagaland: A case of congenital dystopia– By Patricia Mukhim

Whether its Nagaland or Mizoram or Meghalaya, tradition is invoked as a ruse for continuing with the practice of obnoxious gender discriminatory practices. Women are shown exactly where they belong. Tradition is the big bogeyman that keeps women trapped in their gender roles of domestic chores but even if they have broken glass ceilings in many institutions including those that are democratically constituted, when they come back to their tribes and communities they are not considered good enough to proffer political views or to even hold one because tradition says women have a defined gender role.

Coming back to the Nagaland issue which has now become a subject of national debate everything started with the demand of Naga women for 33% reservation in elections to urban local bodies (ULB). The Naga Mothers' Association (NMA) which is an independent body and whose members are not necessarily deputed by their respective Hoho (apex tribal body), has stood steadfast on this issue and knocked at all the institutions of democracy to claim their constitutional rights. The Supreme Court had earlier directed that elections to the ULB should be held with 33 % reservation for women. The Nagaland Assembly then passed the Bill for the same and preparations were made for election to the ULB after which all hell broke loose.

 Scanning the newspapers from Nagaland today one sees that the voices of the Joint Action Committee of Women's Reservation (JACWR) has been completely silenced while the voices of the so-called  tribal apex bodies which are essentially male have been magnified. In an effort to undermine and discredit the voices of women and fragment the Naga Mothers' Association (NMA) the Sumi Hoho ( the apex body of the Sumi tribe) and others like the Chakesang Hoho have now asked their womenfolk to disassociate themselves from the NMA with immediate effect. In other words the attempt now is to paint women into a corner and blame them and their cause for the death of the two youth and the burning of public property – the cost of which is inestimable.

Nagaland Chief Minister who stood by the Women's Reservation Bill is now under pressure to step down.  Different pressure groups like the Nagaland Tribes Action Committee (NTAC) have called statewide bandhs and now demand that TR Zeliang should resign for not listening to the "peoples" voices. That the word "people" is bandied around carelessly by groups that seek to promote an exclusively male agenda also shows that democracy has never taken roots in the seven states of the disparate region thoughtlessly lumped as "North East." The word 'People' as some wit rightly observed is a figment – a clever invention by people with vested interests to co-opt voices without their informed consent only to present a united fight against any issue and establishment. While democracy speaks of people power, that power is not well defined. People power is not necessarily the power vested on a powerful and influential section that does not really care about consensus or of even seeking it.

Taraprasad Mishra in Dilemma of Democracy writes that democracy survives on its core maxims– government by people's mandate, popular government, and confidence of the majority and so on. But in underdeveloped countries with widespread poverty and illiteracy the mantle of power has fallen into the hands of mediocre leaders, with very little education and vision for their nations. On the other hand in advanced nations the power of governance has slipped into the hands of a minority segment of such societies, who has the financial muscle to control the power of the state.  According to Mishra the idea of majority is a misleading one and overemphasis on this invented "majority" results in degeneration of the human capital in any society. Again, the resistance of the majority to accept new thoughts and ideas under democratic governance poses a challenge to rapid social change, with every possibility of social stagnation.

Human history is replete with examples that only a small minority has always determined the fate of the society with its innovative ingenuity; and has steered human societies in the direction of progress — such as writers, poets, philosophers, scientists, artists and a host of thought leaders. The case of Nagaland, where educated women have been able to mobilize their sisters to stand together to claim their rights under the mandate of Constitution that guarantees equal rights for men and women, is a case of a minority standing up for its rights. But they hit the roadblock in the form of the entrenched gender bias in Naga society. These incidents in Nagaland also reveal that democracy has never really struck roots in that state. If Naga society still inhibits women from playing an active political role then democracy itself or its idea needs to be seriously questioned.

The state government is now reportedly under pressure to roll back the decision earlier passed by the Assembly for the 33% reservation for women in Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).  Chief Minister TR Zeliang who has supported the Bill right through seems to now have second thoughts since his political survival is at stake. Moreover the Special Leave Petition on 33 % reservation pending in the Supreme Court has already been withdrawn by the JACWR on Jan 31 last due to pressure from the different tribal pressure groups. Without the SC behind them the JACWR have no legal mandate. What is also under active discussion among Nagas is that the final verdict of the Supreme Court on this case might lead to the striking down of Article 371(A) which gives the state and people of Nagaland full freedom to continue with their archaic traditional norms including that of keeping their womenfolk out of politics.

This case also brings to the fore the weakness of the Indian democratic system whose Constitution is so flexible as to kowtow to the special demands of different groups without looking at the long term implications and the fact that these concessions would become the basis for the disruptions in the democratic processes.

The present case in Nagaland is a sad commentary on the failure of Indian democracy to give equitable rights to 50% of its citizens – the women of the state. Hence while public infrastructure is razed to the ground and the Government of India will ultimately have to defray the cost of these criminal activities, the same Government at the Centre is hamstrung in making any interventions in the present chaos because of Article 371(A). Indian democracy stands mocked and shamed and the caravan moves on! Funnily, ignorant MPs and others in the power centres of Delhi do not question these intricacies but revert to the Naga Peace Talks which have no bearing on the present chaos in Nagaland and question it as if it the last word on Naga political behaviour.

By Patricia Mukhim

TheNortheastToday - Read From North East (TNT)