The other “voice of the people”

Esther K. Chophy,
Bokali Mughavi and Gracy Aye


The only positive outcome of the current socio-political imbroglio is that the masses have begun to contemplate and deconstruct the issues related to women vis-a vis the customary law. The rubric ‘Patriarchy’ in relation with gender equation in our Naga society is the most contested ideological subject.  Unfortunately the CORE ISSUES of the Nagaland Municipal & Town Council Act 2001 has lopsided and the  issue of women reservation has conveniently been sidetracked by the “other political” issues.


Government/ individuals may come and go but the root of contention remains unaltered and we have to come back to the negotiating table to dialogue on these most pertinent controversial issues at hand.
1.    Is gender discrimination a myth or a reality?
2.    Will 33% reservation in ULB aid in political empowerment of women?
3.    How can we collectively (Men & women alike) protect our most beloved Article 371 A?
4.    Where is the space for the dissenting voice?  Are we willing to listen and hear them out?
5.    Who will represent the voice of women?


The social structure in a patriarchal society is constructed in ways where the ideas and actions of men dominate over that of women. Women are supposed to adhere to the feminine qualities linked with characters like modesty, submissiveness, nurturing, caring, serving and the list goes on.   It is therefore not a surprise that the ‘character’ and ‘personal background’ of women leaders who challenge the status-quo are most susceptible to criticism. Note that, the same standard is not applicable to measure the capability of our male leaders.


The standard indicator to measure the status of women in any given society is the social, economic and political indicators. Going by this measure, if we conduct cartography of women empowerment in our state, it will contradict the standpoint that Naga women are not discriminated.Women’s oppression/ discrimination are experienced differently according to the socio-cultural context and therefore comparing the level of subjugation with the counterparts other states is deeply flawed. Few privileged women have done exceptionally well in the field of education, sports, bureaucracy and proved that if given equal treatment and opportunity, we are no lesser.


But in the political arena, the fact remains that, women have always played a secondary role in the decision making bodies. Women are not barred from contesting but are neither encouraged nor supported with the same intensity and vigor we would do for men. Neither are women equipped with financial / human resources to fight at par with the rich men (not that we are endorsing money politics). We celebrate with the few privileged women who have not faced discrimination and we hope you will stand tall as living examples. We also stand in solidarity with majority of our sisters who are subjugated and compromised their fate. And with those who are absorbed sacrificing their dreams and aspirations to think about themselves.


Our society is conditioned to the conventional belief that ‘good women’ should limit to address social and religious issues rather than the political ones and thus limit the participation of women in the public sphere.  Social & political issues cannot be isolated from each other.  It is an inspiration to see that women have come out boldly to exercise their political ambitions.


Unfortunately women who dared to challenge the status-quo have been compelled to take the back seat and are reduced to being mere mute spectators to the ongoing political warfare.


The dissenting voice of women particularly the collective bodies have been strategically divided and silenced. We can’t help but feel subjugated, discriminated and oppressed having to follow the voices that restrict our right to oppose.


Where are the women armed with their traditional attire who thronged the streets when women were violated? Where are those who staunchly stood firm to negotiate for peace in times of conflict? Where are the women who dared to enter the battle field amidst the firing bullets when our men’s lives were threatened? Where are the women who decided to fight as ‘leaders’ in the democratic election process? Are we mute because we are forced/ directed to respect the tribal apex body’s decision or we fear being ex-communicated? Are we mute because our loved ones asked us to or we have been conditioned to believe that politics is not our domain? Why are we forced to agree with the dominant view of our respected leaders?


Is this democratic or anarchic- when the differing opinions are hushed using means of threat and violence? Might is not always right.  Amidst the confusion and the blame game, young innocent lives have been lost. This tragic incident will forever haunt us for this is the worst thing that could possibly happen Perhaps we need to introspect our over-confidence on our physical intellectuality and those decision taken in haste. In this situation when everything around us seems to have derailed, we must humbly seek for divine intervention.


Let us redirect our thoughts on issues that matter and consider revolution of our mindset which is imperative for our society to progress. Without further delay we must address these burning issues.


■    Reconstruct the unwritten customary law: Practices of our ancestors have flaws and are susceptible to being interpreted by different individuals according to their convenience.  It is time we codify the laws that are not applicable in this 21st century.  Times change, Mindset must change and laws must accordingly be amended. Customary law will cause more harm than protect if it continues to remain ambiguous.


■    The subject of women reservation should not be regarded as war of sexes but rather as determining factor to strengthen gender relation.


■    Acknowledge and respect the different standpoints as equally valid. Let us agree to disagree.


■    Deconstruct the standpoint that women enjoy the same status as men. Let us contest the issue and find alternative solutions that are inclusive of women.


■    Let us come together, solve rather than dissolve the unconventional views. Remember that the voice of the people is not uniform and that is the beauty of democracy.


The only solution to this crisis is to dialogue and respect the differing opinion irrespective of your gender, tribe, age or political affiliation.


Esther K. Chophy (Teacher), Bokali Mughavi (Social Worker), Gracy Aye (Research Scholar) Note: We write as concerned citizens and not representing a particular gender, tribe, village, association or any political party.