Naga Women Farmers Become Expert Organic Food Entrepreneurs

Though women in the northeastern state of Nagaland have traditionally enjoyed a high social position, within their family as well as the community, a strong prevalence of patriarchy has ensured that they are not just kept away from key decision-making but are also barred from inheriting ancestral assets like land and other property.

In fact, while it would not be wrong to say that Naga women are chiefly responsible for keeping the state’s agrarian economy going, especially since the menfolk migrate in large numbers to nearby towns and cities in search of better paying work, they do not have any ownership rights over the land they till. The female members invest a lot of time, energy and money into the jhumland farms – community lands where any member(s) of a village can practice shift cultivation – that dot the countryside. From selecting the right seasonal crops to cultivate to sourcing input for the land to managing the harvesting, their hands-on approach has worked wonders as they produce high-quality yields of indigenous grains such as Tshube (millet) and Truta (maize) besides varieties of soya bean, Kashu (rice bean) and Kholar (kidney beans). Today, they have gone a step further and transformed themselves into successful entrepreneurs by forming Self Help Groups (SHGs), where together they convert all the organic, fresh foods they have grown into marketable goods. 

Kohima-based Lochimi Lotha, 48, is one such happy farmer-turned-entrepreneur. She founded Khuben Thera (meaning flower) SHG in 2013 with 13 other women and jointly they have been working tirelessly in their fields and later going all out to sell the harvest in the local market. Says Lotha, a mother of four, “What binds all of us is the ambition to do well in life and give our children a better future. We are poor and have to find ways to supplement our family income. Nowadays, it’s impossible to run a home on a small salary of a single member. My husband, a Grade Four government employee, will be retiring soon and so it will be up to me to keep the kitchen fires burning. The SHG enables women like me to stand on our own feet.” 

Aranla Longchar and her young daughter, Akokla are member of Eleos SHG in Dimapur. The duo is completely sold on woman power. Says Akokla, “I have realised that if women join hands then they can achieve anything. In our SHG, we are our own bosses. We decide on what vegetables to grow and when to harvest them. Everything is organic. We form teams that undertake door-to-door sales and also supply to the nearby vendors and local stores. I have been handling the marketing side of the work.” 

Of course, creating an SGH and running a small business is not as simple as it may seem. The women farmers have to convince the village council of the merits of forming the group and then take permission to use the common village land. Moreover, all members have to spare some seed money to start operations. Mary Khiamniungan, a member of Shurun (meaning unity) SHG in Tuensang district, recalls, “When we had decided to set up our group in 2011 we were confident that we would be able to reason with our village council. Our SHG’s founder president Yinsola Yimchinger was a respected woman leader of the local church and she assured them that we would follow the rules of the council and work in cooperation with them. They had no objection after that.”

Shurun SHG has a membership fee of Rs 100 and it has members from five villages. “Our main objective is to provide equal opportunity to all women. They get the chance to work, earn, take decisions and manage their own affairs,” elaborates Khiamniungan. According to this skilled farmer, all of them practice either terrace or jhum farming and they “do not use any chemicals to boost production”. Of course, the hardships they face are many, “Inclement weather is our main challenge as it adversely affects the crops. Moreover, we do not have any storage facility. At the time of harvesting, we hire a vehicle, collect the produce and then stock up in the homes of a few members,” she shares. After this, the women branch out to sell the fresh produce like maize, rice, millets or tree tomatoes (locally called tamarillo) to vendors in the market. The items that need to be dried before packing are put through a set process. “We do house sales and approach the neighbourhood shops too. In addition, we set up stalls at social gatherings and during festivals,” adds Khiamniungan.

Recently, Khiamniungan, Lotha, Longchar and several other cultivators-cum-businesswomen, had travelled all the way to Delhi to sell a variety of local delicacies like pounded puffed sticky rice, wild apples, yam leaves and canned items such as bamboo shoot and the infamous Raja Mirchi, as part of a special organic food festival. For Lotha this was her first trip to the Capital and although she did face some difficulty in communicating with her customers, in general she was happy that she could manage to interact with everyone with “thoda, thoda Hindi”. She shares, “Our products were such a hit with the people that we had sold over 50 per cent of the stuff by the third day. Just goes to prove that if women get equal opportunities to work and earn they can achieve a lot.”

Mitingliu and Tinghamak are 20-something and part of Wibibi (meaning ‘step by step’) SHG that was constituted in 2013. While they are not into farming, they focus on food packaging and marketing. The young women run a small store in Peren district, where they sell dried, canned food items. Their Delhi experience was “good” as they realised the potential the organic food business has for all of them. 

Assisting women SGHs in the state to overcome the various challenges and expand their work is the State Women Resource Centre (SWRC). Says Ajabu Tungoe, Coordinator, SWRC, “There is a demand for pure organic foods but the production challenges are many. We are constantly trying to come up with ways to make sure that these women can maximise cultivation and tide over the difficult times especially created due to unfavourble weather. The trip to Delhi was quite an eye opener for many. Besides this, the SWRC has introduced various initiatives to give a fillip to the social-economic development of Naga women.” 
Organic farming is their mantra for prosperity – and these hardworking Naga women farmers are going all out to realise their potential and their dreams. 

Women"s Feature Services
May 12,2014

Election Irregularities in 2014: Defective EVMs key reason for repoll

Ninglun Hanghal looks at the range of electoral irregularities reported during the current general election.

One month after balloting in the Gurgaon Lok Sabha constituency in Haryana, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has ordered repolling in 8 booths in the constituency. This follows a complaint filed by the Aam Admi Party listing irregularities in 110 polling booths in the constituency. The repoll will be held one day before ballots are to be counted on May 16, 2014.

Across states, re-polling was held in a number of Parliamentary constituencies in the just concluded polling for 16th Lok Sabha. Out of the total 35 States and Union Territories in India comprising about 900,000 polling stations, repolling has been held in a couple of hundred booths, spread over 11 states, primarily due to faulty or non-functioning of electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Names missing from the voter list was the most significant irregularity this election. Allegations against polling officials, poll related violence, rigging, booth capturing, loss of lives in conflict zones, such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and North East Indian states, were other problems affecting voting. Boycott calls and no-voter turn-out were also witnessed in few constituencies.

As many as 34 polling stations in Arunachal Pradesh’s Kurung Kumei, Upper Subansiri , East Kameng, West and East Siang districts went for a re-poll due to defective EVMs. In Bihar, repolling was held in 30 booths, in Katihar, Banka and Supaul parliamentary constituencies. The Election Commission ordered re-poll at these polling stations as the non-functioning EVMs could not be replaced on time.

Due to faulty, defective EVMs, 12 booths in Karnataka were re-polled, in Haveri, Bagalkot, Bijapur, Gulbarga, Raichur, Bidar, Shimoga, Hassan and Tumkur  districts. So too in Kerala where re-polling were conducted in four polling stations of Idukki, Alathur, Wayanad and Ernakulam constituencies due to technical errors. In Madhya Pradesh, re-polling was held in one booth in Khandwa district owing to
technical error in the EVM.

At times, pre-poll exercises led to identification of defective EVMs and polling dates were rescheduled in four polling stations of Mumbai North Central and Mumbai North West constituency in Maharashtra. Four polling station went for a repoll in Rajasthan. These are in Barmer and Churu district. Two polling booths went for a repoll due to technical error in EVMs in Salem and Namakkal in Tamil Nadu. Repolling was held in one booth in Malda (South) constituency in West Bengal due to the non working EVM.

In a rare occurrence, one polling booth in Thoubal district in Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency went for a repoll due to mis-match of numbers, where the votes casted were higher than the voter list. Over allegations of involvement of polling officials in malpractices and rigging in Assam’s 15 polling booths in Kokrajhar, Nagaon, Darang and Dispur districts, repolling was ordered besides arrest of polling officers due to their alleged involvement in malpractices in Guwahati district. Malpractices were also the reason for repoll in four booths
in Porbandar district in Gujarat. Two polling stations in Zunheboto and Longleng districts in Nagaland were also re-polled due to allegations of bogus voting and malpractices.

In Gurgaon Lok Sabha constituency, repolling in 8 booths are being held, where the reported turnout was 95%. According to media reports, in 30 booths, the turnout was over 90%. Although it was reported by media persons who found that many people in these areas whose polling finger was not marked with the inedible ink. AAP had accused two other political parties to have engaged in systemic rigging.

Election polling in many parts of the country is also an occasion when grievances were expressed in the form of boycotting the polls, with no voter turn up in support. But, no repoll were held in those polling stations.

In Sisiang village in East Siang district of Arunachal, people boycotted the polls in expression of their anger against the State Government’s apathy to the development of their villages. The polling booth saw no voter turn-out. So too in Khargone’s Satavada village in Madhya Pradesh, electorates did not turn up to vote in protest against the lack of basic facilities in the villages. One polling station in Thoubal, Manipur, people boycotted the polls due to police’s inaction against a threat issued by miscreants. Dates for polling were deferred after the boycott by NGOs an civil bodies in Mizoram against the Election Commission’s decision to allow tribal refugees’ living in Tripura’s relief camps.

This general election also saw violence in different part of the country. Repolling were conducted in six polling booths in Chandel, Senapati and Ukhrul districts in Outer Manipur Parliamentary constituency where EVMs were destroyed and booths captured allegedly by insurgent groups. In Orissa due to massive booth rigging and damage of EVMs allegedly by Maoist, repolling were conducted in nine polling stations. These were six booths under Jagatsinghpur; two other booths in Keonjhar and one booth in Kendrapara district. Complaints of booth
rigging and intimidation of voters and polling officials were the reason for repolling in five polling stations in Firozabad and Etawah districts of Uttar Pradesh as well.

Though this election was relatively peaceful in most states, in sensitive and conflict areas, loss of lives and casualties were reported. Boycott calls and ‘threats’ were issued by separatist and Maoist groups as well. Thirteen persons, including poll officials and CRPF jawans were killed in Maoist attacks in Darbha Valley in Sukma district and Bijapur in Chhattisgarh. Polling personnel could not
reach polling stations in hyper sensitive areas in Kanker district. Two polling booths in Dumka, Jharkhand were repolled in the aftermath of an ambush by Maoist killing five security personnel in which EVMs were also destroyed.

In Gossiagaon district in Assam, one policeman died during the violence that ensued in a polling station. Scuffles, clash between party workers and injuries were reported in West Bengal, mostly in North 24 Parganas and adjoining areas of Kolkata.

The new state of Telangana and Seemandhra in its first ever election after the bifurcation, saw violent polling. Subsequently, ECI ordered 12 polling stations in Telangana and 17 polling stations in Seemandhra for a repoll. The reason being complaints of intimidation, clashes between party workers, booth rigging, destructions of EVMs allegedly by Maoist and malfunctioning of EVMs.

Normal life and polling were affected in Kashmir valley with the boycott call by Hurriyat conference leader Geelani, who had asked the people to observe “civil curfew” in the aftermath of the detention of separatist leaders by police while they were campaigning for poll boycott in south Kashmir. While no major incidents were reported, stray violence were reported in Baramulla , Kupwara and Badipore

A major drawback of this election is the missing names reported from various constituencies, particularly across Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Bangalore. Approximatly, 5-6 lakh voters could not exercise their franchise in Maharashtra alone. While the ECI apologised for this omission, surprisingly, it also held citizens responsible for not checking the status of their voter ID on the commission’s website well in advance.

According to the ECI, as per January 1, 2014 the total electorate is 814.5 million. This is an increase of 100 million from previous Lok Sabha 2009 election that recorded 713 million electorates. ECI states that the maximum electorates are in the age group of 18 – 19 years that made up to 23 million voters.

This General Election was the longest ever of all the Indian elections. From its notification on 5th March, the Model Code of Conduct that ends on the counting on May 16, the elections ran upto 72 days. In an election of this scale and scope in the world’s largest democracy, no one believes that the range of irregularities will really impact the final outcome of the elections. In all these decades of hard electoral contests, no political party has refused to accept the verdict of the ballot. The Election Commission of India needs to be complimented for successfully concluding yet another national election. But there is no room for complacency, as there is always scope for improvement.

Liberty Institute  
May 15,2014

The Tibetan Refugee's Right to Vote

The Election Commission’s drive to enroll Tibetan refugees in the voter’s lists, predictably enough, has elicited a mixed response.
For many Tibetans who have been living in India for decades now, it was a relief, a transition from being stateless to becoming an acknowledged citizen of a country. Many Tibetans took up the offer most enthusiastically; quite a few of them have reportedly enrolled themselves already. Of course, given their long stay in India, being part of the voter’s lists indicates official acceptance of the Tibetans in India, and the chance to exercise their adult franchise is an indication of citizenship and a chance to be part of a democratic system. Their assimilation into Indian society is both comprehensive and evident. According to Karten Tsering, head of the Tibetan Residents’ Welfare Association, most of the refugees already consider themselves very much a part of India and its systems and practices.
Not all think on those lines, though. For a more politically oriented and vocal group of youth, Kalsang Choedon, a student from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) among them, enrollment in the Indian voter list and acquiring Indian citizenship is equal to surrendering one’s Tibetan identity. Karma Yeshi, member of the Tibetan Exile Parliament, is another who does not feel the need for enrollment as he is determined to eventually go back to his own country. For him, living in India is a temporary hiatus, not a permanent state of affairs. Many Tibetans do not apply for enrolment in the voter lists due to this question of identity, which is central to citizenship and the political processes of any country.
There are two ways of looking at the voter enrollment. As Choekyong Wangchuk , member of Tibetan Parliament in exile puts it , to be enrolled in the voter’s list is good for those who wish to stay in India and bad for those who finally wish to settle in developed countries in the west including Australia. He feels that the Indian electoral process sets an example for all other countries.
As per the Demographic Survey of Tibetans in Exile 2009 by Planning Commission of Central Tibetan Administration, there are approximately 94,203 Tibetans in India.
The number, according to Choekyong Wangchuk , would be less than the estimate, about approx 80,000, due to reasons like low growth rate, prevalence of large number of monastic and nunnery institutes, younger generation moving towards west and China’s strict surveillance aided by Nepalese border authority since 2009 has dwindled the number to very few escapees from Tibet.
Tibetans are mostly spread across Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, Gangtok in Sikkim, Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, Shillong in Meghalaya and Mysore in Karnataka.
Inclusive as it is, the Election Commission’s move comes with its own procedural challenges. Refugees, as also Indian citizens, are required to produce identity proof such as residence, as the first and foremost document, in order to register for citizenship and voting rights. Many are not in a position to do so and consequently, many Tibetans cannot get themselves on the voter’s lists. In constituencies like Chandni Chowk, a large number of Tibetans were not eligible for registration for the voter ID card, either.
Prior to the general election 2014, in early February, the ECI Union issued notices to all state Chief Election Officers to enroll Tibetan refugees born in India between the cut-off dates of 1950 and 1987.
This move comes in the aftermath of the Karnataka High Court judgment in August 2013 that ruled in favour of Tibetans born and residing in India in the stated period eligible for citizenship.
Regarding that case, a writ petition was filed by Tenzin C.L. Rinpochae, in the Karnataka High Court, under Article 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution, with a prayer to quash the order dated 19 February 2013 issued by the third respondent in consultation with the first respondent, declaring that the petitioner is not a citizen of India and consequently refusing to issue him with a passport.
Ministry of Home Affairs and Regional Passport Office (Bangalore) were the respondents.
The Court Order of 7 August 2013 said that the reason put forth in that regard by the respondent is that the children born to Tibetan refugees in India cannot be automatically treated as Indian citizens under the Citizenship Act 1955 and the same can be considered only if a certificate is issued in response to an application under Sec 9(2) of the Citizenship Act 1955. This said communication dated 9.02.2013 is assailed in the instant petition.
The respondent’s arguments were that in the application made for issue of passport, the nationality of the petitioner was indicated as Tibetan and under those circumstances, without there being an application as contemplated under the Citizenship Act 1955 and the competent authority issuing a Citizenship Certificate, the case of the petitioner cannot be considered for issue of passport.
The court order stated that it was necessary to refer to the decision to the Delhi High Court W.P ( c) 12179/2009 22.12.2010 (upon the petitioner’s counsel’s plea for placing reliance on the birth certificate of the petitioner) while considering these aspects. The Delhi high court has made detailed reference to the provisions contained in Section 3 of the Citizenship Act 1955 and the amendment of the provisions.
In that light, the court order said, after referring to the debate in Parliament, it had arrived at the conclusion that the cut-off dates of 26.01.1950 and 01.07.1987 were to be taken into consideration and that any person born to parents living in India between the said two dates, was to be automatically considered a citizen of India by birth.
In that circumstance, the court was of the view that the mention of nationality as Tibetan in the application was of no consequence; the issue of identity certificate has also been referred to in the decision. While considering these aspects, the Court concluded that when a person is born in India to Tibetan nationals who are settled in India and if no passport is issued to the person for purpose of identification, an identity certificate would be issued to enable the person to stay on in India. The court also stated that the issue of a passport to such a person thereafter identified his status in India and therefore the surrender of his identity certificate in such circumstances was necessary. The court order directed respondents 2 and 3 to consider the request of the petitioner for issue of passport.
Coming back to the present, the ECI move has, not surprisingly, met with strong and adverse reactions in areas that host a huge number of Tibetans, particularly in sensitive and conflict-ridden states such as the Northeast. These communally polarised states have, over many years now, witnessed violent incidents over the issue of cross-border migration, particularly in Assam and Meghalaya. In the state of Meghalaya, students‘ unions such as the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) and the Federation of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP), as well as members of the civil society, have strongly opposed the ECI’s notice.
The president of the KSU was reported to have stated that they will never allow Tibetans or any “doubtful citizens” to enroll themselves in the state’s electoral rolls, while the FKJGP president observed that the move would be inviting trouble and would negatively impact the indigenous population of Meghalaya.
In Meghalaya again, the lifting of the Inner Line Permit (ILP), a permit required to be obtained from the Home Ministry by foreigners in the state as well as Indians visiting from other states, met with violent reaction. In other states like Manipur, civil societies have demanded the reinforcement of the ILP.
The most recent case relating to the election and refugees, took place in Mizoram. NGOs and students’ bodies led by the Young Mizo Association (YMA), a powerful civil society body in the state, called for the boycott of elections, in protest against the ECI’s decision to allow Bru refugees to vote. After an agreement was reached, the polling dates were re-scheduled for the lone Mizoram Lok Sabha seat.
And the debate of residents and citizens has re ignited once again with the recent post poll violence in the Bodoland Territorial Area District and adjoining areas, in west Assam, where over 30 alleged migrants, including women and children, were killed in the first week of May 2014. 
Liberty Institute (
May 6,2014