Nagaland is staring at a potential crisis with social NGOs which are opposed to 33% reservation of seats for women, asking candidates for the state’s civic polls to withdraw their nomination papers or face excommunication.
Elections to three municipal councils and 16 town councils are scheduled for February 1.
Members of various patriarchal social NGOs including Naga Hoho – the apex body of 16 tribes – have taken to the streets since the state election department notified the election date last month. The opposition forced the authorities to extend the date of submitting papers by two days till Monday (Jan 9).
But total shutdown called by the NGOs on Monday prevented candidates from filing nominations in six councils. By Saturday (January 7), however, 567 people including 87 women had filed their papers.
Now, they are under pressure to withdraw their nomination by January 12 or be exiled from their localities.
Even a minister in the TR Zeliang government has been served an ‘order’ banishing him from the territory of the Ao tribe.
“We have served quit notice to minister Muklutoshi Longkumer for his initiative and action (facilitating the polls with women quota),” said a spokesperson of Ao Senden, the tribe’s traditional body. He added that the organisation would be holding a meeting on Wednesday for stricter action against the civic poll aspirants.
Some organisations of other tribes have already made up their minds. “The defaulters (contestants who do not withdraw nomination) will be ex-communicated from Pfutsero town for seven years as per Chakhesang customary laws,” a member of Chakhesang Public Organisation said.
The NGOs say that by providing 33% quota for women, the government has violated Article 371(A) that guarantees special status to Nagaland and preservation of customary laws. Even the state assembly, which has no women member, had in September 2012 cited customary laws to oppose quota for women in civic bodies.
Despite opposition, the T R Zeliang government passed a bill in November 2015 to facilitate seat quota for women. “Article 243(T), in force since 1993, did not infringe upon any Naga tradition or customary law when we provided 25% quota for women in the village development boards. Non-holding of election to urban bodies in last 10 years has affected the development of towns and municipalities,” said a government statement issued a few days ago.
According to customary laws of the Naga tribes, women aren’t supposed to be in administrative or leadership roles. The reservation for women can potentially change the social equations and many are not comfortable about such a possibility.
“The protests are unfortunate and do not send the right signal to the world beyond that is moving towards greater gender equality. We hope the elections are held as scheduled, at least in the councils where nominations have been filed,” Rosemary Dzuvichu, advisor to Naga Mother’s Association, told Hindustan Times from state capital Kohima.
State election officer Senti Yanger Imchen declined to comment on the possibility of the polls being called off or deferred in view of the anger across Nagaland.
The NGOs insist they are not anti-women. “We have no issues with competent women who are desirous for open contest in polls,” said Toniho Yepthomi, president of an organisation of the Sumi tribe.
But not everybody agrees with the NGOs. “To be a progressive society, we have to provide space to women through reservation,” said Mezivolu T Therieh, a judicial officer in Kohima.