The Gender Shocks from Nagaland. By Gaurav Sikka

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This blog post is an initial reaction to a gender regressive step taken by the Nagaland government under the pressure of some of the ideologues according to whom, Naga women cannot collectively assert their rights and take decisions. These ideologues argue that the traditional customary practices never envisaged a political role for women in Naga tribal society. Therefore, the age-old patriarchy and gender rights are at loggerheads over the issue of women’s reservation in the urban local bodies in Nagaland.

The 74th amendment of the Constitution of India in 1993 has provided for reservation for women (at least 33 percent of the seats) in the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) across India. However, states like Nagaland were kept out of its purview on the premise that the tribal communities here practiced an egalitarian way of life where men and women had equal rights (Mukhim, 2017). However, a closer look at traditional tribal governance system reveals that women’s voices in the tribal meetings were represented by the male members of the families. Another paradox was that while women can attend those meetings, they cannot hold offices in those traditional bodies, ultimately curtailing the rights of womenfolk to participate in the decision making.

In 2006, after 13 years of the passage of 74th Amendment Act by the Parliament of India, the Nagaland State Assembly passed the Nagaland Municipal (First Amendment) Act, which provided for a 33 percent reservation of seats for Naga women.   However, nothing happened and status quo was maintained because this was opposed by Naga Hoho, an apex body of Naga tribal chiefs on the pretext that the reservation for women violates Article 371A of the Constitution of India which bestows protection to the Naga customary laws and practices. Nonetheless, as Urban Local Bodies are not customary institutions, the move to reserve seats for women in them does not violate the constitution.  Moreover, this argument, implausible and flimsy in nature, is put forth to preserve the patriarchal character of the Naga society and to prevent men from getting ‘inferiority complex when women are given equal status as men in decision-making bodies’ (Acharyya, 2017).

Eventually, the courts of the land intervened after a plea by a Naga women’s group and elections to the ULBs were ordered in January 2017 after the due reservation of seats for women. However, these efforts were bogged down by a violent agitation by Naga men who went on the rampage, vandalised public property and paralyzed the functioning of the state of Nagaland against the 33 percent reservation for women. Even the Naga women leaders were intimidated and attacked. The state government has buckled under the pressure following a violent agitation and has taken a U-turn and surrendered to the male-dominated Naga tribal bodies by declaring the entire election process null and void. Unfortunately, this retrograde move of depriving Naga women of their constitutional political rights has far reaching implications on gender equality in the Nagaland state and the rest of India. As evident from this development, it will not be incorrect to say that the politics have failed to correct social biases.

It is important to note here that Nagaland has a majority of the Christian population, 88 percent as per Census of India 2011. Therefore, the role of the church – another male-centric institution that also dominates the public discourse – needs to be questioned against the backdrop of the ongoing crisis.

The present crisis has made evident gender fault lines, has raised questions of identity and gender in a Naga society that has gone berserk to preserve its patriarchal character and has exposed the egalitarian notion of Naga tribal society.

Further readings

Acharyya, K.,  “Nagaland civic polls: Naga tribes to boycott elections to protest 33% reservation for women” in Firstpost on January 5, 2017 accessed at

Mukhim, P., “Tradition, Democracy and Gender” in The Hindu on February 10, 2017

Punj, B., “Selective Amnesia of Gender Rights Activists” in The Pioneer on February 13, 2017

Staff Reporter, “Nagaland Says No To Gender Equality” in Deccan Herald on February 11, 2017 accessed at

Gaurav Sikka is a PhD Research Scholar at the Department of Geography, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi (India). He holds positions on the steering committee of International Geographical Union Task Force for Young and Early Career Geographers and the executive committee of Royal Geographical Society Gender & Feminist Geographies Research Group. Presently, Gaurav is teaching at the Department of Geography, Aditi Mahavidyalaya, University of Delhi.


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