Fighting against all odds, Rosemary Dzuvichu is fervently working towards a rightful place in politics for women in Nagaland

Rosemary Dzuvichu, 50, wears many hats with élan. She is advisor to the Naga Mothers Association (NMA), an apex body of women in the State; teaches literature at Nagaland University; and is actively involved with organisations working on human rights and political empowerment. Earlier, this single mother of three became the first woman general secretary of the Lhisema Khel Council, a local administrative body, and she has even had a successful stint as president of the Kohima District Mahila Congress, which drafted its first-ever party manifesto on women during her tenure.

In a State ravaged by violence and where women traditionally do not enjoy equal status with men, Ms. Dzuvichu has not only managed to create an independent identity for herself, she is also fighting for the rights of others. Through the NMA, she is fervently working towards implementing the 33 per cent reservation for women in local governing bodies and the Assembly, even though the move has been opposed by various tribal apex bodies.

Being politically active and speaking up for thousands of voiceless Naga women is something Ms. Dzuvichu has learnt from the women in her family. Although she grew up in a secure environment, enjoying Hans Andersen's fairy tales and local folk stories as well as writing poetry, she was well aware of the turmoil around her. Living a few metres away from an Army camp in Kohima, firing between the armed forces and underground Naga groups was a part of everyday life. With everyone from her grandmother to her mother involved in the political uprising, it was hard not to get involved. “During those peak years of militancy during the 1950s and 1960s, the Naga movement for sovereignty and self determination was very strong. Any non-sympathiser was instantly ostracised,” she recalls. “State oppression” left a “deep imprint” on youngsters like her, who grew up harbouring feelings of alienation. Even today, she has reservations about interacting with Army personnel.

An early influence on her life was her grandmother Zeliezhu, who was one of the first women leaders of the underground Naga National Council (NNC). In later years, her mother, Alhouu Albina made sure to talk to the children about Zeliezhu’s tough character and staunch beliefs. Her mother was her other idol. “I learnt a lot from her. She was the first woman member of the local council and the Naga People's Front (NPF) party,” says Ms. Dzuvichu.

While the resistance movement influenced her early life — her father led a number of operations against the Army as the then secretary to General Thongti of the NNC, once the underground movement leaders decided to directly engage in talks after the Indo-Naga war of the 1950s, it was peace-time activities like going to church and doing social service that marked people’s lives. Politics, however, did not take a backseat even then for Ms. Dzuvichu, as the family home continued to be frequented by powerful Naga leaders like A.Z. Phizo, NNC’s founder leader, and others.

Despite the freedom she enjoyed in her own home, Ms. Dzuvichu realised very early in life that traditional Naga society expected women to tow the line and play second fiddle to the men. She belonged to the upper strata of society, got the best of education and was given the option to choose her own career, but she was also constantly reminded about behaving like a typical Naga girl, “which meant washing our brother's clothes, cooking, weaving and respecting all the elders”.

Political and social activism stayed with her even after marriage and motherhood. Eventually her 11-year-old marriage broke down as she refused to give up her work to become the perfect wife. “It was my traumatic divorce that taught me to stand up for women's rights and speak for those who dare not talk about their problems,” she says.

After she filed for divorce, she faced many challenges — she was called names, discriminated against and even banished for a while from polite society. But today she seems to have overcome those odds and has emerged as a prominent women's rights activist. “I know I could not have managed to do half the things I have done, had I still been married,” she says.

Last year, Ms. Dzuvichu’s team, under the aegis of the NMA, filed a writ petition at the Kohima Bench of the Gauhati High Court, urging the court to direct the State government, State Election Commission and Urban Commissioner to immediately hold elections for municipal and town councils throughout Nagaland with a third of the seats being reserved for women in accordance with Article 243 T (3) of the Constitution of India and Section 23A of the Nagaland Municipal (First Amendment) Act, 2006.

They also hoped the step would overturn the cabinet's decision to indefinitely postpone the elections of the municipal councils and town councils, which were originally scheduled for January-February 2010.

In October 2011, Justices Goswami and Indira Shah directed the State Election Commission to hold civic polls on or before January 2012 pronouncing that “the reasons cited in the cabinet decision does not amount to exceptional circumstances for postponement of election and cannot be sustained”.

Objecting to this judgment, State officials subsequently filed an affidavit and petitioned for an extension to implement the court order. Citing the memorandum received from tribal apex bodies such as the Naga Hoho and the Eastern Nagaland People's Organization, which objected to the move, the State maintained that if elections were held — and if women were to contest — it would not only lead to severe law and order problems but would also disturb the ongoing peace process between the government and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

While Ms. Dzuvichu and her team are disappointed at the outcome, they maintain that traditional tribal bodies are like all-male clubs where women are deliberately kept out to ensure that they have no real say in their social and political environment. For now, she is willing to be the lone female participant at meetings that deliberate on the peace process in the state. (Women’s Feature Service)