In the 54 years since Nagaland became a part of the Union of India, not a single woman has been elected to its state assembly. And even as the election date on February 27 draws near, it’s unlikely that the skewed gender ratio of the Vidhan Sabha will change much.
Currently, there are only five women candidates in the running for a place in the 60-member government body. That’s right, five women candidates – possibly the most that there have ever been! They are Rakhila of the Bharatiya Janta Party; Wedie-u Kronu and Mangyangpula of the National People’s Party; Aean Konyak of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party; and independent candidate Rekha Rose Dukru. The remaining 190 candidates this year are men.
The thought of a state assembly that’s pretty much a ‘manel’ is particularly grating. Haven’t many of us seen Naga society as matriarchal or matrilineal? “The impression about women being empowered, particularly in Naga society, is largely a myth,” says Monisha Behal, chairperson of North East Network, a grassroots organisation that published a report called “Enquiry into the status of women in Nagaland” (2016).
Indeed, looking at Nagaland’s political history is one way to gauge that status. Back in 1977, Rano Shaiza became the first and last woman representing Nagaland in the Lok Sabha. Another rare moment was when former medical administrator Dr Yangerla began campaigning in the Mokokchung constituency in 2013. That same election, Rakhila too was contesting in the Tuensang Sadar-II constituency. But the state still has no female political representatives!
Gender inequality perlocates to all levels of society, including rural areas. As Delhi University professor Lianboi Vaiphei notes in The Wire, 25% of seats in village development boards are for women, but this simply hasn’t translated into women actually participating on the board.
The fact that there are five candidates does offer some home hope that the February 27 election might finally yield a woman state representative. But it remains to be seen whether Nagaland will do right by its women, and vote them into positions of power, while also creating more such positions.