Levelling the playing field

Imlisanen Jamir

The recent elections in Nagaland saw two women being elected to the legislative assembly, making it a historic moment for the state. However, even as the state celebrates this achievement, there is opposition to the upcoming elections for the Urban Local Bodies (ULB) on May 16.

The opposition is primarily due to clauses regarding reservation of 33 percent of seats for women in the ULBs and tax on lands and buildings within urban jurisdiction. On the former though, it is ironic that while the state celebrates the achievement of women in the legislative assembly, there is opposition to women’s reservation in the ULBs.

Opposition to reservation for women cannot be justified by the argument that women have been elected to the legislative assembly without any reservation based on gender. This argument fails to recognize the structural barriers that women face in entering politics. The patriarchal nature of society often puts women at a disadvantage in politics, making it harder for them to gain entry to the political sphere.

Reservation and equal opportunity are both important in ensuring that marginalized and underrepresented groups have fair access to opportunities and resources. While equal opportunity aims to provide a level playing field for all individuals, irrespective of their background, reservation is a policy measure that provides a targeted approach to address historical and systemic discrimination.

Despite the ideal of equal opportunity, many marginalized groups continue to face barriers that prevent them from accessing opportunities. Reservation acknowledges that equal opportunity alone may not be sufficient to address historical and systemic discrimination. Reservation policies aim to provide targeted support to individuals who have been excluded or underrepresented in the past. It is a way to ensure that individuals from marginalized groups have access to opportunities that they may not have had otherwise.

Naga society has always been exclusionary to women in terms of decision making. The role of women in decision-making has been limited to their homes and families, with little to no say in the affairs of the community or the state. It is essential to ensure that women have equal representation in political spaces.

Opposition to women’s reservation in the ULBs is not a new phenomenon. The last attempt to hold elections in February 2017 was met with violent protests from Naga tribal organizations, forcing the state government to retract the decision. The protests resulted in two deaths, arson on government property, and an arbitrary shutdown of the entire state that lasted half a month. The organisations opposing the ULB polls this time around have minced no words in reminding these incidents of the past.

The ULBs meanwhile play a crucial role in the development of towns in the state. Without elected representatives since 2010, the Municipal Councils have failed to meet a crucial criterion to be eligible for funding from the Central government. This delay has had a telling impact on the funding for the ULBs, affecting their ability to provide basic amenities to the citizens. Holding the ULB elections is essential to ensure that the municipalities receive the funding they require for development.

Comments can be sent to imlisanenjamir@gmail.com