Policymakers in Nagaland have often wielded customary tribal laws to discourage women from contesting polls. The decision of Yangerla and Rakhila Lakiumong to contest the February 23 assembly elections was thus nothing short of rebellion.
Whatever the ideology and alleged affiliation to militant outfits, political parties in Nagaland have invariably come together to make room for women. This was evident in 2010 when the cabinet decided to indefinitely postpone the local body elections allegedly to avoid reserving 33% seats for women.
In 2011, the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) filed a writ petition at the Kohima bench of the Gauhati high court for directing the Nagaland government to hold municipal and town council polls in accordance with relevant provisions of the Constitution and a local law.
But the state government countered the court directive in October 2011, citing objections from tribal apex bodies such as Naga Hoho and Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation. These bodies argued that if women were to contest, it would not only create severe law and order problems but also disturb the ongoing peace process between the government and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah).
“Traditional tribal bodies are like all-male clubs, deliberately keeping women out to ensure that they have no real say in their social and political environment,” said Rosemary Dzuvichu, 51, a Nagaland University teacher and an advisor to NMA.
A former director of health and family welfare, Yangerla is contesting the Mokokchung Town seat as an Independent. Her opponents are former CM SC Jamir’s son C Apok Jamir of the Congress and Rosemtong Longkhumer of the Naga People’s Front. Yangerla wants to win primarily to “change the Naga mindset”. She also wants Rakhila, widow of former minister A Lakiumong, to bag the Tuensang Sadar-II seat for the cause of women rights.