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‘Equality as Tradition’ and Women’s Reservation in Nagaland

Drawing on the purported attempts to give 33% reservation to women in Nagaland’s urban local bodies as a test case, an analysis is made of how misleading the presumption and claim of “equality as tradition” could be in a supposedly “egalitarian” Naga society. Patriarchally structured deliberations, consultations and decision-making procedures adopted by the Government of Nagaland and the judiciary have failed to accord equal participation and effective voice to women.

One of the most common presumptions about tribal societies in the North East India or elsewhere is their “egalitarianism.” Although it is taken as a given and frequently used as a staple justification to mark out the tribal “others” from inegalitarian caste-Hindu societies in India, egalitarianism as a hallmark of “equality as tradition” of tribal societies sits uneasily with the inegalitarian discourse and unequal treatment meted out to tribal women (Shimray 2002). This becomes glaringly evident in the controversy surrounding attempts by the Nagaland Legislative Assembly (NLA) to give 33% reservation to women in urban local bodies (ULBs) since 2006 when it inserted Section 23A to the Nagaland Municipal Act, 2001 by bringing about an amendment to this act.

ULBs, encompassing three municipalities—Dimapur, Kohima and Mokokchung—and 161 town councils in Nagaland, became controversial with this amendment as antagonists—constituted by a melange of frontal Naga tribal bodies like Naga Hoho and Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO)—contend that this amendment amounts to imposition of “alien” rules like “reservation” and “tax” on “land and buildings” which violate the Naga “way of life,” social tradition and customary laws of equal treatment (Amer 2013; Eastern Mirror 2017; GoN 2012; Wouters 2017). These arguments were effectively used to mobilise public opposition to implementation of the amended 2001 act and holding of ULB elections since October 2008. Caving into the pressure of these antagonists, NLA invoked its special plenary power under Article 371(A)2 which protects, inter alia, Naga customary law, land and resources, and passed a resolution on 22 September 2012 exempting the state from Part IX(A) (dealing with municipalities) of the Constitution.

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Updated On : 13th Nov, 2017

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