Cave mentality vs representative & inclusive democracy
KOHIMA, MARCH 26: Politics in Nagaland has been a male dominated citadel, which is essentially due to male chauvinism and prevalence of patriarchal mindset.
Today after much struggle two women have come to the State Assembly, but it would take more time for women to gain equal footing in the decision-making bodies, because they are discouraged by misogynistic attitudes and by and large de-motivated to get into politics. The glaring example is some Naga men trying to construct an obstacle for women in the proposed Municipal and Town Councils election by misinterpreting the Article 371(A) of the Constitution of India. But they don’t know that lack of women’s active participation in the decision-making, or in legislation, only undermines the idea of a representative democracy.
Regrettably, this group of people have so far failed to substantiate how the 33% reservation for women in the Urban Local Bodies infringes on Article 371(A), or how and in what manner it infringes on customary, social and traditional practices of the Naga people.
So also even after the clause which mentioned about tax on land and buildings has been omitted, some people are still insisting for full review of the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001, which seems to be rather fishy. The key demand of some group of people was to do away with 33% reservation for women and tax on land and building. This group of people went berserk in 2017 against conduct of election to Municipal and Town Councils, which claimed two innocent lives.
“I don’t see any reason for opposing reservation for women since it does not infringe upon our customary laws, since Urban Local Bodies pertains to the urban areas where, as it is, other Indian laws are already in practice”, said a senior leader of Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). He said just as 371 (A) is an Article under the Constitution of India, so is Article 243 and so long as Nagaland is part of India, Nagas will have to be governed by the Constitution of India. He said since the Supreme Court has categorically impressed upon the State Government to hold elections with 33% reservation, there is nothing else the Government can do.
Prof. Paul Pimomo from the United States opined that at the grassroot level representation, reservation is not only fair but necessary for the continuation and proper working of democratic society. He said no society can ignore or exclude half of its citizens from leadership positions based on gender and claim to be a democracy.
Advisor to Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA), Prof. Rosemary Dzuvichu said Naga women deserve to have the constitutional right implemented by the State Government by holding the long overdue municipal and town council elections. She said Naga society must be progressive and look at the rest of the world and encourage women to be partners in governance of urban bodies.
“Reservation has been accepted in village development bodies since 1980 in all villages in Nagaland”, she said.
She said the State Government has passed the 2nd and 3rd Amendments of the Municipal Act as per the earlier demands of the tribe bodies and other civil organizations. Also successive Courts have stated that women reservation does not infringe on Article 371 (A).
Rosemary said fortunately the Municipal case is sub-judice and those opposing can implead themselves into the case too.
A Senior Advocate in Gauhati High Court, Zhekheli Zhimomi said Article 243-Q of the Constitution provide Constitution of Municipalities. Also Article 243-S provides constitution and composition of Wards Committee. While Article 243-ZA provides election to the municipalities and Article 243-T provides reservation of seats for SC, ST and other backward communities. She said if by virtue of the constitutional provisions Naga men are going to contest Municipal and Town Council elections, on what legal basis they can reject Article 243-T (2) providing 33% reservation for women. A welfare state derive source of power form law and no agency can dictate the Government to act without force of law”, she added.
Zhimomi said first general election in 1964 and Municipal Councils are recent provisions under the Constitution of India, adding that in the name of social organization some Naga men are obnoxiously interpreting Article 371(A) as if India laws and elections were part and parcel of Naga customary law and practices. “It is settled law, “customs and tradition which is oppressive and against public policy is illegal”, with or without Article 371(A)”, the Advocate said.
A retired Director General of Police (DGP), Besesayo Kezo, opined that there just be a wealth tax on the super rich Nagas both in municipalities and towns. He said poor urban dwellers with just a roof over their head may be exempted from it but every other person must be taxed proportionately according to their properties and landholdings for economic and social justice. He said the collected tax must be spent for providing civic amenities to the citizens like drainage, street lightings, sanitation, etc.
The former cop said not paying tax for the local administration and expecting everything to be done by the Government is “absolutely ridiculous and illogical thinking, if not shamelessly selfish way of living in modern civilized society like beggars”.
Kezo said every citizen must contribute for the common welfare as per his capacity and participation in the administration without class or tribe bias. “We must draw a line between rural and urban administration, village and cosmopolitan/metropolitan, where we must conduct ourselves as international citizens living in global village”, he added.
The retired DGP said paying legal and just tax will create a sense of participation in the local administration, even a sense of pride and honour, creating a high degree of belongingness, responsibility and shared destiny.
Dr. Viser Sanyu, President, Naga Overseas Association (NOA), said tradition and customary practices cannot suppress Naga women. He said election is not a Naga tradition, so also going to church is not.
“You cannot put tradition to suppress women”, he added.
According to the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 towns and cities contribute substantially to the economic development of the country. These urban centres also play an important support role in the development of rural hinterland. To keep this economic transformation in line with needs and realities at the grass-root level, it is necessary that the people and their representatives are fully involved in the planning and implementation of the programmes at local level. If democracy in Parliament and State Legislatures is to remain strong and stable, its roots must reach towns and villages and the cities where the people live.
Also the Constitution of India has made detailed provisions for ensuring protection of democracy in Parliament and in State Legislatures. Hence, democracy in these institutions has survived and flourished. However, the Constitution did not make Local Self Government in urban areas a clear-cut constitutional obligation. While the Directive Principles of State Policy refer to Village Panchayats, there is no specific reference to municipalities except implicitly in Entry-5 of the State List, which places the subject t of Local Self Government as a responsibility of the State. Entry-5 reads as under: “Local Government, that is to say, the constitution and powers of municipal corporations, improvement trusts, district boards, mining settlement authorities and other local authorities for the purpose of local self-Government or village administration.”
As a consequence of inadequate constitutional provision for Local Self Government, democracy in municipal governance was not stable. Though the respective Municipal Acts of the States provided for regular elections to municipal bodies, they were frequently suspended and superseded for indefinite periods of time. Frequent and indefinite suspensions or supersessions eroded the basis of local self- government and had a negative effect on democracy at the grass-root level. The general position with regard to financial resources of the municipal bodies was also not satisfactory. Over the years, there was a steady encroachment on the assigned functions and revenues of Urban Local Bodies by specialized agencies of the State Governments. As a result, many urban local bodies became weak and were not able to perform effectively.
The weakened status of Urban Local Bodies crystallized public opinion in favour of need for a constitutional guarantee to safeguard the interests of urban local bodies in order to provide for adequate representation of SC/ST and of women in the municipal bodies, provisions have been made for reservation of seats. The proportion of seats to be reserved for SC/ST to the total number of seats shall be same as the proportion of the population of SC/ST in the municipal area. The reservation would be made in respect of seats to be filled by direct elections only. Not less than one-third of the total number of seats reserved for SC/ST shall be reserved for women belonging to SC/ST. This is a mandatory provision.
In respect of women, the seats shall be reserved to the extent of not less than one-third of the total number of seats. This includes seats reserved for women belonging to SC/ST. These reservations will apply for direct elections only. This is also a mandatory provision. There will be no bar on State Legislatures from making provisions for reservation of seats in any municipality or office of Chairperson in the municipalities in favour of backward class of citizens. This is an optional provision.