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Woman to be ordained, but not to be made priest

Aizawl, February 20 (PTI): The Baptist Church of Mizoram, the second largest church denomination, has cleared the decks for ordination of an eminent woman theologian, but she will not be made a parish priest which is not surprising as the state is a strict patriarchal society where full gender parity in political and religious fields still seems to be a far cry.
Though the Executive Committee of the Assembly of the Baptist Church has finally agreed to ordain Dr R L Hnuni, scholar of the Bible's Old Testament and Principal of Academy of Integrated Christian Studies in Aizawl, church leaders clarified that she might not look after a pastoral.
"Hnuni will be ordained on March 11 at the Assembly of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, the highest decision-maker of the church in Lunglei after which she would have the title of reverend and become a church minister," a church leader says.
But the prominent theologian might not be given the task of maintaining an independent pastoral of her own like her male counterparts, he adds.
Earlier last year, the Executive Committee of the church's Assembly rejected the recommendations of the Pastoral Committee to ordain Hnuni, but finally accepted the second recommendation in January this year.
The Mizoram Synod of the Presbyterian Church of India, the largest church denomination in the state also is yet to agree to ordination of women as priests and church elders though the church employs many women theologians in different capacities.
More than 40 years ago, Saptawni, wife of Rev Liangkhaia a prominent Presbyterian priest, was elected by the congregation of the Mission Veng local church as a church elder, but the Synod refused to ordain her because she was a woman.
Receiving clear signals from the unbending church authorities, Saptawni not only was the first woman to be elected as a church elder of the Presbyterian Church, but also the last.
Even for the Baptist Church, which is apparently more liberal about ordination of women as priests and which has some women ordained as church elders, the strong patriarchal psyche continues to haunt.
The Presbyterian Church, during 1970-80, even set a standard height for priests who had to be at least five feet and four inches tall, apparently to be able to tower over churchgoers from the pulpit.
Women also faced gender disparity in the political field, says Prof Lalneihzovi of the Mizoram University.
"The best time for Mizo women in politics was during 1972 to 1987 when Mizoram was a union territory," Lalneihzovi says, adding that representation of women in the 30-member Mizoram assembly during the period was 6.06 per cent.
Mizoram, when it was a union territory, had two women legislators between 1978 and 1984 with one of them being a nominated member.
Lalhlimpuii, the lone woman legislator in the first assembly after Mizoram attained full-fledged statehood in 1987, was the first woman minister in the cabinet of then chief minister Laldenga, who led the first Mizo National Front (MNF) government.
She was not only the first Mizo woman minister but also the only one till date since no woman has ever set foot again in the state legislature till date.
No Mizo woman has become member of parliament even as Mizoram has one member in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha for four decades.
Lalneihzovi laments that even in the lower local bodies like the village councils, the representation of women is hardly two per cent even as women outnumber men in voters' lists.
A woman councillor of the Aizawl Municipal Council (AMC) says that unless women reservation is in place like the 33 per cent in the 19-member AMC, the place of a Mizo woman would always be confined to the kitchen and home in this strict patriarchal society.
According to Lalneihzovi, though women dominate shops, markets and workplaces, even meat-shops, especially in Aizawl, they still remain a minority not only in religious and political sectors, but also in the government service.
"Women constitute only 23.61 per cent of the service sector under the government," she says adding that there were only 579 female group 'A' officials as against 2,369 male group 'A' officials under the state government.

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