The Nagaland Dobashi Association (NDBA) on Monday asserted that the Naga identity and their unique customs and tradition will “vanish” in the absence of customary courts. The statement comes amid the demand for the constitution of customary courts in Nagaland.

At a press conference in Kohima on Monday evening, NDBA general secretary R Kemerio Yanthan said, although the customary courts are not formally constituted by the government, the customary courts have been adjudicating cases of customary nature and is the only court that dispenses justice to the people in accordance with the customs and traditions of the Nagas which is accessible by the people.

Justifying how the customs and traditions will vanish, Yanthan said without the “people-friendly” customary courts as cases which cannot be heard by village courts will directly be taken to the high courts or Supreme Court, where the customary laws will be “overlooked.”

While the NDBA sought the intervention of Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio in constituting the customary courts, he said the association is yet to receive any official response. However, as per informal meetings with government officials, he said the matter is to be taken up in 3-4 months’ time.

As Nagaland is an offshoot of the foundation of its unique customs and history, he said that the idea of having unique courts should be on priority to preserve the age-old practices of the Nagas and safeguard the rights of the Nagas.

Noklemtoba Ao, NDBA president, said that only Nagas best know the Naga customary laws. Urging the need to have customary courts, he expressed fear that the practices may be lost if the customary courts are not constituted.

Giving a history of how the Dobashi system came into existence, Yanthan said the interpreters, known as Dobashis (referring to Hindi words ‘Do’ meaning ‘two’ and Basha meaning ‘language’) launched during the British Raj in 1879, in the then Naga Hills, were entrusted to function and execute the duties of tribal courts on an experimental basis in 1946-49, which was later renamed as Dobashi Court in 1950.

“Having customary courts in Nagaland means safeguarding the rights, culture and tradition of the Nagas inter alia the premier status accorded to the state by Art 371(A),” the NDBA said.

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