Till a few weeks ago, Abeiu Meru and her colleagues at the Nagaland Mothers Association (NMA)were busy fighting battles to eradicate social evils and for women’s rights in Nagaland---a task for which they were glorified.
But now, the president of Nagaland’s apex women’s body and others associated with the NMA are battling accusations hurled at them and trying to keep the 33-year old organisation afloat.
Tribal organisations opposed to 33% reservation for women in urban local bodies (ULBs), on the ground that it infringes of customary laws, are holding NMA responsible for the recent incidents of violence.
Following the loss of two lives and destruction of government property, diktats have been issued by some tribal bodies to their women wings to dissociate from NMA as it has “lost its direction and Nagas have lost confidence on NMA”.
“This is the first time such an attack has been directed at us. But instead of weakening, it has strengthen our resolve to keep fighting for women rights in Nagaland,” said Meru.
The reason for such reaction is because NMA was actively involved in the fight to ensure reservation for women in ULBs and had filed a special leave petition (SLP) in Supreme Court for the same.
The men-dominated tribal bodies of the 16 major Naga tribes say reservation for women in ULBs would violate Article 371A of the Constitution which gives special status to Nagaland for preservation of customary laws.
NMA came into existence in 1984 as an organisation to fight against social evils. According to the organisation’s constitution, every adult Naga woman is automatically considered a member.
One of the first causes NMA took up was the issue of drug abuse and alcoholism in Nagaland. Efforts of the organisation were largely responsible for imposition of prohibition in the state in 1989.
In the 1980s and 1990s when Nagaland was ravaged by attacks and counter-attacks between rebel groups and the army, NMA members ventured into jungles to meet insurgent leaders, urging them to come for peace talks.
The mothers have also worked tirelessly with HIV patients to remove misconceptions and the social stigma attached to the disease. All these efforts have earned them accolades within Nagaland and outside.
But now many in Nagaland see NMA as the villain. The organisation’s attempt at getting 33% reservation for women is being termed as the reason which led to the recent violence, deaths and wide-scale protests.
“Refusal by men to go with constitutional obligations is the reason for the present situation. They (Naga men) are scared of us and that’s why they are blaming us,” said NMA advisor and founder president Sano Vamuzo.
Following the government’s decision to hold ULB election with 33% reservation for women, NMA withdrew the SLP in Supreme Court and the joint action committee for women’s rights was dissolved.
But with the state government now declaring the election null and void following the recent events, NMA is mulling how to go about continuing this battle under the changed circumstances.
“Everybody associated with us is being put under pressure. The situation is so bad we can’t even call a meeting as we are not sure whether most office-bearers will be able to take part,” said NMA vice-president Sarah Nuh.
The going may be getting tough, but Meru, Vamuzo, Nuh and all women associated with NMA have not lost hope. They are determined to continue with the fight till the battle for reservation is finally won.
“We are still alive and won’t dissolve or disband NMA. The fight for our rights will continue,” said Meru.