The recent development on the issue of 33% Women Reservation (WR) has generated a rather uneasy scenario of our leaders taking recklessly short cuts and dangerously blundering into enemy territory blindfolded. Abandoning our only protective customary dao, spear and shield to ward off any other wayward forces that surround us could be a very costly price to pay in the coming days. The recent resolution enacted by NLA on this issue seems to have paved the way to allow just that to happen without considering any appropriate corrective measures first. Since this is an open subject without the lurking shadow of AK 47, it would be superb to have our Naga intellectuals conduct a healthy discourse in the public domain to let our people know that the Naga brain is still active and alive. The shared views would also benefit the Government of Nagaland (GoN) and the Naga Hoho (NH)/Tribal Hohos (THs) to see a balanced picture and not compulsively exercise their respective minds before carefully weighing the options with patience and maturity for the sake of all concerned. They setting sails for an apparent collusion course on this WR issue is highly avoidable.
Within the context of an uncertain political future and our present reality, Article 371 (A) perhaps represents the only salvaging grace that safeguards the Naga identity amidst the vast ocean of culturally alien Indian majority and it is our Naga duty to protect this vulnerable bastion from being violated…least of all by ourselves. To cut a long story short concerning the women reservation issue, we must try and sensitively appreciate the fact that our Customary Law and Practices (CL &P) had evolved out of the induced circumstance of headhunting. Common sense would have it that such a perilously aggressive occupation of our ancestry could never have afforded space parity for our womenfolk even if they had wanted to. It is a foregone conclusion therefore that our customary practices did not place the physical prowess of women at par with men, no matter how vociferously women may want to shout from the roof tops trying to now define this non-existent status equity. The very fact that they are rooting for 33% reservation says it all. No one fights for special reservation as equals. However, it is equally a compelling argument that this disadvantage of women did not happen as a deliberate male chauvinistic inclination and it is for the present generation to acknowledge this circumstantially induced reality. We ought to be able to differentiate that the core physical headhunting subject of the past is now out of tune with the present subject of development that calls for brain not brawn. It therefore necessitates amendment of our CL &P because women participation in development is as much legitimate as it is relevant for the good of all. In my earlier article I had hastily endorsed ‘nomination with voting right’ as a short term solution. However, while this approach could serve a short term purpose it still does not help women to develop to their fullest potentials in the long run because nomination process will definitely get corrupted by sycophancy and nepotism. Therefore women should also go through the same electoral process amongst themselves within the reserved constituency/wards. Though the sad fact that they would invariably be exposed to all the dirty tricks of money politics and end up joining the corruptive rat race is foreseeable, it can’t be avoided. This will at least infuse practical participation in the process and help them gain some confidence to reach for higher elective positions independently in the future. Women deserves this opportunity because with or without reservation they still have a mountain of disadvantage to climb to gain higher confidence in the absence of direct customary right to property inheritance…which unfortunately would not be so easy to dismantle because there is a sound sustainable customary logic behind it. The reason for harbouring an opinion that the women will still not gain 100% confidence stems from human attitudes. Let us try and draw an analogy from the behaviour of an uneducated ignorant man with wealth. One notices that such a man arrogantly displays tendencies of wealth induced confidence even if his thoughts and public expressions may have less substance… nevertheless ‘raw confidence’ it is. This is perhaps a good indicator that women may generally continue to remain on the wrong side of complete confidence even with reservation without direct right to property inheritance…barring exceptions of course. The Government should however earnestly pursue suitable amendment of the ‘obsolete segment’ of CL &P concerning women participation and make it compatible with Article 371 (A) instead of aggressively taking irrational short cuts. Empowering our Customary Courts and their respective Tribal Hohos to jointly conduct this amendment process within a time frame should perhaps be the prioritised agenda of the Government and accomplish this reform preferably before the conduct of the municipal election with women reservation in place and avoid disturbing the tone and tenor of A371A. Everyone would agree that it makes a whole lot of sense to put the horse before the cart.
On the comical side of the coin, the hard-line conflict beginning to evolve between the NH/THs and GoN on the issue of 33% WR makes an interesting case study. GoN did not have the nerves to boldly strike down ‘prohibition’ against the wishes of the Church even though majority of the political decision makers and bureaucratic enforcers bathe in alcohol every day with hypocritical abandon. In the instant case of WR they have found courage to do just that against the wishes of NH and THs. Perhaps NPF led government is confident that NH and the THs have no electoral influence as compared to the Church to sway the public opinion against it. Seeing the abnormally compromised nature of many of the present apex organisations one would be rather reluctant to disagree with their assessment to an extent. The present Naga Haha consists of an ill-represented conglomeration of Southern Tribes commanding a majority, desperately functioning like a fish out of water with an opportunistic Naga President from Nagaland as a window dressing. It is downright humiliating for the Ao community in particular and Nagas of Nagaland in general that Mr. P.C.O preferred to defy the decision of his own Tribe and find solace in consulting his Presidential cohorts to serve his personal interest rather than respect his Tribe with humility. Without bias any respectable Tribe with honourable principles would summarily excommunicate such a human being from the Tribe. With an unprincipled and dishonourable leadership of such a man leading this organisation of unstable sycophants, who would be prepared to listen to them seriously even if the subject is relevant? Bending with the wind is all they have been good at…the Rongmai recognition issue being one such example. Aos, Lothas and Sumis must take into consideration that Naga Hoho simply withdrawing their earlier views/endorsement does not alter the fact that the Rongmai recognition will still remain. Such a withdrawal is a pointless exercise without practically undoing what was done and therefore going back to the old compromised fold is not worth the effort. What must clearly be understood is that Nagas are not against the existence of Naga Hoho at all. Our problem is more of a technical nature pointing out that the nomenclature of present Naga Hoho is a misnomer and should suitably be revamped and renamed as Pan Naga Hoho with a rationalised affiliation from “All Naga Inhabited Area” and not from South of the border only. It should then legitimately concentrate on the common important issue of Naga integration and withdraw from directly meddling into Nagaland kitchen affairs. Had the Naga Hoho been an exclusive organization of Nagas of Nagaland, it could have commanded a better respect and the story of NLA resolution on WR could have perhaps been handled with some moderation. It is a pity that somewhere along the road, Nagas of Nagaland have lost self esteem and pride in us not being prepared to reclaim Naga Hoho that rightfully belongs to Nagas of Nagaland. Losing our voice in a critical time such as the present can only lead us downwards. The Nagas are clearly aware of a handful of leaders who are deviously pulling the strings from behind the screen to generate divisions for self interests. They should have a serious rethink and allow honest to goodness options to prevail instead of causing Nagas of Nagaland to blunder into enemy territory blindfolded.
(Khekiye K. Sema is a former retired IAS officer.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)