| An election awareness video being played on a projector in Dimapur |
Dimapur/Kohima, Feb. 20: There is hardly any public space inaccessible to women in Kohima and Dimapur. They walk the roads, ride the bikes, run shops and hotels.
They dress as they like, which definitely many would admire and khap panchayats may find provocative — evidently such profound wisdom has not found space here.
Female literacy rates and enrolment in higher education are high, women are well represented in government jobs and are widely acknowledged as empowered.
But every year during elections, one glaring statistic erupts on the Election Commission’s papers as a blot on the praiseworthy scenario. Not a single woman has ever occupied a seat in the state Assembly here. Rano M. Shaiza was the only woman to have been elected to the Lok Sabha.
This time, too, there are only two women candidates. Rakhila Lakhiumong is contesting on a BJP ticket from 54 Tuensang Sadar-II while Dr Yangerla will stand as an Independent from Mokokchung.
Rosemary Dzuvichu, adviser to Naga Mothers’ Association and a scholar of gender studies, put things in perspective.
“As it is evident from the recent arrest of a minister with arms and money, elections in Nagaland are all about money and power. Women here do not have the crucial land and property rights. So in such a contest they find themselves nowhere.”
When pointed out that society here seems more liberal than many states, which have had several legislators she said, “This is true. We have more women in the public space. There are a lot of working women. But we have a rigid traditional system here where women are not in a position of power and decision making. The men use this tradition to keep the women out of power. They would modify and retain according to their convenience. After all, buying and selling of land is prohibited by customary law, but that is not stopping men from buying land all over Nagaland.”
But she is hopeful of a turnaround this year. “The Naga Mothers’ Association, which I am a part of and many other women leaders across the state, have pledged support to the women candidates,” she said.
She pinned her hopes on the BJP candidate.
“BJP candidate Rakhila might just win this time. She is a veteran in politics and lost by just 400 votes last time. This time she has wider support. I hope she finally opens the account,” she said.
Nagaland PCC general secretary Aheto V. Yepthomi denied that there was any such discrimination on the part of his party. “The ratio of men and women in politics is undesirable here. But there is no effort to sideline women. There was no one we could have as a candidate this time,” he said.
NPF secretary general K.G. Kenye also admitted to not having a candidate and regretted that they could not find a winnable one. But he said his party had always encouraged women to enter politics.
But as Dzuvichu put it, the mood is for change. Every woman this correspondent talked to on the streets of Nagaland was of the opinion that women should take part in politics.
Director of Youthnet, a non-profit organisation comprising young Naga professionals, Hekani Jakhalu, said, “Both the young women and men are of the opinion that more women should enter politics and be in positions of power whenever we have a discussion on it.”
She also has a word of hope, “There are over 25 candidates this time below the age of 40. This is a new trend and was unthinkable in the past. So we can hope in the same sort of a change might happen as far as women are concerned in the near future.”