Ocean of difference
The recent events in the state have as usual attracted the mainstream national media in hordes into the state and Nagaland is once again flashed across all the national media but mostly for the wrong reasons. The recent violence as a result of the agitation against the conduct of ULB elections is now presented only in the spectrum reservation of seats for women. It is understandable that the broadcast media has to vie for better ratings among its rival channels and any diversion from the most contentious topic, in this case the opposition to women reservation, would leave its newscast or report being beaten by the others. A small degree of sensationalism but kept well within the limits of ethics has become an art that broadcast media across the world indulges. In the present case, the print media somehow fared better but still missed out on some crucial details at ground level.
However some of the journalist reached such levels of absurdity where the absence of female infanticide or the dowry system in Nagaland was a point of reference to question the opposition to reservation for women in the ULBs. In simple terms Nagas do not kill their infant girl child whereas it is prevalent in some parts of the country and there is an ocean of difference between the two because a simple why it is practised in those parts and why not in Nagaland will require volumes of pages to answer. It will all lead to the plain fact that the status of women in Nagaland is incomparable to the status of women in many parts of the country. Though Nagas were formerly head hunters, it does not in any way downgrade them to be compared with those who practise female foeticide and infanticide.
Some of the media while talking and writing about the ancestral lands and how Naga women are not allowed to inherit it were only looking through the prism of the Hindu joint family and its accumulated property or land over time. In the Naga context, ancestral land means the traditional land within the village jurisdiction either owned by the whole clan, or the descendants of a patriarch, or by a family. Therefore though protected by relevant laws against selling of the tribal lands by outsiders in the whole state, the villages even do not allow its citizens to sell land to people outside the village to ensure that the jurisdiction of the village is not decreased. The land holding system in the tribal areas are different from the rest of the country where the land belongs to the people and not the State. However the traditional custom of gifting and making wills for the daughters to inherit property was always there in many of the tribes. It ultimately is the will of the father.
What the national media also missed is the sale and donation of land by villages to the government for the establishment of urban areas that has actually given rise to one of the major reasons for the opposition to the ULB elections. With the complete demarcation of the urban areas the domain of the landowner villages and tribes will be lost unlike what is currently being practised is a real threat. Add to this the women reservation for those ULBs in their earlier domain but without any other distinction except that the candidate has to be a Scheduled Tribe and it results in the tribes reacting like what is presently being staged. It might be a genuine fear of assimilation with outsiders or the fear of the outsiders slowly taking control of its earlier domain but the threat is real and it shows the tribes are still not ready.
The award winning Naga writer Easterine Kire in one of her columns in a local daily showed her open displeasure with the national media by stating ” The proverbial wool pulled over their readers’ and viewers’ eyes was that Nagas were up in arms against their womenfolk. Will the real Nagaland please stand up?”. She along with a few Naga women are a rarity at present who stood up against the misrepresentation of the issue. Sadly the national media got what it came for and ignored the well informed Naga men which at present seems to have been silenced lest they also be branded as fiercely patriarchal.
Agreed, that there are also Naga men who are rallying behind the current movement for their own selfish motives and to completely stop participation of women in decision making bodies but those voices are in minority. However taking only their opinions as the opinions of all Naga men is total mis-representation. If the women quota bill in the parliament is passed, the Naga men might welcome it more unlike the ULBs because it is not linked directly to their lands and its corresponding customs.