When it comes to public policies on Violence Against Women in Nagaland, mum’s the word.
At a recent program titled ‘The Big Picture—Policy Matters’ held in Dimapur on February 17, representatives of political parties, all male, were asked about specific plans they may have to address the increasing cases of Violence Against Women (VAW) in Nagaland. They were also asked for plans to include women in policy making bodies at all levels.
None of the representatives—from BJP, INC, NDPP, NPF and NPP—touched the issue of VAW. Instead, each reiterated their keenness to ‘empower’ women even though none of them had sent a woman to represent their party. The Congress talked about 33% reservation of women in decision making bodies, the BJP hinted at its central schemes targeting women and children, the NPF noted the 25% reservation for women in Village Development Boards (VDBs), the NDPP expressed focus on gender equality and the NPP stressed on gender equity. Both NPF and NPP maintained that a consensus needs to be drawn on the issue of representation for women given the realities of patriarchy in Naga society.
The reality of patriarchy in Nagaland is that policy matters have never laid focus on patriarchy in Naga society. The 25% ‘reservation for women’ in VDBs, for instance, often turns to reservation of funds for women, as opposed to having a woman at the development board meeting to be a part of gender sensitive policy decisions in a village. As a result, marketing sheds get made but no toilets are made for the women who use these sheds located on national highways.
In another scenario, political parties promising ‘gender equality’ do not even bother to live up to their word by fielding equal number of women candidates! 33% reservation for women is pushed mostly because town and municipal councils are not getting funds without this.
The reality of patriarchy in Nagaland is that the consensus needed to bring women into policy making could take a very long time. In the meantime, the male legislators, bureaucrats, chairpersons, gaon buras, presidents and all such political representatives refuse to acknowledge that Violence Against Women is on the rise in Naga society without many corresponding steps to safeguard and secure the unrepresented gender.
Reports from the Nagaland State Resource Centre for Women, the Nagaland State Commission for Women, Women Helpline (181), Nagaland State Legal Services Authority and even the Nagaland police have suggested that cases of VAW are becoming a trend. However, taboo around VAW in Naga society seals the deal—when cases of, say, domestic violence against women happen, men certainly do not think it important enough to discuss but women also report it (to family and customary courts) when abuse becomes extreme; very few call the women’s helpline or take it to the sluggish formal justice system. This indicates how vulnerable and powerless women remain to date.
On the night of February 17, seven young men of a village blindfolded and beat up three women with sticks for allegedly endorsing a rival election candidate. This was not reported to the police by the village authority or concerned citizens. An FIR was lodged by a political party as the incident hurt their interest, and a hushed police complaint was made by relatives of the victims; the police had to go to the village next morning to bring the women for treatment to a hospital.
If women don’t make it to decision making bodies for the next 10 years because there is no consensus on how to do this, will women continue to live in a hostile environment without any means and measures to secure their life and liberty? Have political parties, also dominated by male decision takers, even thought of how to create a safe environment for other genders?
In Nagaland’s political scape, women have become buzz words and stepping stones to political power. Hypocrisy, insensitivity and ignorance define political manifestos and speeches around gender questions. But as long as patriarchy defines these manifestos instead of human rights and justice, the road to gender justice will remain a silent journey strewn with thorns.