Naga idea of equality

Imkong Walling

Back in December 2020, this column featured an op-ed pertaining to job reservations in the government sector— a highly contentious topic that seldom fails to flare emotions between a perceived ‘east-west’ divide in Nagaland. It sought to ask why debates around government job quotas stir greater public interest, and tons of emotion, than issues concerning basic development parameters. 

While closure eludes that question, another issue concerning quotas – empowerment of women via a Constitutional mandate – has had tribal organisations raging at present. The question this time, however, is the morality of delegitimising the demand for women’s political representation through reservation of seats in decision-making vis-à-vis the municipal bodies. 

Before justifying the opposition to accord reservation of seats to women, one needs to look at the moral framework under which the movement for women’s rights draws legitimacy. This moral framework is based on the concept of equality/fairness, irrespective of gender or breed. It seeks to move away from repressive belief sets, as was practiced by archaic cultures the world over, to affect equal opportunity not only in matters of employment and education, but also political empowerment. 

Constitutional guarantee also draws legitimacy from such a moral framework. In India, besides the contentious Article 243 (T) — as far as Nagaland is concerned — Article 15 (Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) secures equal access to all. Article 16 further guarantees equal opportunity to all in matters of “appointment to any office under the State.” 

Conventional written law is clear on the position of women. Oddly enough, the same conventional law has pitted rights against indigenous belief in the form of Article 371 (A). This Constitutional provision, guaranteeing a certain level of autonomy to the state of Nagaland, protects the Naga indigenous practices from ‘alien’ legal enactments, with the AFSPA being an exception. It serves as a buffer against dilution of the indigenous culture; a culture, which takes pride in claiming that they treat their women as equals. 

The Naga idea of equality, unfortunately, runs contrary to the contemporary concept of gender equality, which includes enabling women to directly partake in decision-making. Born out of preexisting ethnocentric preconception, the Naga gender perspective is skewed in favour of the politically dominant men, who have been conditioned to regard their women as home-makers and as subordinates working the fields. In return, the women would be cared for and protected from harm, was the belief. 

This equation may have served the foreparents well during time immemorial, but from a contemporary worldview, is anything but equality. It has, today, transformed into an insular, toxic gender discourse, to the extent of belittling the intellect of their women.  It has taken the shape of criminalising an organisation as that of the Naga Mothers’ Association for a non-existent crime.  The same men, who cry, “DEMOCRACY” at every other opportunity, are today denying democracy to one half of the population, whose indispensable role, as peacemakers, the men seek at the drop of a hat. 

Where is the democracy? Where are the Naga men, the women’s organisations and the two women MLAs and their tall claims supporting the political empowerment of Naga women? 

The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to [email protected]