Wish St. Mother Teresa was in politics…

Misogyny in political life is not uncommon across the world. Whenever women have raised their voices, fought for democratic elections as contestants, opponents and as ruling candidates, they have faced brutal opposition. In the wake of recent power politics which fuelled mob violence in Nagaland and disruption of public life in Kohima and Dimapur areas for a very long time, women’s agency within traditional, political, social and cultural institutions are gradually shrinking. In a world where most prominent woman leaders were judged on value driven grounds in case of Myanmar’s Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, American Democrat Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton, Former Brazilian President Dimla Rousseff, Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Pakistan’s Former Prime Minister Late Benazir Bhutto, Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Former Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and current Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, German Chancellor Excellency Angela Merkel and back in our country Former Indian Prime Minister Late Smti. Indira Gandhi, Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Late Smti. J. Jayalalitha, Former U.P. Chief Minister Smti. Mayawati, Honourable Chief Minister of West Bengal Smti. Mamata Banerji and President of Indian National Congress Smti. Sonia Gandhi faced tremendous political hatred while in power and also as leaders of opposition. Even the women leaders of the current ruling party of India Honourable Minister of External Affairs Smti. Sushma Swaraj and Honourable Minister of Textiles Smti. Smriti Zubin Irani had to face political angularity as women in politics. All these women have shown their community commitments and political grit equally as any other male counterpart who held any political position. Women are valorised in the legends of Joan of Arc and Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi when the discourse on women’s history is reflected upon. All those women who were voters, political allies, supporters of opposition candidates, stood as human shields during serious incidents of conflict have been strategically missed in the political trajectory of nations and sub-nations and also within the post-colonial understanding of territories.

Women can either be worshipped like Saints and Goddesses or they can be enslaved as mere objects of political practice. In the predominantly patriarchal societies across the intersections of ethnicity, language, religion, caste, class and gender, woman have been either projected as a last resort or they are protectively excluded from the epicentre of political power. Women fought for equal right to vote in 1928 during the pre-colonial times and resurgence of such struggles seems to be re-imagining the politically fragile dynamics of Nagaland after nine decades. Women in Nagaland are getting strangled between political misogyny, tribal assertion, culture of engineered silence and chauvinistic interpretation of customary codes. Any woman in public life is judged in public space which is rejected vehemently by the protective consciousness of masculine identities predominantly affecting men in particular and male headed organisations in general within Nagaland. During the course of my work in Nagaland, I have come across village council leaders in remote villages saying, “We do not allow women to take up political leadership as that is our role. It is very sad that other states are giving such roles to women.” After the post-conflict era, where men had the major role in protecting the community, politics became the new game of war which defined and designed destinies of not only individuals but also entire clans. For Naga men it became a morally conscious norm to protect women from any such bloodless conflicts which could jeopardise power balance and negotiate for territoriality. Men in Nagaland have enjoyed the natural privileges of gender stereotypes from ancestral times. Hence men within families and male institutions within political, cultural and social institutions define the terms for women in Nagaland under the pretext of tribal view of life and core commitment to Naga identity. Again masculinity in Naga society across all the tribes is based on enduring acute hardship, hand craft skills, physical agility and power of influence, money and strength. In Nagaland men are not born but they become men with the expectations of the Naga society to fulfil their lost aspirations. The misguided misogyny which led to women’s unequal power relations and loss of lives during protests against the authorities very recently in the first week of February cannot be representative of the entire Naga society. I have met progressive village council leaders in Chakhesang villages who have included women in the village council since 1999-2000. I also met the first woman pastor of the Chakhesang community and women leaders who have been part of village development boards. In fact the women society of one of the Chakhesang villages has been able to buy common land to build their common unit as a centre for the women society. Naga women have been resilient to their male counterparts throughout their lives through both productive and reproductive labour. Men in the commune have to abide by certain collective codes. But individually there are many progressive men who believe in equal power and resource sharing for the women within the Naga society.

Women’s political representation has been an undying struggle all across the country including the North Eastern states. Mob violence and politically polarised outbursts cannot exclude Naga women from public spaces, political assertion and ecological ecosystems which define their existence. During the uncertainty of consistent closures and collapse of essential services, some of my Naga women friends were stranded in Guwahati. In spite of such violence and unrest they were concerned about the community as a whole not just the women. They were having a sense of reassurance that if they reach Dimapur also even if there is curfew and closure; they can negotiate for safe passage to their respective villages. Naga women have always walked along with the Naga men and most of the times always healed them along the way and led them to peace and prosperity. Now the world is waiting to see the Naga men to do the needful to ensure that they shed off misogyny and value their women as equal citizens with equal rights in all private, public and political contours of Naga society. Wonder how many women will have to become saints to live in an equitable society? Wish St. Mother Teresa was a political leader to convince the world about women’s emancipation through politics as well.

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Samhita Barooah Written by:

Samhita Barooah has worked with communities of women across North East India, trained professionally as a social work practitioner and currently pursuing her doctoral studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati Campus, Assam. She likes writing non-fiction and travels often to rural pockets of North East India.

One Comment

  1. Nicholas Khyriem
    February 15, 2017
    Reply

    Yes indeed wish Mother Teresa was in politics. However, I doubt whether it would have made any difference to Nagaland in the present context. This is the time when Women leaders in Nagaland need to stand-in for their right to equality (provided they believe in it). Then this point in time will be marked as a beginning of the Change.

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