Days after a fractured verdict was delivered, following the February 27 polls, a 58-year-old woman was brutally beaten at Changki village, which falls under under 29 Jangpetkong A/C in Mokokchung district. The reason was that she had apparently voted for the candidate not endorsed by the village council. The woman, a nurse, was rushed to a hospital in Dimapur, with severe injuries. But that was not to be the end of her ordeal. She, along with two more women and a man were then excommunicated from the village for a period of 30 years.
According to The Naga Republic, the victim was allegedly forced to sign a piece of paper admitting her ‘guilt’ by the Changki Village Council before she was beaten up. Reportedly 40-50 votes among the total electorates in the village had been cast in favour of the candidate not chosen by the Changki Village Council.
Three persons involved in the assault of the 58-year have been arrested by Mokokchung Police and sent to judicial custody on Tuesday. Earlier, deputy commissioner of Mokokchung, Sachin Jaiswal, had issued a show-cause notice to Changki village council office bearers over the incident.
The all-powerful village councils
Elections in Nagaland brings to fore the power of the traditional village councils, largely patriarchal by nature. Candidates contesting for state elections seldom care to talk about the ideologies of the party he represents as elections are fought more on individual, tribal and village lines than on party ideologies. In this scenario, village councils play a dominant role in deciding who the whole village should vote for.
The village council is the principle organ of the village and functions under a chairman assisted by the gaonburas. A village council’s decision to support a particular candidate is the final diktat for the rest of the villagers. Anyone who chooses to go against the diktat of the council could attract punishment and even banishment from the village.
Moreover, once a candidate is chosen by the village council, no one else from the village are expected to contest in the same election. Any person who decides to contest too could be exiled. In the run-up to the February 27 polls, there were reports of candidates being not allowed to enter their own villages to campaign as the councils had already decided on supporting their opponents. In Chizami assembly constituency, Rose Rekha Dukru, an Independent candidate, was clearly told by her village council that she would get no cooperation as the council had already decided to support the sitting MLA. She was not allowed to gather women and youth for her campaign in her village.
According to editor and writer Monalisa Changkija, village councils have always played the most conspicuous and crucial role in all the assembly elections since the early 1960s. More often than not, the village councils are wooed by the candidates with huge sums of money and gifts.
Elections in Nagaland also bring to fore the patriarchal nature of the Naga society, especially in the villages. Women in villages are largely not given role in decision making, to the extent that the men decide who the women should vote for. Rose Rekha Dukru, talking to indianexpress.com, said, “When I called women folk together for a meeting- they were both nervous and excited because they were never once counted or called for such political meetings. I realised that women are not given a chance to decide. Our state was all set for the 13th assembly elections but it was evident that women were never part of the decision-making and some even didn’t know which candidate their men were supporting. When I try to reach out, some women said the men in the family have decided for them.”
Interestingly, in its 54 years of statehood and after 13 assembly elections, Nagaland has never voted a women to its Legislative Assembly.
Days before the assault on the 58-year old in Changki village, some women in another village under Mokokchung district, were assaulted physically for the same reason – not supporting the candidate not chosen by their village council. A video which was circulated on social media showed a group of men intimidating women and preventing them from going to their polling station.
The gravity of the situation was evident when editors representing seven newspapers published out of Nagaland issued a joint statement in 2016 affirming their commitment to clean elections. Among other things, the editors asserted that their newspapers would stop publishing advertisements from, and news issued by, village councils or any other non-political organisation that endorses one particular candidate, or any statement that opposes the fundamental principles of the clean elections.
Prior to the step taken by the editors, it was commonplace for village councils to openly issue their diktat, declaring support to one particular candidate through newspaper advertisements.