By K I John
In 54 years of statehood and 12 assembly elections, the Nagaland state assembly is yet to see a woman representative. However, this year out of the 195 candidates contesting for a seat in the 60-member assembly, five are women. This is an improvement to the state polls in 2013 when only two women contested the election. The state is set to go to polls on the 27th of February, and results are to be announced on the 3rd of March.
Political context to gender disparity
In many ways, gender disparity is rampant in the state of Nagaland. This however exists in spite of the fact that women in Nagaland have a high literacy rate – 76% women in Nagaland are literate compared to the national average of 65% — and are well represented in government jobs (23.5%) and private sector (49%), according to figures from the Nagaland Gender Statistics, 2016. Yet, women don’t enjoy the right to inherit property and are yet to be represented in elected bodies like municipal councils and state assembly—keeping them away from decision-making processes.
This finds validity in the fact that Tribal customary laws of Nagaland are protected under Article 371(A) of the constitution. Women are not part of village councils as per these laws. They have 25% reservation in village development boards but don’t have much say in crucial matters. In January last year, violence broke out when the NPF-led government tried to conduct municipal elections giving 33% reservation to women candidates. Several government buildings in the capital of Kohima were burnt down. Influential tribal councils, where men are in charge, opposed the move and said that reservation to women, as per the 74th constitutional amendment, would violate provisions of Article 371(A). Stiff opposition to the municipal elections forced chief minister TR Zeliang to leave his chair. The municipal polls, which had not been held for over 13 years, had to be called off.
Among the five women candidates contesting for a seat in the Nagaland state assembly, Wedie-u Kronu and Mangyangpula are contesting the polls through National People’s Party (NPP) from Dimapur-III and Noksen Assembly constituencies, Rakhila is a BJP nominee from Tuensang Sadar-II seat.
Awan Konyak of the newly-formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) is fighting the election from Aboi seat and Rekha Rose Dukru is an Independent candidate from Chizami constituency. The ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF), however, has not fielded any women candidate this time.
On being asked why the state has not elected a woman to its assembly since 1963, NDPP’s Awan Konyak blamed the women and said that she won’t blame the men, stating that it is the women who never came forward for political roles in Nagaland. Rekha Rose Dukru, an entrepreneur-turned-politician, said. “The ground reality in this constituency is horrible even after 50 years of the state’s formation.” She said that men and women together in the 60-member House will make a lot of difference. Wedie-U Kronu, a social worker, feels women can bring positive changes in the society. “It is difficult to clean the system of corruption. I entered politics to bring about a change in the system,” she said.
Welcoming the women candidates, Nagaland Chief Electoral Officer, Abhijit Sinha, said the number has increased from two in last elections to five this time.
Changing Times ahead?
With the advent of time, all evidence points to the necessity of women representation in a state assembly to fully discern societal dynamics. Whether or not the state of Nagaland is ready to elect a woman representative will be a question answered in the coming weeks.
Feature image source: Wikimedia Commons
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