A society or a nation can be best served when it’s governed by women and men playing complementary roles. However, the lack of women representation in Nagaland and Mizoram, despite their high literacy rates and advanced societies, is a cause of concern.
A full-fledged state since 1963, Nagaland has never elected any women as a member of its state legislature.
In Mizoram, which was granted statehood in 1986 after decades of insurgency, violence and turmoil, only a few women have made it to the legislative assembly. In fact, when Mizoram was a Union Territory, women there had better chances of getting elected to the legislature.
Thus to many, Nagaism or Mizo pride have often remained unmediated glorification of complexity, reality and myths.
Chipeni Merry, a former member of the Nagaland Public Service Commission (NPSC), said this lack of women representation in the higher echelons of power is a legitimate concern.
“There is a constant increase in number of educated women and younger girls are also outperforming boys in several fields. Yet, women representation is still negligible in the higher echelons of power among the Nagas,” she told The Federal.
In Mizoram too, sociologists say “educated women and leaders” have not been able to look beyond the domestic world, and thus, the emergence of a gender-sensitised society is still a distant dream.
Echoing similar sentiments, social worker Remruata Lhusai said the government and women groups must work out a roadmap to ensure better role of women in power share.
“There is a need for the government apparatus and women groups to evolve theoretical perspectives and layout roadmaps on how to ensure better role of women in power share. The society needs to dispassionately examine various issues while keeping in mind the changing needs and aspirations of modern times,” said Lhusai.
In November, 2018 assembly elections in Mizoram, there were only 15 women candidates out of the total 201 candidates. And, none of them actually could make it to the assembly.
The state’s ruling Mizo National Front (MNF), which recorded a landslide victory, did not field any woman candidate. This despite Mizoram having more female voters than males.
In the 2018 elections, the BJP had fielded six women candidates, the highest by any party, at the personal initiative of state unit president JV Hluna. But, none of them could win. Zoram Thar, an Evangelist political party, had fielded five women candidates.
Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu, a former woman minister, had also contested unsuccessfully on a Congress ticket. Zoram People’s Movement and Sharad Pawar-led NCP had given tickets to two and one woman nominees respectively for the 60-member assembly.
Truly, issues at hands are more fundamental. Despite making up nearly 50 per cent of the population, women in Nagaland are still struggling to have their voices heard in the corridors of power.
“It is a man’s world and it is certainly so for the Nagas. Politically, entire Nagaland has been on turmoil due to insurgency and ‘freedom struggle’; but socially, women have faced the real brunt,” said Bano Angami, a student.
She pointed out that the demand for 33 per cent reservation of seats for women in municipal councils was cleared in 2012, but was later “backtracked”. In fact, the opposition to such a legislative measure came from the Aos and Angamis — the two most developed and highly educated Naga tribal groups residing in Mokokchung and Kohima districts respectively.
In 1997, the then Congress government had piloted an official resolution in the state assembly and it was adopted that such quota practice (33 per cent in elected bodies) was against the Naga culture.
The powerful Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) had written to the parliamentary select committee chairperson late Geeta Mukherjee, saying the bill went against Naga culture and tradition.
In 2009, it was not without good reason that while addressing a workshop of Mizoram legislators in Delhi, India’s first female Lok Sabha Speaker, Meira Kumar, had underlined that it was high time for the far-flung northeast state to have women MLAs. “The scenario must change… I was surprised to hear that you do not have a woman MLA,” Meira Kumar had said.
The social opposition to women getting an upper hand is so strong in Mizoram that during the Manmohan Singh-led regime, the Congress-ruled Mizoram government headed by Chief Minister Lalthanhawla had opposed the Food Security Bill that sought to make women the ‘head of the family’ in ration cards in order to get the benefits.
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In fact, it goes without saying both Mizoram and Nagaland are also perceived to have “male chauvinistic” lifestyles. Pointing out this attitude of the society, a social worker in Aizawl said, “Often, you will find men gossiping in bars, saying, ‘I have kicked out my first wife from home. This calls for a drink’.”
With 91.33 per cent literacy as per the 2011 Census, Mizoram has had only two female ministers so far — Lalhlimpui and Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu.
Lalhlimpui, who was elected to the assembly in 1987, had become a member of the cabinet under Chief Minister Laldenga, a former rebel leader. After almost three decades, Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu had won the Hrangturzo assembly by-election in 2014.
Mizoram had got its first woman MLA in 1984 when K Thansiami was elected on a Mizoram People’s Conference ticket.
In Nagaland, after the Emergency, Rano Shaiza was elected as a non-Congress UDF nominee to the Lok Sabha; of course, riding on the anti-Indira Gandhi sentiment. Shaiza breathed her last in 2015.
Former Nagaland minister Thomas Ngullie said the society must reflect on this void of women representation on this International Women’s Day. “It is true that breaking the glass ceiling in democratic politics through open contest remains by far the biggest hurdle for Naga women,” he said.
However, the scenario is different in neighbouring Meghalaya.
The Garos, inhabitant of the Tura region, is known as a matrilineal society. Former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma and his son Conrad Sangma, the sitting chief minister, belong to this ethnic group.
Late Sangma’s daughter Agatha Sangma is now a two-time MP from Tura parliamentary constituency and she was also a union minister of state for rural development in the Manmohan Singh cabinet.
So is the case with the Khasis (another major tribal group in Meghalaya), where authority, title, inheritance, residence after marriage and succession are traced through the female lineage.
However, some studies a few years back claimed that in the rural areas, about one-third of the families are headed by the males. The place of women is predominant among the Jaintia tribal society in Meghalaya as well.
In a matrilineal society, the clan name or surname is traceable to the mother. A Jaintia house consists of the mother and her children, who may be married or unmarried. All children and especially daughters stay with the mother, work for her and help the family collectively.
(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist)