The only place where you won’t find a Nagaland woman is the Assembly.

In Nagaland, you will find women running commercial establishments, teaching in university, campaigning against alcohol abuse and toiling on terraced farms. You will even spot them sporting hard hats and shovelling gravel next to a road-roller repairing roads. The only place where you won’t find a woman is the State Assembly.

Poignant reminder

On International Women’s Day, it is a poignant reminder of how women are still struggling to gain a toehold in the State’s political arena. Not a single woman has been elected to the Assembly in the State’s nearly 50-year-old history. In the just-concluded elections, there were two women contestants but both of them lost.  The only occasion when Nagaland elected a woman legislator was during the 1977 Lok Sabha elections in which Rano M. Shaiza won the sole seat from the State. She was a candidate of the United Democratic Front, a forerunner of the present ruling party, the Naga People’s Front.

Speaking to The Hindu in Kohima recently, Ms. Shaiza recalled her experiences in Parliament, the one occasion when she made a 12-minute speech on the atrocities Naga people suffered at the hands of the Army deployed in the State to crush the militant movement for a separate State, and her disappointment at failing to get re-elected.

 “When I was elected to the Lok Sabha, I did not even know the power I was entitled to,” she said, adding she learnt her responsibilities gradually. It began with her offering a letter of support to the Janata Party government as independent MP.

 The high point was a meeting she facilitated between Prime Minister Morarji Desai and A.Z. Phizo, father of the movement for an independent Nagaland, who was in exile in London at that time.

 “He was my maternal uncle, so I managed to get in touch with him and get him to meet Morarji Desai. Both were extraordinary characters,” Ms. Shazia said, refusing to comment on the contentious versions of what transpired at the meeting.

 While the absence of women in Nagaland politics is generally attributed to mainstream parties not viewing them as serious candidates, Ms. Shazia pointed out that her entry into politics happened at a time of a vacuum — “when the menfolk had either been taken away for questioning or had gone underground.”  

Keywords: women's rights