|Naga Mahila's(Women Police Battalion) Patrolling town|
Who is the Naga Woman?
In the chequered history of mankind one finds that different and disparate cultures, however distant they may be in time and space, have at least one thing in common and that is the question of the position of women. It is customary everywhere to classify the human community on the basis of sex - ‘men’ and ‘women’. The biological fact of sex has created a divide between them. Especially in a country like India, women have not been able to lead a life exactly on par with men, in spite of their desire for equality. This is also true of the Naga woman.
A frequent topic of debate is the unequal treatment of women. Gender inequality too has its roots in the history of Naga patriarchal society. During the course of evolution, females were subject to more restrictions unlike the males, whether it was in the performance of certain rituals or everyday practices. This led to the prominence and therefore dominance of the male. B.B Polk writes,’’ Power over women in personal relationships gives men what they want, whether that be sex, smiles, chores, admiration, increased leisure or control itself.”
The social structure of our Naga society eventually came to be based on patriarchy, patrilineality and patrilocality. This social base means that after marriage the daughter leaves her parental house and resides permanently at the house of her husband or affinal kin, where the lineage is traced in the line of the male members. The Law of Inheritance and The Right to Property are both predominantly patriarchal in our society. In this social base, women are not considered equal with their male counterparts.
Tradition expects that each and every woman should conceive a male child to the family. The male issue was considered very valuable, whereas the female child was regarded as a great economic as well as social burden on the parents. The male child inherits the customary heritage and parental property, and must also earn money and provide social security to the parents during their old age. With such a mind-set, a significant proportion of the family-budget is spent on the well-being of a male child. On the contrary, a girl child was untended. As they were to leave their parent’s house permanently after marriage, spending money on their dress, education and health was considered a wasteful expense. Moreover, after marriage, she has to change her surname, depending upon the surname of her husband. The legitimate child born to her takes on the surname of her husband. This mindset dominated the way in which women were perceived, resulting in loss of her real self identity and individuality as a member of the society.
Gender discrimination prevailed even in consumption habits. Consumption habits were culture specific. Women had to consume their food only after the male members. The male members had to be fed sufficiently and satisfactory as they were considered the main bread winners for the whole family. Therefore, a mother also discriminated in providing her own breast milk between a male and female baby. Because of all this women received less protein and energy in accordance to their age and physical strength, resulting in affliction of health problems like anaemia, malnutrition and other diseases.
Gender discrimination prevailed even in the arena of work. Most of the women were engaged in the primary sector such as cultivation, agricultural labour, livestock, plantations, forestry, orchards and in different household chores. Most women welcomed these responsibilities as housewives but surprisingly their labour was highly exploited and went unnoticed. Their participation in decision-making was insignificant.
Today, due to the influence of education and values like freedom of women, democracy, individualism etc., the condition of Naga women has improved. Women are now enjoying better social status compared to our traditional society. This is primarily because of the fact that the women are very hard workers. Their contribution to the family economy is no less than their male counterparts. This is not simply because the Naga women, by nature are hard workers, rather they are so because they are socialised and cultured in that direction as society and culture both demand that males and females be very competent to visualize their future. Unlike in our past Naga society, now, a bride is selected for marriage primarily depending upon the ability to work and manage the home including modern education, and certainly not on her beauty. Women are now considered as economic assets for both the consanguineous as well as affinal kin i.e., the parents before marriage, and husband and her family members after marriage. In this regard, the parents consider marriage of their daughters as a great loss of economic hands. This is why in our society the parents demand bride-price instead of giving dowry on the marriage of their daughters. A vital factor evidence of a higher social status of women in our society is when physical or mental harassment or torture on the bride may necessitate the wife to divorce her husband and maybe later remarry. This freedom and choice of a woman is sanctioned by our society today.
Women are comparatively in a more respectable position than before. Some of the problems which had been haunting the community of women for centuries are not prevalent anymore. Many women who could grab the opportunities extended to them have proven that they are capable of discharging the responsibilities assigned to them as efficiently as men.
Women today are more liberated from the chains of traditionalism. They stand on equal footing with men. Women now play not only domestic roles but also economic and political roles. Democratic ideals and values are in currency today. The Constitution of India provides equal rights and opportunities to women, absent of any discrimination on the grounds of sex. In turn, women are also responding positively to this changed socio-political situation.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and
research work, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institution.
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