The news from Nagaland over the past few days has been unnerving. The violence that swept the state, resulting in several deaths and destruction of property, was terrible. More appalling were the reasons fuelling the street protests.
The state was to hold elections to urban local bodies with 33% of seats reserved for women. But influential tribal bodies with men at the helm were opposed to the move and the government relented, agreeing to delay the polls. But the courts decided otherwise and the authorities decided to go ahead with elections in at least some bodies. The flip-flop lit the spark and Nagaland nose-dived into anarchy.
As with Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, tradition and local customs are the ruse in Nagaland. The protesters in Chennai argued that Jallikattu was their proud tradition and wanted the practice to continue. In Kohima, the men say women played no part in the state’s politics and that it should stay that way.
The similarities end here.
The protests over Jallikattu triggered heated debates dividing the nation, and for right or wrong, finally forced the government to override an existing law and allow the blood sport. More than mere bulls, nearly a million women are being forcibly shut out of the political sphere in Nagaland, but strangely the rest of India has largely remained nonchalant.
This lack of outrage is by itself outrageous.
Missing from action are the ‘warriors’ who normally spit fire and brimstone at the slightest slight to women. Remember the outrage whipped up last month when politician Sharad Yadav said something bad and all the ‘honourable’ men and women tore him to pieces? Such examples of selective outrage are in plenty.
Even the normally belligerent media seems to have lost its will to do battle this time. Having recently gone to war over the alleged mass-molestation of women in Bengaluru, it has been rather subdued in taking up the cause of women in Nagaland.
The reasons behind the reticence most probably lie in Nagaland’s geography and demography. It is distant from Delhi and sparsely populated, electing just one Lok Sabha MP and commanding little influence. For the media, it plays no role in determining TRPs and circulation.
The collective indifference has left Naga women hostage to the will of their men. They say they are hurt and want a role in public life as much as women in the rest of the country. But the country continues to fail them. Nagaland has not elected a single woman to the assembly since it was created in 1963. The only woman MP to have been elected from the state was some two decades ago.
More injustice is staring at the women. Capitulating to demands of the men, the Nagaland government has decided to petition the Union government for exemption from enforcing reservation for women. In Tamil Nadu, bulls were made to pay the price for populism. In Nagaland, it shouldn’t be the turn of women to be sacrificed.