The mother of all peace efforts
The Nagaland Mother’s Association or NMA is a testimony to the fact that if women come together, nothing is beyond the scope of their abilities. The NMA has battled social evils, stigmas and prejudices in the last three decades. Negotiating and dealing with the government and the insurgents is a day’s work for them, says an appreciative Rani Pathak Das.
They like to be identified as mothers. Indeed, motherhood is symbolic of respect, strength, patience, love, courage and care. However, apart from these qualities of a mother, they have emerged as matchless in the role they have been playing as emissaries of peace, their continuous fight against social evils, and the struggle for gender equality in Nagaland—a state torn by decades of conflict, militarisation and deep yearning for peace in India’s Northeast. From challenging the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS patients in the early 1990s, to being the only women’s group in South Asia which has mediated between the Government of India and the insurgent outfit NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isak Muivah faction) and facilitated a ceasefire negotiation in 1997—the Naga Mother’s Association (NMA) has assumed enormous significance in the social and political dynamics of Nagaland.
Born to tackle social evils
The NMA was formed on 14 February 1984 to fight the social evil of drug and alcohol addiction that had brought a lot of ruin since the late 1970s, breaking up families and causing much street violence and theft. Under the leadership of Padmashree Neidonuo Angami, several women, mostly mothers, met a number of times to discuss how to cope with the challenges faced by the Naga society. They felt that the mother at home suffers most and understands well the extent of such damage to the social fabric, and decided to form a common platform for mothers – a state-level body to combat violence and the resultant social evils. One might question why it is a “mother’s” association instead of being a women’s association. Well, motherhood is a respected and an accepted space of protest, and women’s activism for peace in Northeast India has utilised the idea to build solidarity and peace.
NMA’s inclusive approach has claimed attention of the government as well as the insurgents. In an interview with this writer on 10 January 2015, Rosemary Dzuvichu, NMA leader and teacher at Nagaland University said, “For the government, NMA is an important organisation both socially and officially. We have been always invited by the government to discuss on topics of social reform, conflict, health and development issues. They cannot just ignore NMA.” She said that the insurgents, too, regard NMA with high respect. “On many occasions, the insurgents have sought NMA’s help to bring a situation under control.” However, when the issue of justice to women is raised, the rebels have confrontations with NMA, she rued.
|Padmashree Neidonuo Angami, one of the founders of NMA
In September 1991, NMA members visited the HIV affected prisoners in Manipur jail. Food was thrown at them instead of being served to them because of the stigma related to the disease, and the NMA members were the first to go near them and shake hands with them. The group has carried on its mission by rehabilitating drug addicts, testing pregnant women for HIV, and addressing various other health issues mainly faced by women and children. The decades of the 1980s and the 1990s witnessed how the Mother’s group addressed the violence in Nagaland by risking their own lives—be it the atrocities by the Indian army against insurgents and civilians, or fratricidal killings between various factions of Naga insurgent groups. The NMA raised voice against killings both by the army as well as by the insurgents.
Evolution of NMA
The launch of Shed No More Blood campaign and the formation of the Peace Team in October 1994 to tackle the deteriorating political situation was a remarkable achievement by NMA. The NMA members came out to meet the underground militant groups and made them share the pain and grief of the Naga mothers. Every year, on 12 May, the NMA celebrates Mother’s Day and renews its appeal for peace. The organisation has been able to collaborate with most of the Naga women’s organisations including the Naga Women’s Union of Manipur, with whom NMA shared the Times of India Social Impact Award for life contribution for 2013.
The NMA has showed sincere commitment in their effort at peace making and participated in all kinds of community dialogues on peace within and outside the region. They initiated the Journey of Peace, a people-to-people dialogue, in 2000. About 70 Naga people travelled to New Delhi to meet civil society groups, officials and other people in Delhi. According to them, peace negotiations must not be confined to the insurgent leaders and the government representatives; people’s involvement in such negotiations is a necessity. In 2001, they went to Sri Lanka to urge peace in that country. In the same year, they trekked to Myanmar to make peace between the two factions of the NSCN—the Isak Muivah and the Khaplang. Their urge for peace was also heard in their deliberations at the United Nations. It was a great gesture on their part, when in 1997, NMA worked side by side with the government, and organised coffins and burial grounds for those who died in the conflict. In 2010, NMA president and a founder leader of the organisation, Abeiu Meru, and NMA adviser Rosemary Dzuvichu, helped calm a very tense situation in Nagaland. When for eight days villagers refused to claim the bodies of two young Nagas who were killed by the army at Mao town, the two women dared to push through security cordons, shroud the bodies and bring them back for the funeral.
From 1984 to 1992, Neidonuo Angami served as the general secretary of NMA and later went on to become its president for two consecutive terms. Sano Vamuzo, another founder member of NMA is now in her 80s and is an active adviser to the group. Membership of NMA is open to all adult Naga women irrespective of whether she is married or single. The members can join through the women’s groups of their respective tribes. Leaders are selected from the nominated members of the different Naga tribes.
The NMA has been consistently putting its effort to maintain peace while reaching for a sustainable solution of the long drawn Naga political problem. They have been trying to open up channels of communication and reconciliation based on politics of inclusion. This, according to them will not only protect the dignity and historical rights of the Naga people, but will also ensure gender justice in keeping with the International Conventions and Resolutions of the United Nations Security Council with regard to accountability for crimes against women. A longstanding demand of the NMA has been the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Nagaland, Manipur and other parts of the Northeast and Kashmir.
Over the years, NMA has expanded its areas of activities depending on what the situation necessitates. Since June 2011, members of NMA have something new on their agenda - to fight for gender justice and participation of women in electoral politics. The Joint Action Committee on Women’s Reservation (JACWR) was formed by Naga women’s organisations of all tribes following the failure of the state government to hold the long overdue municipal elections and implement 33 percent women reservation as per the Nagaland Municipal Act First Amendment, 2006. A writ petition was filed by the NMA in the Kohima Bench of Gauhati High Court on these issues. However, the court decided to await the decision of the Select Committee of the Nagaland Assembly on the matter.
Fighting for women’s rights
The Naga society is highly patriarchal and the traditional administrative and judicial system has been following the customary laws that are age old and unwritten. While the state comes under Article 371A of the Constitution that says no Act of Parliament in respect of Naga customary law and procedure shall apply to the state of Nagaland, it also says that the Legislative Assembly of the state by a resolution can decide to adopt it. However, the Nagaland Legislature entirely ridiculed the idea of women’s role in politics and during its eleventh session on 22 March 2012, unanimously resolved by passing a Bill in the Legislative Assembly to exempt Nagaland from Part IX A of the Indian Constitution, which gives reservation to women. Talking to this writer, NMA leader and literature teacher at Nagaland University, Sarah Nuh, NMA’s vice-president said that the men expect women to speak only on social issues, not to make decisions.
In September 2012, the NMA, on behalf of the JACWR, filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court. The petition challenged the court order of the Division Bench, Gauhati High Court, as well as the resolution of the Nagaland Assembly. The final judgment of the Supreme Court is still awaited. The fight of the NMA gains strong ground with the fact that there is no instance of women’s participation in the traditional administration or justice delivery institutions, nor there has been any single woman MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) in Nagaland Assembly since Nagaland became a state in 1963.
For the Naga Mothers, ceasefire is not an end to violence and peace can be achieved only through dialogue and political negotiations, instead of mere military solutions. In this broader definition of peace, they are more successful as peacemakers than those who think that peace is an end to armed conflict. Throughout their work for the society, they are equating peace with justice, development and good governance. These Naga Mothers have shown the power and capacity of the fair sex, that women can step into activities like mediating between government and militants—a territory from which women generally keep themselves away. Their strength can undoubtedly inspire women from other parts of the country, and that is the reason why women organisation members from states like Gujarat have visited Nagaland to meet and learn about the NMA.
The writer is a Senior Research Associate with the Centre for Development and Peace Studies, Guwahati. She has been writing on peace and security-related issues concerning the Northeast India for the last 12 years. She was honoured with the Kunjabala Devi Memorial Award for investigative journalism on women’s issues by The Assam Tribune group in 2011 for a series of articles focusing on the problem of trafficking of women and children from Northeast India, particularly from Assam. She is pursuing her Ph.D on Government of India’s Policy on Peace in Northeast India.
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