Friday, January 6, 2017

Kangkan Acharyya - Nagaland civic polls: Naga tribes to boycott elections to protest 33% reservation for women

Age old patriarchal system and aspiring feminism are at loggerheads in Nagaland as major tribes boycott forthcoming municipal election protesting the state government’s move to reserve 33% of the seats for women. The tussle has resulted in dismal figures in nominations filed in 11 districts of the state in the last two days. The last date of filing nominations is 7 January and the election will be held on 1 February.

The diktat to boycott the election came from the civil society organizations representing various tribal groups, just a day before the election office opened up to receive nomination on 3 January. A press statement published by Ao Sengden, a body of the Ao Tribe, in the Eastern Mirror issued dictat prohibiting the people from participating in the election saying that anyone from the Ao community found violating this order would be liable to “questioning and appropriate punishment”.

Dr. Vihusa Seleyi, President of the Angami Public Organisation which has also called for boycotting the municipal polls, told Firstpost that the organization will intensify the agitation wherever it finds opposition. It also said that the protesters are ready to face any consequence in a bid to successfully implement the order.

“The Article 371 (A) of the Indian Constitution empowers the Naga people to decide their own laws as per customs and traditions. We do not have any problem if women take up political leadership. But the Naga Mothers Association dragged the matter to the Supreme Court without discussion with the people. This has caused resentment,” said Seleyi.

Rosemary Dzuvichu, the adviser of the Naga Mothers Association had filed a case in the Supreme Court demanding 33% reservation of seats in civic polls. In an earlier interview with Firstpost, she had said that since the case was still being heard by the apex court and no stay order was issued by it, there was no legal obstacle in holding the election with 33% reservation for women. Dr. Vihusa Seleyi further said that the Naga Mothers Association also convinced the government to proceed with the election reserving 33% of seats for women, without any consultation with the ‘Naga Society’.

Hokiye Sema, the President of Central Naga Tribal Council which also demands abolishing of the provision of reservation of seats for women in the civic polls told Firstpost, “In Naga society a woman is not considered to be equal to men. She is not even allowed to speak in Panchayat until and unless she is summoned by it. Providing 33% reservation to women amounts to giving her the same status as men and it gives men inferiority complex.” He also said that the Naga society has been following the customary laws for more than thousand years and those cannot be just wiped out.

“Even the Parliament has not passed the bill of 33% reservation for women. But why the Chief Minister of Nagaland is so much anxious to implement this provision?” he asks. He also says that it is the government’s responsibility to protect the rights of the Naga People as provided for in the Constitution of India in the Article 371(A). Maintaining that his organization has no other problem with the Municipal Act passed by the government of Nagaland except the provision of 33% reservation for women. “In India men are considered to be superior than woman as per customs and that has to be taken very seriously,” he added. Nagaland state Assembly does not have a single woman as it’s member. 

Chakhasang Public Organisation another tribal body that has joined hands in the agitation has different view on the issue. President K Lea told Firstpost, “The Municipal Act passed recently was not deliberated properly before bringing it into force. It infringes upon the rights of the Naga people to develop their own land. After this Act is brought into force we will have to take permission from the municipality to develop our own land, whereas the Article 371(A) of the Indian Constitution provides us with the right to decide upon to what to do with our resources.”

The Article 371(A) in the constitution says, “Notwithsatanding anything in this Constitution, (a) no Act of Parliament in respect of (1) religious or social practices of Nagas,(2) Naga customary law and procedure,(3) and administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law,(4) ownership and transfer of land and it’s resources, shall apply to the state of Nagaland unless the Legislative Assembly of Nagaland by a resolution so decides.”

Some of the Naga leaders also contended that the new Municipality Act was brought into force only to derive more funds from the central government. Kohima, the capital of Nagaland has been selected as a city to be developed under the smart city project declared by the central government. As per guidelines a special purpose vehicle has to be formed with the elected body of the concerned municipality. But Kohima has not held the urban local body election for a decade.

The Nagaland Municipal Act 2001 was amended in the year 2006 to incorporate the provision of 33% reservation for women. The government of Nagaland in a recent cabinet meeting has decided to proceed with the election despite protests and it held the view that reservation of 33% of seats will not infringe upon the rights of the Naga people, according to a press release issued by Menukhol John, Principal Secretary, Department of Municipal Affairs.

Nagaland has already provided for 25% reservation in seats for woman in Village Development Boards. TI Merry an office bearer of the ruling Naga People’s Front told Firstpost that many prospective candidates are still in consultation with the tribal organizations to convince them to suspend their agitation programme. Meanwhile, Rosemary Dzuvichu holds that the Municipal Election has nothing to do with Naga culture as per an order passed by the apex court earlier.
It is to be noted that Municipal Elections in India is held as per 74th amendment of the Indian constitution and reserving 33% of the seats for women is a Constitutional mandate.