Five days after a mentally challenged woman was allegedly raped by a man in Ngwalwa village in Peren district in Nagaland, the police registered a case on Thursday, but by then the alleged rapist had already managed to escape.
But what has also created sensation in Nagaland is the fact the man accused of rape was reportedly “tried” by the village customary court. Customary laws are still prevalent and recognized by the government in Nagaland- following which he was slammed a seven-day excommunication from the village.
Peren deputy commissioner Peter Lichamo said over the telephone that family members of the victim lodged an FIR only on Thursday, immediately after which a case was registered in Jalukie police station. “The person accused of rape is absconding. But the police is on the look-out and we hope to apprehend him as early as possible,” Lichamo told The Indian Express.
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The woman, whose husband is a government employee, was raped on May 17, with the village customary court identifying him as one Kiedai Dwasang, who himself is said to be a father of four children. Dwasang reportedly was accused of similar crimes against women at least on four earlier occasions, it was gathered.
Condeming the incident Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) president Abeiu Mero asked the police to trace out the accused as early as possible. “We will not keep quiet till he is arrested and stringent punitive action taken against him. Apart from the customary laws, lack of awareness among the village women especially in remote areas about their rights and violations is also a huge problem,” she added.
The incident has in the meantime also reopened the debate over the efficacy of customary laws in contemporary Naga tribal society. NMA advisor Rosemary Dzuvichu, who is also director of the Women’s Studies Research Centre, Nagaland University, felt the naga society still had “dark places of discriminating women in the horrors of sexual violence” and wondered why the legal justice system should not step in during such crimes.
“The debate again on customary laws and crimes against women has opened up to the outside world as to how the so-called democratic, Christian and progressive Naga society still has its dark places of discriminating women even in the horrors of rape and sexual violence. We need protection of the legal justice system and our men must realize they must step out from the time warp if they want to protect their women and daughters,” Dzuvichu said.
Questioning the authority of the village customary court in handling such cases so leniently, Dzuvichu also felt customary laws cannot ensure justice. “Ancient practices passing off as customary law in such crimes cannot be accepted. Such laws cannot ensure justice. We want stringent action,” she said.
Customary laws in Nagaland are protected by the Constitution of India through its 13th amendment of 1962, which specifically says that Acts of Parliament shall not apply to Nagaland unless so decided by the Nagaland Legislature with regard to (among several others) Naga Customary Law and procedure.
“The fact that the victim woman is mentally challenged makes the case even worse. How did the village allow the perpetrator to live in the village even after he had committed several such crimes earlier?” asked Dzuvichu. “In close-knit villages it is difficult to defy the village council decision. But even then the district authorities should be vigilant and intervene in such instances by taking suo moto cases,” she said.