A Step Backward for Gender Equality
The Nagaland Legislative Assembly's decision to repeal the Nagaland Municipal Act (NMA), 2001, consequently resulting in the cancellation of scheduled election to urban local bodies (ULBs) with 33% reservation for women on May 16, is another severe blow to women's political participation in the state. The reversal perpetuates the various obstacles that exist to women's political participation and formal decision-making and a regressive step that undermines the progress made towards women's empowerment in Nagaland.
The State Government cited strong opposition to the ULB Elections under the NMA, 2001, by “tribal bodies, civil society organizations, and every section of society,” with the public perception that the Act runs contrary to the spirit of Article 371-A of the Constitution of India. It further justified the repeal by asserting that the defining trait of law is its enforceability and if people are not willing to come forward to participate in the elections, they cannot be compelled to do so.
Elections to the ULBs under the Act could not be held fully in 2004 and in toto in 2008, 2012, and 2017 due to this opposition. In 2017, there was widespread agitation and bandhs across the State led by various tribal bodies and organisations, when elections schedule was announced.
However, it must be questioned whether the government was serious about on women's political empowerment at all. More precisely, what it had been doing over the years? What steps did it undertake to quell the alleged public perception, especially the taxation clause? The State Government's declaration on March 9, 2022, that a resolution was passed in the State Level Consultative Meeting with various tribal bodies and other organizations stating that the elections to ULBs should be conducted as per the 74th Amendment Act of the Constitution of India how seems to be another example of lip service.
Moreover, the Tribal Hohos' seven-point resolution to the Chief Minister of Nagaland demanding a review and rewriting of the NMA 2001 on March 27 was notably a huge scaled-down version of their earlier demands. A workable solution was foreseeable to hold the elections. Presumably, however, the ‘surprising’ decision for repeal of the Act had already been made.
Ergo, the State Government seems to be acting only because of various directions from the Supreme Court of India to conduct the elections all along, and not based on intention to ensure genuine empowerment.
Nevertheless, the NLA’s unanimous resolution on March 28 repealing the NMA 2001 pledged that another law would be enacted "expeditiously which will take into consideration once and for all the grievances of all the interested parties so that the elections could be conducted in accordance with the law."
If the State Government is serious about women's empowerment, it must swiftly enact the new law. Such steps should not be guided by political exigency or other considerations, but anchored around taking concrete steps towards ensuring women's political participation and empowerment. The onus lies with the State Government and it cannot pass the ball in the others’ court.