The recent notification for election to the Urban Local Bodies (ULB) elections on May 16 with 33 percent women's reservation in Nagaland has sparked fresh opposition by some male-centric Hohos, councils and other organisations. The biggest objection is centred on terminology of “omission, omitted and deleted” on “Tax on Land and Building” in the third amendment to the Nagaland Municipal Act (NMA), 2016. The Municipal Affairs Department has already clarified that the provisions have already been removed from NMA 2001 by the 3rd Amendment in 2016. However, the opposition seems to be adamant. This raises the question as to whether it is just a question of technicalities, or a springboard to oppose women reservation.
While some organisations, particularly the Sumi Hoho, have stated support for women’s reservation so far, the majority of others oppose it with various excuses. Ambiguous terms such as “applicability and usages according to the reality and practicability of the Naga people” are used while the most cited argument is the apparent infringement of Article 371 (A) of the Indian Constitution, providing certain rights to the people of Nagaland.
The idea of nomination has also been mooted from some quarters. However, this has been categorically struck down by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, despite assertions and platitudes during the previous episode over the issue, the organisations have not shown any measures towards ensuring women's participation within their fold or other formal decision making bodies.
All along, the action of the State Government is also not above scrutiny. In fact, the current opposition is perplexing, to say the least, as the State Government announced after a consultative meeting on March 9, 2022 that there unanimous agreement to hold ULBs elections. The Government should have been more proactive in clarification and in back channelling. The motive of the Government also seems to be propelled more by avoiding further reprimands from the Supreme Court as well as possible monetary benefits.
Meanwhile, a cacophony of rhetoric and assertion of an “egalitarian” Naga society not needing reservation misses the point. Nagaland, for the record, elected its first two legislators to its assembly only in 2023, 60 years after its Statehood. At the grassroots level, women representation in village councils is rare. It reflects the barriers that continue to prevent women from formal decision-making and political representation.
Another question needing serious contemplation is whether the urban local bodies are traditional, and any action convening the former infringes upon the provision of Art 371? This is hardly the case as it is about administrative entities in towns and cities. Besides, even if the Act is operated with the taxation clause, it is not that Nagas never have had been paying taxes. Moreover, the quantum of taxation is to be decided by the State Government or concerned council itself, representing the people, nullifying the apparent fear-mongering over taxes.
Cherry-picking of reservation as well as selective invocation of Article 371 (A), makes the issue about male unjustified insecurity to cede political sphere to women. As noted before, culture is not simply reliving the past and reducing it to a static entity. It should evolve pragmatically in tune with to prevent itself from becoming an anachronistic entity. A progressive state’s policy is imperative and is pertinent to facilitate unrepresented entities to participate positively in the progress of the society and correct an inherited inequality.
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