(this piece was originally written for Nagadao bi-yearly magazine by NSUD April-October 2016 issue)
“when women move forward the family moves, the villages moves, and the nation move… employment gives economic status to women, economic status gives way to social status and thereby empowerment” ~ Jawaharlal Nehru
It’s been a mighty long time when the world saw its first elected women Prime Minister from an unexpected corner, i.e. in 1960, Sirivamo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka. India was the second to follow in 1966, electing Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister. Five decades later, one of the world’s most powerful nation, America, has the possibility of having its first woman president, Hillary Clinton! How heartwarming it is to realise that there are men and women who trust and believe in the judgement of a woman.
Don’t you think it’s about (damn) time Nagas give way for women leaders too! No, I am not talking about the women activists or the leaders from any mother’s association. I am talking about ‘real’ leaders, an elected legislative. Since it’s hard to talk about every state inhabited by Nagas, I will lay my sole emphasis on the Nagaland state.
Let’s think back, have we had any women MLA in our 50 years of independence? We had just a handful of women contesting for the polls, few almost breaking the ceiling glass yet never succeeding. What is more disturbing is, we have more women voters and less male yet no elected woman MLA. Talk about irony, the state has women literacy rate of 76.1% at the same time, a 65.5% of the female workforce engaged as cultivators!
Most of us must’ve applauded at the findings by National Crime Bureau Report that Nagaland tops as the 2nd safest city for women in India. Then how about the fact that Nagaland is also the only state in India with no elected women representative in the State Assembly except the one time Rano M. Shaiza won a seat in 1977 Lok Sabha elections?! Some must’ve just thought ‘Hah! There you go, 1977, after all, we had a woman MP’. Did you know that Rano M. Shaiza became an MP not because she has hundreds of supporters rallying for her, but because there were no men available at that time and she was the only eligible one to fill the place?! Now see where we are, even thirty-nine years later, zero woman MLA or MP!
Let me tell you this, being the safest city isn’t something to be really proud about. I am sorry, but I could also say that the chicken in my chicken coop is the safest. How? I feed them well, I don’t eat them, I let them lay eggs and hatch the eggs, I keep them healthy, and my only restrictions is, I don’t let them free. See, women, chicken? Get it?
This brings me back to a book by Easterine Kire, ‘A Terrible Matriarchy’. The book talks about the major role our women play who instead of prepping their own daughters, fatten their sons, running in that circle of favouring men, no questions allowed. To touch base, let me share a quote by Rosalyn Sussman- “We still live in a world in which a significant fraction of people, including women, believe that a woman belongs and wants to belong exclusively in the home.”
If we look at the current state, Naga society has a considerate number of literate youngsters, second and third generations mostly. We are at a stage where we understand the importance of men and women being at par. But hell! Women still have no inheritance rights over property except for the lucky few who have a stubborn father fighting so for her.
How many village councils allows women to sit? Yours? Mine? I doubt.
We have so many men (and women) talking about the importance of women in decision making. But when the real deal comes, like the time for a state election, we somehow find a reason to back the male candidate over the female and defend ourself by blaming the age, incompetence, inexperience and, sometimes, shamelessly getting personal. Truth is, Naga society is not ready for a woman leader, our folks at home still thinks men should make decisions for women and our mothers nod their head in the shadows. And now, you want to talk about empowerment? Hah!
Okay, I sense some readers leaving the page thinking ‘this writer is so callous’! So let me simply focus on our student unions run by the pillars of tomorrow. In fact, student unions in Delhi.
Naga Student Union Delhi (NSUD) in its 25 years of existence, have seen just ONE female president Thejasenuo Meyase, 2007-2008 tenure. How about the fact that the Tangkhul Student Union Delhi (TKLD), another big student body, has never had a female president?! Is it just me or do you also feel the pattern of dwindling women’s role in directing from student level itself?
My sister, who was also incidentally the 2nd female Vice President for TKLD defends this by saying it’s not cut out for women and too hectic. She presses on, like most naga people I have encountered, that it is not safe for women, it’s inconvenient and all the possible reason under the sun. She is scared I am trying to run for one so she decides to close the curtain with a line that slams me in the face “Remember, you are a woman”.
What I don’t understand is, a whole lot of our people in Delhi thinks like her. They condition women with ‘can’ and ‘cannot’. How will you know if I am capable or not if you don’t give me the chance? (Sorry peeps, I am not an aspiring student union president). A handful of people, including the editor of this magazine, tells me that women are given the opportunity but they don’t come forward. What rubbish!
Think. When a union seeks a presidential candidate, they find men who they ‘consider’ are capable. No questions asked they convince him to stand for the post. Now, these same group of people are saying that women are not coming forward? How about you pick a woman and convince her as you did to him? If a woman really did come forward, she would get the vocal vote and not the actual vote because we all think like my sister, and the mothers and fathers at home, who cast their vote over men, citing the silliest reason they can scrape off their petty little minds.
I know, I am supposed to discuss women empowerment in the Naga society. But how do I talk about empowering women when we have none in the decision making, to voice what they actually want and act upon it? What do I talk about empowerment when the supposed ‘empowering acts’ are coined by men who don’t even know how it feels like to have a menstrual cramp?
What women empowerment am I supposed to talk about when the unions formed by the pillars of tomorrow cannot even voice the need for a woman president! If change cannot start from the student level what can we expect from the seasoned oldsters at home?
What good is talking about empowerment when we cannot even gather a handful of people willing to walk the talk.
(Okay, I am ready for your sticks and stones.)