- In 1992, the constitution provided for Municipal Councils in urban areas including reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, as well as women.
- While Nagaland is exempted from the Constitution’s Panchayat system, it is bound by the Municipal Council system, including the 1/3 reservation requirement for women. (Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram have autonomous districts & Councils formed Under Sixth Schedule of Constitution and thus exempted under Article 243M(2) to have a Panchayat)
- In 2001, Nagaland State Government enacted the Nagaland Municipal Act, 2001 but it did not include the constitutionally mandated reservations for women.
- Finally, the Nagaland government enacted the Nagaland Municipal (First Amendment) Act in 2006 which provided 33% reservation for women in urban local bodies (ULBs) in Nagaland.
- This has been opposed by all-male tribal bodies on the grounds that reservation for women in ULBs would violate Article 371(A) of the Constitution and infringe on Naga culture, traditions and customary laws.
- This opposition has made the local elections due in Nagaland for 16 years now and the 2017 elections for ULBs have once again been postponed.
- in 2011, spearheaded by the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA), Naga women filed a writ petition in Guwahati HC, challenging the State government’s refusal to hold municipal elections. The single judge bench directed the government to hold elections to municipal councils and town councils in 2012.
- Later the Nagaland government filed an appeal before a Division Bench of the Guwahati High Court, which stayed the previous ruling. One of the arguments put forward by the Nagaland government was the claim that implementing such a law would ‘upset the peace’ in Nagaland.
- In 2012, the State Assembly adopted a resolution rejecting women’s reservation in ULBs on the ground that it infringes on the social and customary practices of the Nagas safeguarded by 371 (A).
- Further, in 2012, a special leave petition was moved in SC which upheld in 2016 the single-judge ruling of the Gauhati High Court of 2011.
- So, the Nagaland government enacted the Nagaland Municipal (Third Amendment) Bill 2016, which revoked the September 2012 resolution, paving the way for women’s reservation in ULBs.
Rights Of Women violated-
- NMA has said that article 243(T) of the Constitution, which provides for 33% women’s reservation in municipal bodies, applies to Nagaland as well.
- But Naga Hoho, the apex body of Naga tribes — contends that article 371(A) gives precedence to Nagaland’s customary traditions and laws over the laws passed by Parliament.
- Over and above this, the male-dominated tribal bodies assert that Naga society offers equal opportunity to their females. However, these are absolutely false claims.
- In reality, no woman has ever been elected to the state assembly in over 53 years of Nagaland’s existence as a state. Only late Rano M. Shaiza in 1977 was sole representative in Parliament.
- Though village development boards have 25% seats reserved for women, but most of tribal bodies which act as the custodians of tribal culture and traditions are dominated by men. As a result, the property and inheritance rights are highly skewed against women.
- This system has been developed over the years to keep property with the community lest women decide to marry outside tribe
Differentiating traditional and constitutional
- The tribal bodies who opposed the elections are not traditional institutions recognised by Article 371(A). It provides a special status to Nagaland and protects its religious or social practices, customary law ownership and transfer of land and its resources etc.
- Similarly, the ULBs are constitutional bodies under Part IX of the Constitution and not traditional Naga institutions. Hence they have no right to mandate on its functioning.
- When the state government did not call off election to be conducted on Feb 1, these tribal bodies called bandh in state from Jan 28 to Feb 1. Despite the bandh, elections took place in several places on February 1. This shows that some towns did not agree with these tribal bodies.
- It has to be also noted that even before the bandh call, the focus had started shifting from women’s reservation to issues of taxes and land ownership contained in the Nagaland Municipal (Third Amendment) Bill 2016.
- hat is even more alarming that Nagaland government decided to write to the Centre demanding that Nagaland be exempted from Part IX A of the Constitution.
- Part IX A of the Constitution dealing with Municipalities contains a mandatory provision under Article 243T for 33% women reservation in ULBs
- According to them, with such an exemption, the issue will be put to rest and avoid further misunderstanding among the people.
- This clearly means that the government is washing its hands of the reservations and sacrificing the rights of Naga women because of traditional male ego.
- If such an exemption happens, Naga women will have absolutely no hope of entering into and participating in decision-making bodies.
Reservation for women is necessary in patriarchal societies like Naga society, where there is a historical culture of inequalities. Though Nagas don’t practise sati, female foeticide and infanticide, and do not believe in dowry or the caste system, but Naga customs, culture and traditions preclude women from inheriting land and participating in the decision-making process. Art 371(A) exactly protects these rights of women.
There is another challenge of how the issue is being portrayed among the masses. Debates around state like Nagaland due to its unique history are complex due to its special relationship with the Union of India enshrined in the Constitution and also insurgency problems. Using words such as ‘upset the peace’ may cloud over the judgement of central government who is not well-versed with ground realities.
Hence, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of policy making has to be changed and take into account local and ground realities while bringing solutions. Equally, the communities have misused their ‘autonomous status’ to perpetuate their own internal inequalities which needs to be taken into account.
Being a case of gender rights, this has to be addressed with a long term vision and not near gains. The women have to fight for their rights, be it triple talaq case or entering into religious institutions.