With an intense speculation on the ongoing tussle between our civil societies and the state government, and the raging debate refusing to die down on the issue of Women Reservation it has now become a matter of who blinks first. The government making its hard stance assuring that its application will not infringe upon the hard earned rights provided by Article 371A, however, where is their foolproof scheme to ensure this? Is it possible in a state such as Nagaland where customs and cultures are not always precisely defined, and differ widely across different tribes? The state government’s defiance of the people’s wishes to postpone the ULB election and seek clarification can be interpreted as an infringement of Article 371A in itself. The Article empowers the various Tribal Apex bodies to deal with matters concerning respective tribes and areas and undermining such rights by the State government is undemocratic. Who should decide whether Naga customary laws and rights are being threatened? Is it the legal fraternity that advises the state government or the guardians of our rights and customs which is our tribal hohos? It is undoubtedly true that we could not avail the flow of funds from Central Government in terms of development of Municipality and Towns but we should not look upon the funds alone leaving aside the future ramifications. Some people at present have even gone to the point of ridiculing at our apex bodies who are taking the stand on the ground that this reservation act will infringe upon Article 371A which indeed is very unfortunate as whatever privileges we are enjoying today was brought by the blood, sweat and tears of our fathers and pioneers who even gave away their yesterday for our today. Though the Article 371A came along with the creation of Nagaland state, its roots can be traced back to our political movement which resulted in this special allotment. Another aspect which needs to be understood by all Nagas both young and old is that this particular provision was given to us in order to suit our society because our way of life is much more different from the rest of the people of India in every sense of the term. As a result, the special provision of Article 371 (A) which is meant for our people cannot be interpreted like that of the rest of the provisions in the Indian Constitution.
We should know also fully well that we Nagas are distinct in all aspects be it in appearances or landholding system or tradition and religion, etc. the Government of India has inserted the provision of Article 371(A) with a view of its historical and philosophical perspectives. Unlike the other States in India, the land holding system in the State of Nagaland is different. In the State of Nagaland, the land belongs to the individual/community and village authority. In other words, the private individuals are the owner of the land. The Government is not the landowner. For initiation of developmental activities, the Government acquires the land from the private individuals by way of purchased / paying compensation.
Perhaps, many of us do not realize that this very provision belongs to us Nagas alone and not to any others. What we need to remember is that as of now this provision is the only bond of relationship and the main binding factor between Nagas and Indians and nothing more, nothing less. The 33% Reservation for women is just one component of Municipal Act of 2001 and 2006. With the current election scenario in Nagaland involving corruption, manipulation and brute power, many concerned people feels that women will be compelled to involve in such malpractices, which will totally lead to social degeneration. The dream of the clean elections will become completely shattered once again and remain once more a distant dream than ever before.
Though for many gender issue doesn’t matter as long as the candidates who are contesting have the positive answers to questions like- do they possess leadership quality, are they genuinely going to work for you and me and the society, are they going to listen to you and me and truly work for the masses even after they are elected or are they just jumping in the fray because of this so-called reservation. The government would have come out much cleaner and better had this reservation issue done with proper grassroots homework with our tribal apex bodies rather than waiting for the verdict which is yet to be passed by the Supreme Court. The extension of the nomination dates from 7th to 9th January has only invited more wrath and reaction from around the districts. So the big questions again remain for those who filed nominations, will polls be held no matter what? May wisdom prevail amongst our leaders.
While the battle rages on let us ponder on some queries on reservation below:
1. Is the real focus of this reservation truly on social justice and gender equality or more on the benefits? If so, what we see are just some higher and upper income classes of women filing nominations to contest the ULB elections. So is this reservation implemented in the real sense? For instance, most of the intending candidates seem to wives, daughters or relatives of former councilors or from affluent background with strong political connections.
2. While allotting reservation in some wards to our women, what about our men in those particular wards who are capable and honest and are worthy to be good leaders? Won’t they be deprived their right to contest the elections because of this reservation policy? So won’t this amount to gender discrimination too? Won’t the reservation policy force the people to vote for some women even if they are incapable, corrupt or not worthy enough to be good leaders?
3. If an issue as women reservation can create such a furor and shake the foundations of our state with almost all our tribal apex bodies and civil societies crying hoarse, creating almost now a war-like situation, why do we remain silent and passive on other burning issues which are deteriorating our society such as the issue of illegal immigrants, bad roads, unpaid salaries, etc?
4. Will the rotation of the reservation seats give dedication, accountability and sincerity of elected representatives which is also one strong argument about the reservation policy. As both the electorates as well as the elected will not be serious enough since they won’t be for long in the service of the people of that particular place.
5. Why don’t the JAWCR as soon as possible set up a consultative meeting with our respective tribal bodies and sort out the whole matter? It is still clear in our minds that this very present state government said that the spirit of dialogue and discussion will solve any matter. So why not organize and initiate discussions/deliberations among the confronting on this beleaguered issue without further delay?
The WR bill is one of the most controversial bills ever to implement not just because of gender bias but many feel it will benefit on an elitist group and further aggravate the plight of the poor and the deprived lot. So will our state be any different? Just because one doesn’t support this WR policy doesn’t mean that we don’t love our women-folks. Let us not just get too emotional over this gender equality/inequality issue or bias. Article 371 A may or may not infringe directly at the moment but it will surely open the floodgates of manipulation to encroach and dilute our special provision given by this article which no one can deny. Too much is at stake. The mediocre, incapable or some corrupt women may win only with reservation but the capable, talented and worthy women will win without any reservation on their own terms. True equality will take place only when women feel secure and safe in their homes and not just by mere granting of seats in some urban local body elections. What is most important is basic education, safety and security and above all respect in our homes and beyond. Naga women have always enjoyed a high place of respect in our society. Using development rhetoric and garnering of more funds as smokescreen has not been able to convince our tribal apex bodies so far. Some say this reservation is not about only allotting women some share of seats and can smell of politics but 33% reservation itself is politics in itself since its inception at the national level.
Instead of strengthening the party in power before the assembly elections slated to be held next year, this reservation issue has not only deepened the chasms between the state government and the tribal bodies but has further created more divisions and inflicted fresh wounds amongst the partymen while in the issuing of tickets. It has not only seen the exit of some party loyalists joining other parties but affect the prospects of the results too.