Fifty years ago, the ‘price’ of a bride and a semi-wild bison in Mizoram was the same. Today, a man can bring home the former for Rs 420 — Rs 400 being the bride price and Rs 20, the security deposit returned to the wife so that she can take back her belongings should the marriage end in a divorce.
Fifty years later, few in urban Mizoram may adhere to the social codes of the pre-Christian era or equate a woman with livestock, but her place in society continues to be that of a second-class citizen, denied the right to inherit property, and with a token presence in the political life of the state.
Of Mizoram’s 686,305 voters across 40 assembly constituencies, 349,506 are women. In other words, they constitute almost 51% of the state’s voters. But where representation goes, it’s zilch.
So far, only three women — Thanmawii in 1979 and K Thansiami in 1984, both of the People’s Congress, and Lalhlimpuii in 1987 of the Mizo National Front (MNF) — have made it to the Mizoram assembly. Lalhlimpuii became a minister in the short-lived MNF government.
The Congress and the regional parties fielded only nine female candidates in the 2008 elections, seven in 2003 and 10 in the 1998 polls. All of them, women activists say, were political greenhorns destined to lose when pitted against the heavyweights.
“In 2008, we had a better ratio in fielding women candidates,” said Laduhawma, Zoram Nationalist Party president. 2010, too, witnessed a move towards making the state’s politics more gender-equitable. “The maiden civic polls for the Aizawl municipal body in 2010 saw six of the 19 seats being reserved for women.
That gave us a ray of hope for 33% reservation in the state legislative assembly,” said Thanpuii, general secretary, Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP), the 39-year-old apex women’s organisation.
But is it enough? “Mizo women are coming up in various fields, except for politics, and unless we have our representatives in the assembly, it will be difficult for the long-overdue Mizo Divorce Bill and the Mizo Inheritance Bill to be pushed through,” said MHIP’s executive committee member Lalrintluangi.
These bills, expected to legally empower Mizo women, have stayed as electoral promises of most parties for more than a decade. The approach of the Congress vis-à-vis other parties on women’s issues, and particularly this one, has been no different.
All parties also tend to select candidates on their ‘winnability’. “Mizoram Youth Congress president C Lalawmpuii is one leader who stands a good chance of getting into the assembly,” said a senior Mizoram PCC leader on the condition of anonymity.
He admitted that the highly patriarchal Mizo society “does not have much faith in women as politicians though things have been changing slowly”. For Mizo women to wield political power, it seems the time has not yet come.