Equality’s time has come

Naga women’s claim to economic equality has unsettled its male-dominated tribal bodies

Written by Monalisa Changkija | Published:February 7, 2017 1:49 am
Nagaland violence, Kohima violence, Nagas, Naga tribes, women's reservation, protest against women reservation in Nagaland, Naga society, Nagaland news, India news, Indian Express Kohima: The Kohima Municipal Council office which was set ablaze by Naga tribals during their violent protest, in Kohima on Friday. (PTI Photo) 

To understand the vehement opposition to 33 per cent women’s reservation in urban local bodies (ULBs) in Nagaland by male-dominated/all-male Naga tribal bodies, it is imperative that all illusions about tribal society being simple are dispelled. In the case of the Nagas, it is even more multi-faceted for historical and political reasons. Now, with rapidly changing national and global economic eco-systems, in a patriarchal society with one foot still in the subsistence economy, economic apprehensions have impacted political perspectives.

Opposition to women’s participation in decision-making bodies and processes is centuries-old in Naga society. Our customary laws are deeply rooted in patriarchy. So for Naga tribal bodies to naively argue that such reservations violate Article 371 (A) of the Constitution of India and would adversely affect Naga culture and customs would be to miss the point of the argument against reservations. The core of the issue — like most other issues — is the ownership of land and resources.

Naga culture and customs debar women from land ownership; hence our customary laws preclude women from inheriting land. This is exactly what Article 371 (A) protects — the social, cultural and customary practices of the Nagas, which are germane to land ownership and inheritance thereof. Much as Naga scholars acclaim Nagas’ “purest form of democracy” in sovereign village-republics and compare it to the “democracy” of the Greek city-states, the fact is, this “democracy” is pertinent only to males — only males have the right to land ownership; only males can participate in the village parliament. It’s patriarchy in its purest form, actually.

In the opposition to women’s reservation in ULBs, the most pertinent aspect is the economic connotations inherent in politically empowering women through reservations. The bottomline is: Economics spawns and dictates cultures and customs, as also political and marital expediencies.

Against this background, Naga male-dominated tribal bodies’ opposition to women’s reservations in ULBs is understandable — the fear is that women would finally have a say in how resources are used and shared in towns, which could then spill over to villages. So far, only men are privy to the utilisation and sharing of resources allotted by the Central and state governments, as also available resources of clan and tribe land ownership. With political powers come economic powers, and with economic powers, political power is reinforced and consolidated, all of which has the potential to disrupt the status quo in Naga society that has marginalised women politically and economically.

Women’s reservation is necessitated in patriarchal societies because of the historical fact of a ubiquitous culture of inequality in Naga society — even if we don’t practice dowry, Sati, female foeticide and infanticide and the caste system. All patriarchal societies and states deny women access to economic and political powers, starting with land ownership, the primary marker of power hierarchies. The opposition to women’s reservation in ULBs not only underlines the badly bruised Naga male ego, but has critical economic connotations accentuating how their economic and political strongholds are perceived to be threatened.

It must also be underlined that almost all Naga tribal bodies, including the Naga Hoho, emerged since the 1980s and thereafter — therefore, they are not Naga traditional institutions. The traditional Naga institutions recognised by the British and by the Indian government, which have constitutional sanction (enshrined in Article 371 (A)), are the Naga village parliaments, which are the custodians of Naga culture, traditions and customary laws. Therefore, it is a matter of concern that the Nagaland government has allowed itself to be held to ransom by NGOs and civil society bodies at the cost of the constitutional mandate in the name of Naga culture, tradition and customs.

Apprehensions related to taxes and land ownership are very real. Under the Nagaland Municipal (Third Amendment) Bill 2016 was the issue of taxation by the new municipalities/town committees, particularly if Smart Cities and Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) are involved. As Charles Chase, former editor and author of The Naga Imbroglio writes: “Taxation has always been an abhorrent issue where Nagas are concerned”. As I see it, the problem here is that Naga males are averse to the idea of mainstreaming into the globalised economy but they welcome the privileges of the same globalised economy.

That brings us to the next point of Naga male tribal bodies’ opposition to women’s reservation. Because of being precluded from inheriting land, Naga women have taken to education with missionary zeal. Today, Naga women excel in the public and private spheres academically, intellectually and to a certain extent economically — this is frightening to the Naga male, who continues to expect the woman to be dependent on him. While Naga women are respectful towards Naga culture, tradition and customary law, they are also generally more open, willing and able to adapt to new ideas and change and generally to global culture, politically, economically and socially. The new Naga woman is very different from our subservient grandmothers, which is truly frightening to the Naga male, who has failed to and/or refuses to understand and appreciate how much the world has changed from the days of British colonials and American missionaries. Significantly, some statistics maintain that more than 50 per cent of Nagaland government employees are women.

There is also a fear among Naga males that the Indian government is trying to introduce alien political and economic systems, which would adversely tell on Naga nationalism, even dilute it. Here again, the diverse perspectives of Nagas belonging to various political, economic, social and educational backgrounds are at play.

The abysmal failure of the Nagaland government and the state machinery to stem violent protests against women’s reservation must be underlined. The Nagaland government’s vacillating stand on women’s reservation over the years poured fuel into the fire, as much as its inability to gauge the mood of tribal bodies and their vulnerability to numerous shades of overground and subterranean political agendas, in the name of Naga culture, customs and traditions, and a failure to maintain the rule of law by an ineffectual civil and police bureaucratic machinery.

The ULB elections have been deferred and it is likely that women’s reservation to ULBs will never come to pass. But it is clear from what happened in the last few days that the state government and the tribal bodies have lost the plot.

The ball is in the Centre’s court, seeing that the Nagaland government and Naga tribal bodies are seeking no less than an amendment to certain parts of Part IX-A of the Constitution. Meanwhile, Naga women will continue to struggle for their rights unambiguously enshrined in the Constitution of India.

The writer, a journalist and poet, is editor of ‘Nagaland Page’

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  1. H
    Harsh
    Feb 7, 2017 at 4:29 am
    There has always been some opposition from certain sections of men when it comes to giving rights to women. But the state should not bow to their demand. We need to empower our women, irrespective of their socio-ethnic ideny. In fact, the state must never bow down to any demand of the people in the name of culture and customs. If the culture becomes an impediment to someone's growth, it must be amended. If culture becomes the cause of cruelty to others, it needs a reviewing and discarding. The recent Tamil Nadu issue has set a bad example. If we want to be really called cultured and protect our society, we need to purge our traditions of the evils, not stick to them adamantly.
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      Himanshu
      Feb 7, 2017 at 5:22 am
      In the name of preserving tribal culture we cannot go on overlooking these inequalities.
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      1. R
        Rajat
        Feb 7, 2017 at 4:40 am
        Spot on
        Reply
        1. R
          Rajat
          Feb 7, 2017 at 4:39 am
          The problem is that in the west religion has taken a backstage. A vast majority of westerns identify themselves as atheists. Even if they are christians, they don't visit a church or are deeply religious. Only a minuscule minority is practicing today. This is not the case in Nagaland.
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            Ram
            Feb 8, 2017 at 10:51 pm
            State should ensure the law and order in the state...at the same time centre should come up with a solution ... The solution should not deprive the women their consutional rights...patriarch mindset of people need to change , then only the law of state would have more acceptance..
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              Ashish Deb
              Feb 7, 2017 at 9:37 am
              Is the customary law the same across all Naga tribes? Does the opposition to women's reservation extend across men from all tribes, or only some of the more powerful ones - Angami, Ao, Sema, etc? What about the Nagas of Manipur? Do they have women's reservation in local bodies? Wish these points had been covered.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Given the history of Nagaland it is no wonder that the government wants to tread very carefully in matters of Naga sentiment, even if it is only the 'Naga male sentiment'.
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                Ashish Deb
                Feb 7, 2017 at 9:44 am
                The Mizo customary law was even more discriminatory. But it has been amended without any fuss by the Mizos themselves and women's reservation in local bodies allowed. They have made changes relating to divorce, etc also to provide empowerment to women. Naga men should draw lessons
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                  Garry
                  Feb 7, 2017 at 4:35 am
                  As long as the Church rules, these regressive left organizations wont even touch the issue with a bamboo stick. Same when it comes to Muslims. Case in point is the Triple Talaq issue where the entire brigade supported the Islamists using the most convoluted arguments.
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                    Garry
                    Feb 7, 2017 at 4:33 am
                    The agitations have very much been backed by the Church and it has failed to play a constructive role. In fact the ongoing insurgency has very much to do with Christianity when Nagas were given urances by the west of backing them if they could become a separate nation. That the fault lines have very much to do with the evangelicals is comfortably overlooked by Left liberal (pseudo) intellegentia (misnomer).
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                      M.S. Jerome
                      Feb 8, 2017 at 1:12 am
                      Nagas have a unique culture and tradition, and unique problems. Without understanding these uniqueness it would be fatal to infringe into the Nagas systems. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Only time will tell when the Nagas will embrace the changing socio-socio-economic and ecological changes happening around them.
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                        Bharati
                        Feb 7, 2017 at 2:44 am
                        But aren't the Nagas overwhelmingly Christian (Baptist)? So where the relevance of " even if we don’t practice dowry, Sati, female foeticide and infanticide and the caste system"? Instead, what is relevant is Christian patriarchy, and what the Naga males insist on is well within the Holy Bible - . Why is your columnist not finger-pointing at the real root of the problem?
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                          Bharati
                          Feb 7, 2017 at 2:48 am
                          PSlt;br/gt;The url did not appear in the comment - readers, and your columnist - can google (without the quote marks) "landover baptist church women FAQ"
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                            Tsakjemkala
                            Feb 7, 2017 at 5:45 am
                            The root of the problem here is not Christian-centric. The root of the problem is - the 'traditional practices of Nagas', the patriarchy that existed way before Christianity even came to the Naga people. Hence, as real as Christian patriarchy definitely is, it is not the root in the Naga issue. By referencing dowry, sati, casta, etc, the writer was simply trying to illustrate that the patriarchy in Naga society is not as glaring, but is prevailing in subtle ways which are nonetheless extremely biased towards men
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                              maha
                              Feb 7, 2017 at 2:33 am
                              They have indeed lost the plot. From an image of Nagaland as progressive it now appears it is entirely patriarchal and regressive. Surprised no mainstream women's organisations and papers have picked this up and so few comments on the w.
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                                Ginlunmang Tungnung
                                Feb 7, 2017 at 1:23 pm
                                A well thought out, analysed and lucid article - commend the author for it. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The so-called agitation is yet another example of intimidation of the w society by a few muscled goons with vested interests and hidden motives related to state embly polls in Feb 2018. Half of humanity cannot be allowed to be kept suppressed and dis-empowered in the name of customs and traditions.
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                                  Mahender Goriganti
                                  Feb 7, 2017 at 11:58 pm
                                  Why is Islamic express talking about Naga women when crores of Indian Muslim women are alike slaves and pleasure toys for Muslim mens only there to make Jihadi babies like machines.
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                                    Reagan
                                    Feb 7, 2017 at 3:28 pm
                                    It's normal to have supporters and criticizers in every policy and action. Rather it is a sign of good social alertness. There are always criticizers in new moves of any govt in any country. However they all resolve differences by legal, peaceful, mindful and in civilized manner. But in northeast (more visible in Manipur and Nagaland), criticizers tend to show their barbaric manner in the name of conserving and preserving "ideny" or "indigeneity". To them, law and order is against their cultural ethos.They are happy as long as they live a life like the one that prevailed thousands hundreds or thousands of years ago.
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                                      Sayantan Roy
                                      Feb 7, 2017 at 5:02 am
                                      Law of humanity is above all law...whether law of land, consutional or even traditional....and that should be pursued in lager interest of humanity.
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                                        indian
                                        Feb 7, 2017 at 9:06 am
                                        In certain quarters they are more empowered than Men. For eg. Man beating Woman is Offensive but Woman beating Man has become a matter of Fun and 'Un'consutional Right which are telecast for rejoicing. TV serials are fully Female Centric with Male being reduced to Object of Ridicule. Lengthening One Line should not be at the cost of Shortening the Other Line. Feminists successful in Pitting Men againest Men in their cause.
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                                          Thomas George
                                          Feb 7, 2017 at 3:13 am
                                          If the root of the problem is in the Bible, why is it not manifested in Europe and the Americas now, or even in other states of India like Kerala and Goa with sizeable Christian potions? Every religion in the world have been misogynistic at some stage or the other. It is actually a question of education and culture, and whether we as a society are willing to overlook the Consutional values of equality to appease tribal cultures which probably developed at a time when muscle power was required for survival.
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                                            Thomas George
                                            Feb 7, 2017 at 3:14 am
                                            Organisations are not really interested in issues. They take up issues that give them publicity. Nagaland is too fringe for them to bother.
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