As mentioned earlier in this column, the failure of the national media to correctly portray issues pertaining to the customs, traditions and the existing system in the state of Nagaland has never been so starkly on display as it is now. One fault of the national media is because every issue is viewed from their own settings and the resultant perspective is at most flawed. Though geographically tiny, compared to the whole of the country and yet part of the Union, Nagaland has its distinct ethos very clearly manifested in its system of governance. Unfortunately due to various problems that exists in the whole of northeast region, the state is still isolated and the country as a whole know too little of it.
The latest jibe at the tribe organisations of Nagaland will be the comparison with the khap panchayats prevalent in north India that take laws in their own hands in the name of protecting communities. The pros and cons of the khap panchayats which have been practised in those parts for centuries are altogether a different issue. Like any of the traditional systems, the Naga tribe bodies also have their own share of disadvantages in the modern world. However the one difference of the Naga bodies that the khap panchayats do not have is the legal recognition.
The Nagaland Village Councils (Fourth Amendment ) Act 2009 removed the area and regional councils and inserted new sections for the recognition of tribal councils. Section 23 of the amended Act reads, “There may be a “Tribal Council” for every recognised Naga tribe, and also one or more apex Tribal council(s) comprising of the federation or union of two or more tribal councils.” The Act further states that the tribal councils will function as prescribed by their respective constitutions and/or in accordance with their traditions, customary practices and usages. It will also have to assist the government in its day to day functioning especially related to the tribes and also when called for.
The Act has gone through several amendments resulting in the abolition of some of the bodies in the middle tier, resulting in making the Nagaland Legislative Assembly more powerful. The removal of the middle tier bodies which could have been made more powerful with financial aids to develop the districts is now just relegated to a what-if scenario but nevertheless will throw some light on the current tussle between the tribe organisations and the government (read the Nagaland Legislative Assembly). However the bottom line is that the tribe bodies are still legally recognised through this Act.
In Nagaland, as aspired by the people prior to statehood, the village councils were given legal recognition in the sixties. Moreover sensing the potential that the village councils can play in development the Village Development Boards (VDB) under the department of Rural Development were constituted in the eighties. The 73rd and the 74th amendments of the Constitution of India that made provisions for the Panchayati Raj and the Municipalities came much later in 1993. The developmental works done through the VDBs under the guidance of the village councils enabled the state to involve participation of the community in public services. This resulted in Nagaland providing a new concept for management of public service institutions and a new word was coined for the world, Communitisation. The state achieved global recognition when it received the United Nations Public Service Awards in 2008.
There were isolated cases of missteps and arbitrary decisions by the village councils as well as the tribe organisations in the past and it might also happen again. However the current tussle between the government and the tribe organisation should not be relegated to the level of some regressive decisions of some khap panchayats in the hinterland.