Presently, the world is at a pivotal moment, with gender equality at the forefront. From workplaces to homes — women-led movements are advancing an agenda focused on increasing equality and dismantling archaic gender norms. The Constitution of India in 1952 enforced “…to secure to all its citizens justice, social, economic and political” and “equality of status and of opportunity” (The Constitution of India). Women’s active participation in electoral competitions is a valid indicator of the efficacious growth of democracy in any country of the world today (Rai, 2011). It can be defined as, “a citizen’s active involvement with public institutions, including voting, candidacy, campaigning, occupying political office and/or lobbying individually or through membership in a group” (Rai, 2011). The active participation of women, on equal terms with men, at all levels of decision-making acts as an indicator of equality while also including diverse perspectives and experiences.
This article seeks to trace the path of women’s political participation in Nagaland using the LokDhaba: Indian Elections Dataset. Women in the Indian state of Nagaland, perform better on metrics of literacy, and workforce participation in comparison to national averages (Laveesh, 2009). Additionally, they wield significant power in civil society through various women’s rights organisations. Despite this, these statistics about gender equality do not translate into political empowerment for women.
Women Candidates Contesting in Assembly Elections
Figure 1 Source: Lok Dhaba, Trivedi Centre for Political Data
Data from the LokDhaba Dataset revealed a total of only 21 women contested in the assembly elections since 1964. Despite women contesting for the assembly elections since the State’s formation, no woman MLA has ever set foot in the 60-member assembly, and only one woman, Rano M Shaiza, became an MP, dating back to 1977.
The assembly elections of 2018 saw the highest participation of women in the State’s history. But the number of women contesting stood at a dismal five out of 196 candidates. The recurring low numbers can be attributed to the traditional customs that predominate many aspects of Nagaland’s society. Traditional law demarcates gender roles and divides responsibilities. Women are relegated to domestic matters, while men deal with matters of governance (PTI, 2019). This is one of the reasons which discourages women from participating in governance.
Political Parties and Women’s Representation
Figure 2 Source: Lok Dhaba, Trivedi Centre for Political Data
The number of tickets given to female candidates by various political parties from 1964 up until 2018 can be depicted in percentage terms from the above chart. 47.7% of women candidates chose to run as independents. The ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) and Congress failed to field women candidates. Hollow political manifestos highlight measures to improve women’s political participation, but provide no seats to female candidates for the same. Women in the state are forced to run as independent candidates due to the lack of support from political parties.
This trend can be observed from 1964, and in the twelve assembly elections that have taken place in Nagaland so far, political parties have given tickets to only eight women. The only exception dates back to 1977 when Rano Shaiza was elected as the Lok Sabha MP as the United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate. By running as independents, women are offering an alternative to voters that are jaded by traditional two-party political systems. This could potentially build a better future for the state.
Female Candidates and Forfeiture of Deposits
The chart below illustrates the number of deposits lost by female candidates contesting from 1964 till 2018.
Figure 3 Source: Lok Dhaba, Trivedi Centre for Political Data
The rule states that candidates who receive less than one-sixth (16.7%) of the vote-share must forfeit the security deposit, which is Rs 10,000 for general candidates and Rs 5,000 for SC/ST candidates in assembly elections. Among the 21 women candidates who have contested assembly elections since the State’s formation, 13 have lost their deposits. Additionally, none have ever won. The assembly elections of 2018 had five women of the 196 candidates. However, three of the five women candidates ended up losing their deposits as they received less than one-sixth of the vote share in their constituencies. Losing security deposits is used as an excuse by political parties to field fewer women candidates, which further reduces their political opportunities. Forfeiture of security deposits, a study by CDE Melbourne shows how forfeiture of the required security deposit makes women drop out of the political arena (Khalil, 2022). The study also found that forfeiture of security deposits reduces the chances of a woman re-contesting elections by 60%. For men, on the other hand, there was no such correlation (Khalil, 2022).
Hierarchy and Political Inaction
Women’s entry into politics has been inhibited by traditional laws which dominate much of Nagaland society. Tribal customary laws of Nagaland are protected under Article 371(A) of the constitution (PTI, 2019). Women are not part of governing bodies as per these laws. While women in Nagaland have been absent from electoral politics, joining a political party is not the only way to make meaningful changes and take part in politics. Naga women’s political consciousness has been historically fostered by women’s organisations and the Naga Mothers’ Association which have shaped their political skills, and competencies (Parashar, 2018). Despite the constitutional promulgation in 1952, women in the Indian subcontinent have a long way before they achieve gender equality politically and socio-economically.
About the Author
Simran Sharma is an undergraduate at Ashoka University and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in Economics and Political Science.
I thank Poulomi Ghosh from the Trivedi Centre for Political Data for her feedback and suggestions.
Khalil, Umair. “What Stops Women Entering Politics?” Impact: Monash Business, May 3, 2022. https://impact.monash.edu/diversity/female-candidates-stymied-entering-politics/.
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Parashar, Utpal. “Nagaland Has Never Elected a Woman to Its Assembly and Chances Look Slim Again This Election.” Hindustan Times, February 9, 2018. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/nagaland-has-never-elected-a-woman-to-its-assembly-and-chances-look-slim-again-this-election/story-knTb4CuaialdhgbNTIyAhM.html.
PTI. A snapshot of Article 371. The Hindu, August 5, 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/a-snapshot-on-article-371-that-accords-special-provisions-to-states-in-northeast/article28825174.ece.
Rai, Praveen. “Electoral Participation of Women in India.” JSTOR, 2011. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27918039.
The Constitution of India [India], 26 January 1950, doi: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b5e20.html
This article belongs to the author and is independent of the views of the Centre.