Kohima, Feb. 14 (EMN): Fifty-four years after the first Nagaland Legislative Assembly (NLA) was formed, the voice of women in the assembly remains is still missing from the house of 60—Nagaland is yet to elect any representative from among women. The only time the state saw an elected woman was in 1977 when Rano M Shaiza defeated a former chief minister to become a member of the Lok Sabha.
Although there is wide disparity in participation between men and women in the state’s politics and with no women ever being elected in a state general election till date, records have it that a few bold Naga women had been putting up a decent fight in some pockets of the state. They have been trying to find a place and a voice in the assembly from as early as the ’60s.
In 1969, Ravoleu (Rano Shaiza) contested from the Western Angami assembly constituency (AC) in Kohima district; RL Kinghin fought from Bhandari AC in Wokha district. Shaiza put up another fight in 1982 as the lone woman. The following assembly election saw three new female candidates: Sabeule from Peren AC, Chubalemla from Arkakong AC, and Lochumlo Yanthan from Bhandari AC. In 1993, Kinghin contested again, this time from Tyui AC, and was the lone woman candidate then too.
The 2003 election also saw three women candidates: Chubalemla from Aonglenden AC, Anupama Mech from Dimapur-III AC, and Akheli from Ghaspani-II AC. In 2007, following the demise of the representative of Tuensang Sadar-II A Lakiumong in 2006, a bye-election was conducted in which Lakiumong’s wife Rhakila contested but lost. The year 2008 may have been the turning point for Naga women in politics when again Rakhila lost narrowly to Kejong by only 353 votes.
The number of female candiates increased during the 2008 assembly polls with Rhakila contesting again from the same constituency; Zeneisele from Dimapur-I AC; Soly Pungro from Kiphire AC, and Rosemary Jamir from Alongtaki constituency. In 2013, there were only two women contenders: Dr. Yangerla contesting from Mokokchung Town AC, and Rhakila from Tuensang Sadar-II.
This time, five women are in the fray for election to the 13th NLA scheduled to be held on Feb. 27, out of 195 candiates.
The National People’s Party (NPP) has two women: Wedie-u Kronu from Dimapur-III AC and Dr. K Mangyangpula Chang from Noksen AC. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be fielding Rhakila from Tuensang Sadar-II AC. The BJP’s ally Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) also has one woman candidate, Awan Konyak from Aboi AC. Another woman, Rekha Rose, will be contesting as an independent candidate from Chizami AC.
The battle for these five women candidates will not be easy as they will be facing political heavyweights. The NPP’s Wedie-u Kronu is up against Tokheho Yepthomi of the NDPP, a five-time legislator who has a distinction of not losing a single election. Besides Yepthomi, she will also face former legislator Azheto Zhimomi of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and the Congress’ Khaminlun Tunglung.
Rhakila (BJP), who is contesting for the fourth time from Tuensang Sadar-II AC, is up against her old rival, Minister Kejong Chang (NPF), who is also the oldest candidate in the forthcoming elections, and Wongtu Chang of the NPP and Zungkum Chang of the Nationalist Congress Party.
The NDPP’s Awan Konyak will be going for a straight contest against Eshak Konyak of the NPF, while Dr. K.Mangyanpula Chang (NPP) will be facing former member of Parliament CM Chang (NDPP) and two others. Independent candidate Rekha Rose will take on three-time legislator Deo Nukhu of the NPP, and three others.
Interestingly, the ruling NPF whose leaders had recently been reiterating inclusion of youth and women in decision-making bodies and the intention of the party to field them in the elections, failed to put up a single woman as candidate.
While there are varying reasons and differing opinions concerning the low participation of Naga women in politics, a strong argument to have emerged is that Naga women are not ill-equipped. Given the opportunity they might even prove to be better legislators than men. Given the dismal record perhaps the time has come for the people of Nagaland to talk about women’s political empowerment.