Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2024 > From Resistance to Representation: The Journey of Women’s Reservation in (...)

Mainstream, Vol 62 No 25, 26, 27, Jun 22, 29 & July 6, 2024 [Bumper issue]

From Resistance to Representation: The Journey of Women’s Reservation in Nagaland | Bomito V Kinimi and K Gireesan

Saturday 22 June 2024


The recent passage of The Nagaland Municipal Bill, 2023 in Nagaland, which provides 33% reservation for women in Urban Local Governments (ULG), signifies a substantial shift in gender perspectives in the state. By ensuring women’s representation in municipal elections, the bill addresses longstanding gender disparities and promotes inclusive governance. Women’s increased visibility and participation in leadership roles can inspire future generations, promoting a more egalitarian and progressive society. Despite not extending reservations to the post of Chairpersons, the bill’s enactment itself is a crucial step forward.

The State Election Commission (SEC) has announced that the elections for three Municipal Councils (Dimapur, Kohima, and Mokokchung) and 36 town councils will be held on 26 June 2024. Elections to these ULGs are happening in the State, after a gap of 20 years (the last elections were held in 2004). In the Municipal Councils, ‘Six of the 19 wards in Kohima, eight out of 23 wards in Dimapur, and six out of 18 wards in Mokokchung have been reserved for women’ (The Hindu, 2024). The uniqueness is that the elections are happening for the first time in the state with a quota for women. In this context, it is significant to analyse the journey of women’s reservation from resistance to secure representation in the ULGs. However, before discussing the legal and social efforts made, an attempt has been made to examine the electoral participation of women in Nagaland.

Electoral Participation of Women

It is known that women play a very active role in public and private spheres in Nagaland. They are very much visible in various civil society movements and socio-cultural activities. By examining the voter turnout in the state since its inception, the voting percentage of women in most of the assembly elections was higher than their male counterparts. Their turnout was registered at 91 percent in the 2013 assembly elections, the highest in the state’s electoral history. Even in 1974, when the lowest voting percentage in the state during the last five decades was recorded, the turnout of women was 77 percent.

The higher turnout of women in the elections could be seen as an indicator of their enhanced participation and active role in the electoral process. It is significant to note that women have contested all the assembly elections in the past, except the first elections in 1964. However, there was a huge gap in the number of women contestants in Nagaland when compared to other states. And at no instance, has the number of women contestants in the assembly elections crossed five. In this context, the victory of two women in the 2023 assembly elections, followed by the provision of reservation of seats for women in ULGs (Municipal Councils and Town Councils) assumes great significance. It is hoped that such measures will bring multiple impacts on the political landscape of Nagaland.

Electoral participation of women in the state of Nagaland is unique in another manner as well. Unlike many other parts of India, the direction of women’s representation in the democratic structures in the state has been very different. Looking into the presence of elected women representatives in democratic structures such as the Parliament, Legislative Assembly, and ULGs, one could find that it has a non-conventional pattern in the state.

In the year 1977, Ms. Rano Mese Shaiza was elected as the Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha), the first elected woman representative from the State. She was a member of the United Democratic Party. However, it took many more decades to the next elected women representative, until the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominated Ms. Phangnon Konyak to the Rajya Sabha in the year 2022. Subsequently, in the elections in 2023, Ms. Hekani Jakhalu and Ms. Salhoutuonuo Kruse were elected as Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA) making a historic entry of women into the State legislature. And, both of them belonged to the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). In the electoral history of the state, the year 2024 will be very significant, where women representatives will be available in all decision-making political structures, from the Parliament to the ULGs, signaling a departure from the past.

Legal and Social Efforts for Women’s Reservation

It is noted that women’s movements are very strong in Nagaland. But ‘in formal politics, they have not been able to do it in the same proportion as they do it in informal politics’ (Ranjan, 2023). And, the struggle for women’s reservation in municipal elections in Nagaland has been marked by significant resistance, including instances of violence and social unrest.

The Nagaland Municipal Act was passed in 2001 without the provision of reservation for women. Reservation of women in seats and positions of Chairpersons in the ULGs was introduced through the First Amendment to the Nagaland Municipal Act in 2006. It generated a lot of excitement among Naga women. However, this amendment faced immediate backlash and opposition from various tribal bodies and organizations such as Naga Hoho which is the apex body representing several Naga tribes; the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organization (ENPO) representing tribes from the eastern part of Nagaland; Ao Senden, Lotha Hoho, Angami Public Organization, and, Sumi Hoho.

The provision of reservation for women was considered by most of the tribal bodies of Nagaland as contrary to the rights granted to them and protected by Article 371(A) of the Constitution. It was highlighted that it would disrupt traditional practices and was viewed as an infringement on the traditional customs. However, in the Village Development Boards (VDB) constituted under section 50 of Nagaland Village and Area Councils Act of 1978, the provision of women’s reservation existed for several decades. It is noted that ‘the number of women members to be included in the Management Committee of the VDB should not be less than one-fourth of the total number of members of the Management Committee of the VDBs’ (GoNL, 1980). According to Ms. Dzuvchu, ‘Reservation is not new to the women of Nagaland. It has been adopted in VDBs, then why is it not being adopted in the Municipality?’ (Jitendra, 2017).

In May 2011, a large delegation of Naga women, including the Naga Mothers Association (NMA), met Mr. Neiphiu Rio, the Chief Minister of Nagaland, and demanded conduct of municipal elections within a month. However, they were advised to approach the court due to strong opposition from the tribal organizations. Supported by the State Women’s Commission and other activists, the women formed a Joint Action Committee, and members of NMA, Ms. Rosemary Dzuvchu, and Ms. Abeiu Meru as petitioners, approached the Guwahati High Court in June 2011. The single bench of the Kohima Branch of the Guwahati High Court ruled in favor of holding elections in October 2011.

The Government of Nagaland appealed to the division bench in Guwahati High Court, citing potential bloodshed and other issues. Subsequently, the High Court set aside the verdict of the single bench on 31 July 2012. The Division Bench directed the State Government to set up a committee to look into the claims of different groups. It also suspended the municipal elections until the committee submits its recommendations.

In May 2012, the announcement to hold elections with the proposed reservation led to violent protests in Mokokchung, one of Nagaland’s major towns. Protesters set fire to government offices and vandalized properties to express their opposition. The violence was attributed to the All Tribal Hoho of Nagaland (ATHN), which spearheaded the agitation.

Despite multiple hearings and continued opposition, the women pursued legal action, eventually approaching the Supreme Court in 2017. In view of the Supreme Court’s order, the State Government decided to conduct municipal elections in February 2017 with 33% reservation for women. This led to widespread protests and violence. Tribal organizations like the Joint Coordination Committee and the Nagaland Tribes Action Committee (NTAC) were at the forefront of these protests. NTAC sent its demands to then Chief Minister, Mr. TR Zeliang, with a deadline for action. Without waiting for the response of the State Government, violent clashes occurred in different parts of the State, including Kohima and Dimapur. ‘Protesters vandalized the offices of Election Commission and deputy Commissioners and set fire to the offices of Kohima Municipal Council, State Information Commission, Urban Development Department, Kohima Press Club, etc.’ (Rutsa, 2017).

The unrest escalated to the point where two people lost their lives in Dimapur during confrontations with the police. The period saw numerous blockades and bandhs (strikes) called by tribal organizations, effectively bringing normal life to a standstill in many parts of Nagaland. These actions were aimed at pressuring the government to roll back the reservation policy.

In April 2022, the State Government submitted before the Supreme Court that it would hold the elections to the ULGs by following the mandatory provision of women’s reservation. This decision was taken by the Neiphiu Rio Government, after holding several rounds of consultations with tribal organizations and tribal collectives. Despite the assurance given to the Supreme Court in April 2022, no progress was made further. On 14 March 2023, the Supreme Court issued another order directing the Government of Nagaland and the SEC to hold the elections to the ULGs. It said that ‘the implementation of the 74th amendment to the constitution was not optional but obligatory’. The SEC submitted to the Supreme Court that it would hold the polls on 16 May 2023. However, the polls had to be cancelled by the SEC on 30 March 2023 as the State Legislative Assembly had repealed the Nagaland Municipality Act of 2001, supporting the stand of the tribal bodies.

Given the appeal filed by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) before the Division Bench on 17 April 2023, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the State Government, and directed the SEC to hold the elections. The Apex Court asked the state counsel that “You seem to say this is not a men and women issue; but to us, it appears to be a men and women issue. For how long will this section of society (women) wait?” (The Wire, 2023).

While hearing the appeal on 25 July 2023, the Supreme Court pulled up the State Government further over non-implementation of the provision. At that time, Nagaland had a coalition government led by the NDPP with the support of the BJP. The Supreme Court remarked that ‘This is a state where education, economic participation and social status of women is one of the best. …. Our concerns are as to why something as simple as giving them at least one-third representation in municipal governance should not be welcomed and action should not be taken on that behalf’ (Nagaland Page, 2023).

The State Government submitted in the Court that they held consultations with the tribal heads of 16 major tribes and seven minor tribes and sought their support to bring in women’s reservation. Subsequently, the State Legislative Assembly passed the Nagaland Municipal Bill on 9 November 2023, which said that ‘not less than one-third of total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Municipal Council / Town Council shall be reserved for women’ (GoNL, 2023). But it cannot be ignored that ‘the Nagaland Municipal Bill of 2023 has done away with the provision of reservation to the post of chairperson to municipal bodies’ (Baruah, 2024).

As per the direction of the Supreme Court, the SEC formulated the schedule for elections to the three Municipal Councils and 36 Town Councils on 27 April 2024. As per the schedule, ‘nominations can be filed during 7-11 June and the last date of withdrawal of candidature will be 20 June. The polls will be conducted on 26 June. If needed, re-polls will be held on 28 June. Counting of votes and declaration of results will be made on 29 June 2024’ (The Hindu, 2024).

There are many reasons behind the resistance in society against women taking leadership roles. Many tribal communities in Nagaland are traditionally patriarchal, where leadership roles and decision-making positions are predominantly held by men. Significantly, it was documented that ‘Although there is no matriarchy among the Nagas, women hold a high and honorable position. They work on equal terms with the men in the fields and make their influence felt in the tribal councils’ (Elwin, 1961). It is reported that “In Naga tribal society, women are said to have enjoyed more freedom of movement and choice than the caste-ridden Hindu women subject to layered socio-religious oppression” (Manchanda and Kakran, 2017).

It is reported that ‘Naga society presents a varied pattern of near-dictatorship and extreme democracy. Along with the system of hereditary chieftainship practised among certain tribes who are very powerful and whose word is law, certain other tribes are so democratic making it difficult to comprehend how their villages held together at all’ (Elwin, 1961). This shows that despite the presence of customary law and practices, democratic practices were prevalent in the Naga society in varied patterns.

The customary laws, which govern many aspects of life in Naga society, generally do not provide adequate space for representation of women in decision-making forums. These laws are deeply ingrained and influential, making changes difficult (Iralu, 2009). These are supported by Article 371(A), which provides special autonomy to Nagaland, allowing the state to preserve its customary laws.

The opponents of women’s reservation argued that the provision of reservation will lead to violation of the customary laws and practices under the constitution. And, the powerful tribal organizations and tribal collectives, which have significant influence over political decisions, were opposed to the reservation. They argued that it would disrupt the traditional and social fabric of Naga society. At the same time, it was argued that ‘Even Nagaland Government did not object when the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 was passed where the 243(T) was inserted requiring reservation of one-third seats for women’ (Jitendra, 2017). However, the state government, facing pressure from the tribal bodies, was hesitant to implement the reservation, leading to delays and legal issues. It has been a long battle for the women of Nagaland and the Joint Action Committee to sustain the pressure on the State Government and other stakeholders until they find a solution. It was reported that ‘the NMA found itself sidelined, with the state’s powerful tribal bodies flexing their authority against it’ (Baruah, 2023).

Representation of Women in Local Governance

Elections to the ULGs in Nagaland, especially with the newly introduced 33% reservation of seats for women, are highly significant in the context of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992. Firstly, the Act sought to decentralize power, bringing governance closer to the people. The upcoming municipal elections in Nagaland uphold this spirit of decentralization by ensuring a more inclusive and representative governance structure at the local level. Secondly, one of the core objectives of the 74th Constitutional Amendment is to enhance the representation and participation of marginalized sections in local governance. The provision for 33% reservation for women will ensure that women have a significant role in the decision-making structures at the local level. Thirdly, the Act insists on the formation and regular elections of municipalities, along with devolution of powers, functions, and responsibilities to them. By holding these elections after a gap of 20 years, along with reservation of seats for women for the first time, Nagaland is fulfilling its constitutional obligation, reinforcing the principles of participatory governance. Lastly, the reservation for women in ULGs is expected to act as a catalyst for broader social change. This will enhance the gender perspectives in local governance with more active involvement and participation of women in decision-making at the local level. It can lead to increased political participation of women, greater attention to issues affecting women and children, and the emergence of women leaders who can bring fresh energy as well as new perspectives to governance and development.

End Note

As the State of Nagaland aligns with the mandatory provisions of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992, it sets a precedent for other regions by demonstrating inclusive governance. Reservation of seats to women is expected to have far-reaching implications, not only by ensuring the representation of women in local governance but also by paving the way for a more responsive administrative structure.

As the state prepares for the elections to the Urban Local Governments in Nagaland ‘with not less than one-third of seats for women’, it signifies the crucial role of women’s participation in building a just and equitable society. The journey from resistance to representation has been quite complicated but the women’s organizations and social activists did not keep their guard down in sustaining the legal and social efforts. This will enable us to revisit the societal norms by providing more space for women in the decision-making process.

It is visualized that the provision of reservation of seats for women will get further extended to the post of Chairpersons in the ULGs in the days ahead. It is hoped that the performance of prospective elected women members of ULGs will result in reviewing the decision about the reservation of the post of Chairpersons. It is expected that such a measure will lead to wider social acceptance of women’s leadership in the decision-making structures in Nagaland through an organic and iterative process rather than by judicial interventions.

(Authors: Bomito V Kinimi, Final Year Student, M.A. (Political Leadership and Government, MIT School of Government, MIT World Peace University, Pune.: Dr. K Gireesan, Professor and Director, MIT School of Government, MIT World Peace University, Pune E-mail ID: gireesan.decentralisation[at]
(Corresponding Author)


  • Elwin, Verrier. (1961). Nagaland, Shillong: Research Department, Adviser’s Secretariat.
  • Govt. of Nagaland (GoNL)(1980). Village Development Boards Model Rules, 1980 (Revised). Kohima: Department of Rural Development.
  • Govt. of Nagaland (GoNL) (2023). The Nagaland Municipal Act, 2023 (Act No. 9 of 2023), Kohima: The Municipal Affairs Department, November, 9.
  • Iralu, Kaka. (2009). The Naga Saga: A Historical Account of the Sixty Two Years of Indo-Naga War and the Story of Those who were never allowed to tell, Kohima.
  • Manchanda, Rita and Kakran, Seema. (2017). Gendered power transformations in India’s Northeast: Peace politics in Nagaland, Cultural Dynamics, Vol. 29(1-2), p.67. DOI: 10.1177/0921374017709232
ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.