Nagaland elections 2018: Why this election is important for Naga women
Five women contestants are in the fray for Nagaland elections, and they form the highest number of female candidates ever to contest from this northeastern state
New Delhi: Whether they win or lose, five contestants make the Nagaland assembly elections an important one. All five are women, and they form the highest number of female candidates ever to contest from this Northeastern state.
Here, no woman has ever won an assembly election.
This is particularly significant because the state only last year witnessed large-scale protests opposing women’s demand for 33% reservation in urban local body elections. Two people died, several government offices were set on fire, and the chief minister had to step down.
The all-male tribal body, Naga Hoho, led the protests claiming they wouldn’t give up their customary laws. And eventually, in late January, the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA), a women’s body that was at the forefront of this battle in court, decided to withdraw its petition.
Even though NMA says the fight is on, the fact remains that statistics, particularly around women’s political participation in the state, defy the idea of an empowered Naga woman in the public arena. Since 1963, when Nagaland attained statehood, it has not elected a single woman to the assembly. The late Rano M. Shaiza is still the only woman to ever be elected to the Lok Sabha (in 1977) from the state. Since Nagaland was formed in 1963, only 19 women, including the ones in the fray now, have stood for assembly elections and no one has ever won.
“This (the fact that five women are contesting) is a strong indication that no matter what, times and mindsets will change and women will rise to the occasion, both as voters and as candidates. Whether they win or lose, they are setting the pace for other women to follow. I believe the past women’s rights movement has opened doors of debates and actions for gender equality, both within the home and the Naga society,” says Rosemary Dzuvichu, associate professor and head of English department at Nagaland University, and the chief adviser to the NMA.
The five contestants include two from the National People’s Party, one from the newly formed Nationalist Progressive Democratic Party, one from the Bharatiya Janata Party and one Independent.
The state’s early history had very few vocal women’s rights organizations—those who were there, were functioning as part of the churches, so basically focusing 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, took up the issue of women’s rights.
Even though women and politics is the ongoing gender battle in the state, there are other issues where discrimination prevails. For a society dominated by the idea of a tribe, a Naga woman, from any tribe is not entitled to inherit her clan’s ancestral or landed properties. 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 does not have any rights over her biological children or her property.
With the rise in tension within the state last year, it is a step forward that these five women, despite all threats, came out in the open demanding their right to political participation. Whether that will translate into victory will be known today.