New Delhi: If election results are only about winning and losing, then all five women who contested the Nagaland assembly polls have lost—yet again failing to break through a determinedly male bastion.
Yet, Awan Konyak, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party candidate, came within an inch of becoming the first woman to get elected to the Nagaland Assembly. Till the afternoon, Konyak, a candidate in Aboi constituency, was ahead of her nearest rival Eshak Konyak of the Naga People’s Front by 1,320 votes but eventually lost by 905 votes.
The five contesting formed the highest number of female candidates ever to contest from this state. No woman has ever won an assembly election here. The very fact that the five women stood in these elections is significant in a state that witnessed massive protests only last year, opposing women’s demand for 33% reservation in urban local body polls.
In the ensuing violence, two people were killed, several government offices were set on fire and the chief minister had to step down. The all-male apex tribal body, Naga Hoho, that led the protests declared they won’t give up their customary laws and, eventually, in late January, the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA), an apex women’s body that was at the forefront of this legal battle, decided to withdraw its petition.
Even though NMA says the fight is still on, the fact remains that statistics, particularly around women’s political participation in the state, defy the idea of an empowered Naga woman. Since 1963, when Nagaland attained statehood, it has not elected a single woman to the assembly.
It has only had one woman—Rano M. Shaiza, back in 1977—elected to the Lok Sabha. Only 19 women, including the ones in the fray now, have ever stood for assembly elections from Nagaland.
“This (the five women contesting) is a strong indication that no matter what, times and the mindset will change and women will rise to the occasion—both as voters and as candidates. They are setting the pace for other women to follow. I believe the past women’s rights movement has opened doors of debates and action for gender equality, both within the home and the Naga society,” said Rosemary Dzuvichu, associate professor of English at Nagaland University, and the chief adviser of the NMA.
Of the four other contestants, Wedie-u Kronu and Mangyangpula Chang contested on National People’s Party tickets from Dimapur-3 and Noksen; the Bharatiya Janata Party fielded Rhakila from the Tuensang Sadar-II; and Rekha Rose Dukru contested as an independent from Chizami.
Rhakila bagged 2749 votes against the winner, Kejong Chang of the NPF who got 6204 votes.
Both the NPP candidates got under 1,000 votes, with Wedie-u Kronu managing 483 votes, while Mangyangpula got 725 votes. Dukru managed to get 338 votes.
In a male-dominated tribal society, vocal women’s rights organisations had little role to play in Nagaland’s early modern history. Even those that were part of churches focussed on social reform. In fact, the issue of urban local body elections taken up by NMA was the first time that this 33-year-old organization had campaigned on women’s rights.
Even though political representation is the focus of the current gender battle in the state, there are many other areas where discrimination prevails. For a society dominated by the idea of a tribe, a Naga woman -- from any tribe -- is not entitled to inherit ancestral land or property. She may construct a house or buy some land, but, on her marriage, it will belong to her parents or brothers. Once a married couple decides to separate or divorce, the children and property belong to the husband. A woman has no rights over her biological children or her property.
In the face of last year’s massive violence and the political fallout, the fact that these five women came out openly demanding their right to political participation is a feisty step forward toward potentially a more egalitarian Nagaland.