“The Naga customary law prevails over the Indian legal system in the state; hence Naga women still face a number of discriminatory practices. As per the customary law there is no maintenance for divorced wives, nor do they have any right over the husband’s property. And so women are not entitled to property rights, either on death of the father or the nearest male relative.
I would like to take reference to the constitution of the India to highlight the conflict which has seen violence in the state of Nagaland for the past few weeks. Article 371A of the constitution of India gives Special provision with respect to the State of Nagaland. — No Act of Parliament in respect of
- religious or social practices of the Nagas,
- Naga customary law and procedure
- administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law,
- ownership and transfer of land and its resources,
Shall apply to the State of Nagaland unless the Legislative Assembly of Nagaland by a resolution so decides.
The women’s groups of the Nagaland state has been advocating as well as had fought legal battles which ultimately resulted in the state government passing a resolution providing 33% reservation for women. The Polls for 32 municipal and town councils were scheduled for February 1 but the tribal councils had opposed this, on the grounds that reservations were detrimental to Naga society and tribal customary laws, protected under Article 371(A) of the Constitution.
The village system of Nagaland has a two-tier system of local governance in the form of Village council (VC) and a Village Development Board (VDB) which has been set up through legislation of the Nagaland government. The law requires that one fourth of the VDB managing committee members should be women.
Looking back to a study conducted by the State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD 2006), two villages namely Chesezu and Kohima, there was only 1 women representative. There has been no women VDB secretary also, which is the most important position in the development body of the village.
We have to accept at some point we the Naga’s are one of the most patriarchal people which we find it very hard to accept and its roots can be traced from the head hunting days of physical masculinity as well as the Christianization which leaded to the misinterpreted version of the bible that man is the head of the family and the decision maker.
However taking a case from the past we can analyze how this can legislation can dilute the provisions provided under Article 371(A).
For the last three decades, the Lotha tribe in the state of Nagaland has been fighting against the state-owned giant Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC), for exploring and extracting oil and gas from their land without the community having an authority but with a few corrupt individuals trying to get the best by oppressing and exploiting the people. The struggle is a fight against the company’s violation of their right to control and manage their natural resources, and against the collaboration of both the Government of Nagaland and the Government of India.
On 13 January 2009, the State Government had issued a directive for the suspension of all exploration and production activities of ONGC in the State as the law and order situation was not favorable. At the end of the year, a resolution was passed in the Nagaland Legislative Assembly that had the effect of annulling all previous decisions including the issuing of Petroleum Exploration License (PEL) and Petroleum Mining Lease (PML).
Therefore the provision of ownership and transfer of land and its resources has been attacked in the past and forms of exploitations have been visible in the past without the consent of the communities involved. So the recent developments are also a ploy to dilute the provisions under which the Naga customary law and procedure are guaranteed freedom. The state has always been a catalyst in executing oppression to the tribal’s through public enterprises as well as corporations through exploitation of land and resource of the tribal’s in all parts of the country.
It is an undeniable fact that the current government is industries friendly and it is seeing the northeastern part of the country which is a still a virgin for resource as a target for its raw materials and resources. So it is very important to involve all the stakeholders to hold consultative dialogues rather than use violence to gain personal and political mileage.
It is high time for the Naga’ to revisit the role of women in our society as a part of our process of nation building in light of the framework agreement that has been signed and to the idea that we all are trying to live together as an egalitarian society. We cannot be liberal in one section and be a conservative in another section.
Lastly it will be interesting to see the developments with the resignation of the chief minister, as to how the new head of the state will pursue the issue with the people yet it is with a caution I pray that our land and our rights will not be exploited on the pretext of giving equal opportunity to woman by the larger vested interest Indian state through dilution of the special provisions.
But the discourse of woman being equal, as well as being a part in governance and decision making in every aspects and fields needs to be strengthen starting from our minds, hearts, family, locality, community, villages and lastly as tribes, then only there won’t be any need for reservation through legislation as well as scope for dilution by the great Indian state through its exploitative nature.
Red salute to all the comrades fighting for equality, fighting for equity, fighting against the exploitative state, exploitative individuals amongst us,
The fight must go on!
Kelkar, G., Nathan, D., Mukhim, P., & Dzuvichu, R. (2017). Energy, Gender and Social Norms in Indigenous Rural Societies. Economic & Political Weekly, 52(1), 67.