Primary Motifs: The impermanence of permanence

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Monalisa Changkija

Elections to the 13th Nagaland State Assembly are over and a new state Government has been formed earlier this month. That quite a good number of old faces now sit on the Treasury Bench is another issue that doesn’t require much cogitation ~ and deserves much less time ~ considering that power and pelf have become the primary objectives of political aspirations and dispensations, especially in our part of the country. But what of the ordinary citizen? Seeing the slew of Band Aid measures, instead of well-thought policies, announced recently by the new Nagaland Government to address sustainable development issues ~ and indeed issues of human survival ~ the ordinary citizen doesn’t expect any change that would alter her reality in a meaningful way. But then, when votes are sold and bought ordinary citizens know that the impermanence of permanence will remain the lait motif of their realities. There is also another aspect of Assembly elections that needs attention ~ and this can actually be termed as the permanence of impermanence in Naga society ~ unfortunately, once elections are over, victors forget about and/or ignore the victims of this permanence of impermanence.
The centrality of traditional Naga village parliaments during elections, explained last month in this column, is an issue that has not been delved into with the seriousness it deserves because the role of these bodies not only designs the fate of political parties and candidates, which lays the foundation stone of government formation, but the same also impacts on issues of human rights in Nagaland. As has been said earlier in my previous column, a candidate’s endorsement by the village parliament is crucial to his chances of winning the election and to improve his chances, it is more the norm than the exception for village parliaments to issue a dicta to all citizens of the village to vote for the “endorsed” candidate ~ and village parliaments mince no words about the penalties that be imposed in the event of failure to obey these dicta. Normally, the penalty is expulsion from the village ranging from a few years to thirty years ~ often even confiscation of property.
This has happened this time too in a couple of villages in Mokokchung district. In one village, a candidate was penalized for contesting against the candidate endorsed by the village parliament and barred from entry into his own village. In another, women, suspected to have voted against the village parliament’s dicta, have been physically abused and expelled from the village for about thirty years. In the first village, the “unendorsed” candidate approached the High Court and managed to get the village parliament’s dicta stayed. The High Court also directed Deputy Commissioners to take action against village parliaments, which passed such dicta across Nagaland. The village parliament of the second village was issued a show cause notice as regards the physical abuse and expulsion of those alleged to have disobeyed the village parliament’s dicta.
The contradictions inherent in simultaneous implementation of Article 371 (A) and the Representation of People’s Act are stark here. Our village parliaments insist on their traditional powers and rights safeguarded by Article 371 (A), which are totally against the letter and spirit of the Representation of People’s Act ~ the essence of which is one-person-one-vote. Clearly, the need of the hour is to study and analyze the contradictions and resolve them so as to enable the ordinary Naga to participate in this most sacred democratic and constitutional right and duty freely and fairly. However, there have been no attempts towards course correction of these contradictions so far. And unsurprisingly, the victors forget those who made them victorious. Here it must also be underscored that for the ordinary Naga, the village parliament’s dicta is more authoritative and imperative than constitutional provisions ~ probably because the former’s reprisal is swift and severe, while the latter’s reprisal is distant and delayed. The obedience to village parliaments’ dicta also underscores the centrality of this traditional institution in the lives and realities of the ordinary Naga ~ because the village is the primary identity marker of any Naga.
Now, because the issues of representational democracy and constitutional provisions such as Article 371 (A) has grave constitutional significance ~ in fact, besides others, they make the core of the very comprehensive Indian Constitution, based on the essence and ethos of democracy, these issues are also human rights issues because the Indian Constitution upholds the primacy of the individual over the collectives particularly in the matter of representative democracy. The very fact that the High Court has stayed village parliaments’ dicta and has directed deputy Commissioners to take action against village parliaments’ dicta that are violative of the principle of one-person-one-vote and conscience voting, substantiates the Indian Constitution according the primacy of the individual over the collective. But how to make this a reality for tribal societies that prioritizes the collective over the individual? And, how do we reconcile the human rights of individuals with the constitutionally safeguarded rights of institutions that are validated by prioritizing collectives in tribal societies such as ours? And, these seemingly “irreconcilable differences” are not confined to issues of representative democracy alone. They also impact on developmental issues and human, legal, constitutional, political, economic and social rights of groups of individuals such as women and marginalized groups of individuals. In the context of Naga society, most marginalized groups of individuals would consist of clans, which are not the founding fathers of a village. Yes, political, social and economic hierarchies, normally based on our migratory history, are also realities in Naga society.
Tribal societies are also not immune from the traditional politics of dominance and when this colludes with the culture of modern politics of party dominance, the combination is defeats the individual and her rights. How do we resolve this to guarantee that what are clearly envisaged and stated in the India Constitution become a reality for the ordinary Naga and other tribal individual? While reportedly the National Commission for Women has taken up the issue of women being physically assaulted by a village parliament for “disobeying it’s dicta in the recent Assembly elections here, the issue of the violation of the constitutional and human rights of ordinary citizens in the form of village parliaments’ dicta is yet to be addressed and redressed. The pertinent question is: who will address and redress it? Then again, how can this issue be addressed and redressed when the ordinary Naga citizen isn’t even aware that her constitutional and human rights have been violated because the powers, the rights and the roles of villages parliaments is so ingrained in her and is the major component of her identity and rootedness to the village, which together makes the core of her culture, customs and traditions?
What we are seeing here is the bridge ~ incomplete and inadequate ~ to cohere and connect ancient traditions with modern cultures. If this bridge is left unattended for too long, the impermanence of permanence would further redefine the rights ~ or the absence of rights ~ of the ordinary Naga individual for a long time.
(The Columnist, a journalist and poet, is Editor, Nagaland Page)
(Courtesy: The Assam tribune, March 28, 2018)