Empowerment or anti-democracy: The MHIP and its stance on women in polls

IMG_3120 (1)(originally published in The Mizoram Post on November 21, 2018)

Starting from the feminist era to the fight for voting rights, the women’s movement has come a long way. It found its way to the Lushai Hills in the year 1974, 12 years before Mizoram was granted the status of a full statehood. The Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl(MHIP) which can be loosely translated into an “organization that binds women together’ has sought to improve the status of Mizo women for the past 44 years.

Before the year 2014, if a Mizo woman happened to fall on bad terms with her partner and she was asked to leave the house, she would have to walk out empty-handed carrying nothing but her broken spirit out of the door.  This was not right said the Mizo Hmeichhe Insuikhawm Pawl(MHIP).  Untiring efforts gave way to success when in 2014, the Mizoram Assembly passed the Mizo Marriage, Divorce and Inheritance of Property Bill, 2014. Now, a Mizo woman has the right to settle divorce terms in court, she has a right to demand her share of their acquired property and also, to the personal property she brought with her at the time of marriage.

But there is a long way to fight yet.

If you walk down the steps of Zion Street and into the Big Bazaar area, at food stalls, vegetable stalls and cloth shops, you will find that the female gender is the prominent face in the Aizawl market. But, walk beyond the markets, and you will see that women rarely venture into new avenues. A few women government officers have come into force but when it comes to the political realm, the sight of women is scarce enough to build up an effigy of the only two women who have been seated in the Cabinet of Ministers since Mizoram gained statehood. 1928 marks the year a woman could officially practice equal voting rights with men. And while decades have passed, in the 31-year-old state of Mizoram, women have not seemed to indulge in politics beyond the point of voting.

The reasons vary, while some agree that politics is no place for a woman, many believe it is the society’s attitude towards women in power who are often feared upon that makes this gender hesitant to stand up in politics. Out of 40 Mizoram Legislative Assembly members, one seat was occupied in the past term by a woman. In this election, while there are 15 women MLA candidates, the ruling party has not gone beyond its one sitting MLA, and the main opposition party has not named a single woman candidate.

Prof. Lalneihzovi, who is the Vice President of the All Mizoram Women Front says that parties are often to blame, “Women are not given candidature in constituencies where the party has good chances of winning but rather they are given seats in places with low chances of acquiring votes.”

Seeing this fallback as a time to unite together, the MHIP issued a statement asking all the women of Mizoram to vote for women candidates irrespective of party affiliations. The women’s organization said this is a move to ensure greater participation of women in government formation.

While such statement was made on behalf of the women organization in support of fellow women, the public seem to disagree.  A young Aizawl youth, Lalrinsanga,* believes the MHIP’s stance is against the democratic status of the country, “Just because they are a woman organization, it is not right to ask people to vote for a woman candidate without assessing whether they will be good candidates or not, these people are going to lead our state and it is not right to choose a candidate just because of their gender, that is not democracy,” he said.

While the youth cite anti-democracy, representatives of the political arena seem to believe that it is a political game. A former student leader and now an active party worker, Lalmuansanga* said, “It goes against the freedom of an individual, everyone has the right to make their choice.  If the MHIP is making such statements, it can be believed that it is a political game more than an effort to uplift the status of fellow women.  I did not hear of the MHIP taking action when a woman candidate was listed in the 2013 election.  MHIP just seems to be a tool for certain people to carry out their political game.”

A journalist who wishes to remain anonymous said, “They have done something they should not, when it comes to elections, whether you are a man or a woman, everyone is deemed equal. It is different when the government makes provisions for women.”

While many expressed opposing viewpoints, there were also a few who voiced their support for the MHIP’s stance, “If women do not vote for women, we will not have a chance to stand out as men are normally biased towards women candidates and consider them weaker and not eligible to lead the state,” said Zorinmawii.*

While the women’s movement has brought great progress for the female gender that supposedly takes up around 50% of the world’s population, it comes to question whether certain movements suppress or uplift the empowerment of a woman.

*names changed to protect identity

Photo by: Alfred Vanchhawng

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