The Big Picture – Understanding Nagaland Crisis

  • March 10, 2017
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The Big Picture- RSTV
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Understanding Nagaland Crisis



General Studies 1

  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism
  • Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India

General Studies 2

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

The protests began in Nagaland, which led to arson and violence, when Naga groups came out against ULB elections which were held on February 1. The elections provided for 33% reservation of women in ULBs which according to protesting Naga groups is against their constitutional right under Article 371A. Though the government declared polls null and void, the protestors continued their violence with demand of removal of CM.


Legislature in force

  • The Nagaland Assembly passed for 33% reservation in 2001 but no government had the courage to implement it. Also, since 2004, the ULBs polls have not been organised.
  • In 2015, Naga Mother’s Association along with other organisations filed a petition in SC for implementation of legislative decision.
  • This is the reason by the incumbent government decided to implement the act.


  • North East tribal society is traditionally a very strong society as they enjoy supremacy in their own areas and no one can question their actions and laws.
  • Democracy also has its roots in tribal areas with village boards at village levels. These Village Boards are very effective and the Village Chief enjoyed excellent rapport with the society.
  • Now it is the phase of transition from male dominated to open society. Socially, the societies are open where women are concerned as they are allowed to participate everywhere. But there still exists conservatism when it is about coming to public life.
  • They don’t want the women to look powerful by taking administrative and top positions. Thus, women have been not visible in political sphere.
  • Historically, in 1950s, Phizo organised ‘plebiscite’ in Nagaland. Even then the women were not allowed to vote.
  • But in that matter, not only Nagaland or North east, but entire India has a male dominated society and psychology which thinks that women are not legible and eligible to be a part of political and administrative top positions for their lack of required field wisdom.


  • Nagaland is a special state under Article 371 A.
  • It gives them special status to safeguard their traditional laws and according to their tradition, women are not allowed at administrative posts.

An MoU was signed by home minister of Nagaland and the Naga Civic Society on 30th January to postpone polls for two months. Here the Baptist church intervened and tried to bring both parties at truce. However, the next day the CM of Nagaland – T.R.Zeliang announced that ULB polls will be conducted as scheduled. With these contradictions, the legislators and the agitators came to loggerheads with each other, leading to violence in Kohima and Dimapur.

The debate

  • The argument against such reservation quota that it goes against the customary laws of Naga is not true. The traditional laws don’t forbid women to take part in political life. It is more of a question of interpretation.
  • In opinion of Naga Ho Ho, the front group in agitation, they don’t require such reservation as the Naga tribes treat everyone on equal grounds.
  • But if that was the case, the reality is very different as there has been no Naga women legislator till now in State legislative Assembly.
  • In 2001, the state legislature in its wisdom passed a law giving 33% reservation to women in local bodies. After having a law of land, it cannot be taken away because it is contrary to customary laws. The law was prepared by the elected representatives of the people so legal process has to be honoured.
  • At the same time, the reservation issue has become a social and law and order problem which has to be dealt by the state at the earliest.
  • Women barred from contesting in elections is unacceptable in this age because customary rights unless it is designed and developed by law, doesn’t become a legal right.
  • Legally and constitutionally the government did the right job by scheduling the elections but now it is under pressure to whether have such polls in future or not.
  • Also, the government of India has no role to play here as it is a state based issue. It only has to provide adequate forces and preparedness to prevent and tackle any untoward incident.

What next?

The most convenient option for the state and the naga society is to renegotiate the law. Both sides are claiming constitutional and legal rights to assert their position. There should now be transparency in terms of negotiating the position in election and made sure that it doesn’t escalate to violent position. It is in the context that since January it was known that certain groups are trying to boycott the polls, yet Nagaland government couldn’t handle the negotiation process. The MHA was also caught on backfoot when situation went out of hand.

It has to be understood that negotiation is not one stop business. It has to be kept on going till a consensus is reached. However, negotiation is neither an infinite process too. The state governments are negotiating with some underground groups for last 40 years and yet no common grounds have surfaced.  Thus, there has to be a point when the deal has to be sealed.

Mizoram is a good example of negotiations and development. It also has its customary laws but they have been changing for good over a period of time.

Finally, when it comes to giving the women their rights, there cannot be two standards of equality. There is no sense in calling a society an equal society when the women have freedom compared to other societies to work and educate but not when it comes to leadership. Either there is equality or there is not.

Connecting the dots:

  • The altercation between legal rights and customary laws have been surfaced once again in Indian polity. Critically analyse the importance of the two and way forward by citing suitable example.

Related article:

The fight against traditions- Nagaland women reservation

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