Nagaland, India
Image Credit: India Today

Nagaland and the Constitutional Provisions for Equality

Image Credit: India Today

Nagaland, the land of naga or festivals, has been in the news, so it’s a case study, too. What is it? It’s a mountainous state in Northeast India and bordering on Myanmar. It’s been quite well-known as the “State that always carried the image of treating women with equality,” but the ‘image’ has been ‘shattered’ due to the ‘revolt from the civil societies’ based on women candidates attempting to run in politics. Presently, there is a concern over women’s rights and gender equality.

What all of this means is that this is an area of minor regress in the political arena. It might seem obscure as a place, and it is, but women’s rights matter in any place as their rights are often the most violated by individuals, groups, even states – at least as far as I’m concerned. As Human Rights Watch has succinctly, and pointedly, described:

…women and girls around the world are still married as children or trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery. They are refused access to education and political participation, and some are trapped in conflicts where rape is perpetrated as a weapon of war. Around the world, deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are needlessly high, and women are prevented from making deeply personal choices in their private lives.

Of course, denial of equal treatment in political office isn’t the same as child marriage, but the progression towards equality happens step-by-step. Politics is one area of middle-stage equality, where regression from it is still morally outrageous to principled people of good conscience.

A 57-year-old, Hukheli, who was awarded the North East Peace General Award in 2009 for her contribution to society “has been extremely active social activist and instrumental in several peace talks in the past three decades in Nagaland.” Yet, even someone as outstanding as a public servant and woman in the community serving from her 20s into her 50s, who has decided to run for political office, Hukheli chose to run as an independent candidate “from ward No. 9 of Dimapur Municipal Council elections” and this caused a raucous response based on 8 of 23 seats in the DMC being reserved for women. I feel the same in the opposing direction.

That is, I support Hukheli for the outstanding contribution to her local society as a civil servant and the other women who deserve those 8 seats. It’s not equal, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Civil society groups were up in arms over it. What’s the deal? In my opinion, and just opining here, my moral sentiments are to have that number as either 11 or 12. There is a claim that there is a constitutional imperative for conducting local body elections, which is good because there is – it’s the deal with the 8 of 23 reserved seats.

However, controversy comes from the State’s attempt to bypass the constitutional imperative, which associates with gender equality and woman’s rights. When the attempt was made to exempt the State from constitutional provisions, there was absurd gender inequality implications for women because the exemption was based on the rights of women.

Hukheli, emotionally and even crying and wiping away tears said:

When there is war…for example Dimapur is a war zone…then they call us to pacify the parties fighting to stop the war. I am the president of Naga Women Hoho also and I have travelled abroad also to talk to higher and collective leadership to stop the war at various times, to not to kill our own brothers and we used to tell them not to fight and maintain peace also. I have also negotiated with K  for peace in the region, even have helped organization at various intervals.

…There are so many orphans and widows…women are the worst sufferers because its only we who can suffer. Men do respect us but when it comes to point of 33% reservation they oppose us. When we were campaigning together for the past seven years together there were no issues, but as soon as we contest elections the protests started. All parts of Nagaland has become deadly against us and we don’t understand if the implementation is only an issue.  We don’t know clearly what is it? Only for women reservation or anomalies in law in the state.

There was widespread rioting, even intimidation of female candidates; and this is, not so extraordinarily as in many societies, where mostly men run the civil organisations and standard institutions are found in the society. In the wake of that intimidation, the government “walked away” from upholding the standards for all citizens.

So the civil society opposition is, in actuality, comprised of men who run the civil society organisations, a male opposition to the 8 of 23 seats reserved for women. Nagaland’s Chief Minister, DR Zeliang, resigned based on the fallout from anti-reservation violence. It’s a male-dominated society, in other words, because men at the helm. It’s the same standard, morally outrageous, shtick. What is women’s empowerment, after all?

Toshinaro Imchen has written about women’s empowerment. “Women empowerment, in the simplest of words is basically the creation of an environment where women can make independent decisions,” Imchen succinctly declared, “Without having any restrictions on their personal development and accepted as equals in society.”

Imchen wrote some general factual notes on women’s equality within Nagaland in particular. “Generally, women are not allowed in the traditional village councils, they are not recognised or accepted in the inheritance rights, early forced marriages or employment and the likes.” Imchen said.

“Although 1,110 villages in Nagaland have implemented 1/4th reservation of seats for women in the village development boards, most of it are only in papers as the mindset of women being inferior is still prevalent and taking up the accountability for its implementation is far-fetched.”

The main emphasis, according to Director of the Human Rights Commonwealth in The Tribune, is for the upholding of the law for all regardless of sex or religion. I agree with both The Tribune and Imchen. Why should there be unequal treatment of women in political and government stations? I haven’t come across a good reason with evidence to date.

I have come across instances in news reports of the same occurrences in these themes and contexts. Women harassed and treated with separate and higher standards. My concern is the government is calling for the abrogation of an aspect of the constitutional framework.

The constitutional provision states that all ministers from the government who have assumed office can do so without “fear or favour.” Question remains, “Is the implementation there?” I mean, does it actually exist? If not, then it’s just paper; it’s either enacted and means something or is not enacted and does not mean anything.

So even if there’s a paper trail, potentiality does not equate to actuality, but the structures are in place in theory without the requisite culture to support it – which is an exceptional case-in-point about the need for legal, social, cultural, and political structures to be aligned for equality to flourish.

About Scott Jacobsen

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Scott is the founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing

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