‘Let me be the change you need’, reads the poll banner of Hukheli T. Wotsa, an Independent candidate for the Dimapur Municipal Council from Ward-9—a seat reserved for women.
But before she could get a chance to bring about the change, her dreams were shattered by protests by the state’s tribal organisations opposed to holding of urban local body (ULB) polls with 33% seats reserved for women.
Two youths were killed in police firing in Dimapur on January 31 and an unruly mob burnt down over 20 government buildings in the capital Kohima, forcing the state government to declare the ULB polls “null and void”.
“I wanted to take part in the policy-making process and bring about a change in my town,” the former president of Dimapur unit of the Naga Women’s Hoho—an organisation comprising women from Nagaland’s 16 major tribes.
Her four grown up children and husband, who is in government service, supported Wotsa’s decision to contest the polls, but she was surprised by the reaction of the men-dominated tribal bodies.
“I don’t know what happened to our men. Women feel very discouraged by such opposition,” said Wotsa, one of the few women candidates who refused to withdraw her nomination despite threats of social boycott.
Naga tribal bodies feel allowing reservation for women in ULBs will infringe on customary laws and also violate Article 371A of the constitution, which grants special status to Nagaland for protection of such laws.
Though 13 women have contested unsuccessfully over the decades, the state has never elected a woman legislator since gaining statehood in 1963.
“I am deeply saddened by the developments. At this point we no longer know what our men want,” said Rosemary Dzuvichu, adviser to Naga Mothers’ Association, which has been fighting for women rights.
A seasoned campaigner for women’s reservation in elected bodies, Dzuvichu clarified that they respect traditional customs and laws, but want Naga women to also enjoy the same rights like other Indian women.
Following the spate of violence on Saturday night, the state cabinet held an emergency meeting and decided to request the Centre to keep Nagaland outside the purview of the Part IX of the Constitution, which deals with municipal elections and also 33% reservation for women.
Like Wotsa, another women candidate from the same ward Katoli Sema has also refused to withdraw her nomination. She wanted to contest to address problems in her constituency, but now she is more concerned about peace.
“There is a lot of deep-seated anger in our society, and the opposition to reservation for women was the spark that ignited the fire and led to the incidents of violence,” said Rugotsono Iralu, a woman resident of Kohima.
On Sunday afternoon, Iralu stood outside the gutted Kohima Municipal Council office carrying a banner expressing her dismay at the present state of affairs in her town and state.
Many feel the way forward could be intensive talks with all stakeholders before holding elections with nomination for women in all civic bodies keeping the issue of reservation aside---for the time being.
“We are going to take a stand and Naga women are not going to take the blame for the incidents of the past few days,” said Dzuvichu.
Meanwhile the Nagaland Tribes Action Committee (NTAC) has decided to intensify protests from Monday and paralyse government machinery across the state demanding resignation of Chief Minister TR Zeliang.
The NTAC is spearheading the anti-reservation stir in the state.
Zeliang, who heads the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) of which BJP is also a partner was busy holding several meetings in Kohima on Sunday. Rumours are rife that he may step down soon to diffuse the tension before it escalates further.