October 22 was supposed to be a regular day at work for Khrienuo Tachu, Chairperson, Nagaland State Commission for Women. She was in Jalukie town in Peren distinct to address a one-day Legal Awareness Programme. During her address, she spoke mostly on gender-based discrimination, mitigation of cybercrimes, and promotion of entrepreneurial skills and self-reliance among women. Her address had all expected elements, except one. During her address, Tachu said, “Good patriarchy ensures a safe society resulting in less discrimination, thereby safeguarding women and the girl child.”
Her statement combining ‘good’ with ‘patriarchy’ has, however, not gone down well with activists across the northeast, who condemned her bad choice of words, no matter the intention.
Calling the whole premise wrong, women highlighted how they have been conditioned over the years at home and outside, and that the “problem of patriarchy is so deep-seated and nebulous that we don’t even realise it”.
Explaining what she meant by the ‘good patriarchy’ remark, Tachu told EastMojo, “The utterance is contextual and very nuanced, spoken as an insider, specifically to the Naga audience. It is a fact that the patriarchal system is in place in Naga society, but adjustments, conversations, negotiation and mutual dialogue has to happen between men and women to create more space and rights for women and girl children.”
Calling her statement a contextual one, she said that it related to Naga tribes and may not be applicable for other ethnic communities and tribes.
However, several women were troubled by the idea that the remark was not made by a regular citizen. That it came from someone who represents women’s rights and stands for women, reflects how much work needs to be done to get this out of our system, and get women back on their feet, the women added.
“Yes, Nagaland is a patriarchal society, and it is practised with certain norms of social control and customary standards. And yes, men need to play a role in the protection of women’s safety and rights. But Ms Tachu seems to suggest that women can be protected from abuse and discrimination within the domain of ‘good patriarchy’, which to us sounds like a contradiction in terms,” read a collective statement signed by women from across the region and beyond.
“Can an institution such as patriarchy, predicated on the notion of male superiority, ever be fair to women? Is it correct to endorse or aim for the kind of ‘safety for women that is mandated by patriarchy?” the statement questioned, saying that it is imperative on the part of the Chairperson of the Nagaland State Commission for Women to be cognisant that it is patriarchal power structures that have kept women insubordination for years.
Why did these women find the statement to be problematic?
It puts power back where women don’t want it to be
“There is no good or bad patriarchy because patriarchy is in itself what we understand and how it’s been used from time immemorial. It’s a system of how a society or a government functions with men in power, and women are kind of subordinate to the men and meant to fall under whatever they are expected to do. The men dictate, and the women follow,” Tamara Law Goswami, an environmentalist by profession who was one of the women who signed the statement condemning Tachu’s remark, told EastMojo.
As someone who has been an environmentalist all her life, Tamara has had to deal with patriarchy even in the villages, collecting fuel for their biomass gasifier, for instance. “You know the dynamic that exists with the family. Every step of the way, wherever we’re involved in this socio-economic or environmental work, we end up coming face to face with patriarchy in some form or the other,” she added.
“According to me, that does not sit well with the way we would like life to be with equal opportunities with equality and equity. There really is no such thing as good patriarchy because the context for which it has been used, for the longest time, has been that it describes a certain system, and that system is very clear, that men hold the power and women don’t. That kind of undermines everything that a woman does, whatever benefits a woman brings to a household or the family, it all gets undermined by using that one word – ‘good’, in front of patriarchy,” Goswami told EastMojo.
“The rest of what she said was lovely, but it bothers me that she suddenly fell back on her words and said we need good patriarchy, and looked at the men saying that ‘now you need to take care of the women’, that totally puts the power back to where we don’t want it to be,” she added.
It empowers one gender against the other
“There is no such thing as good patriarchy or bad patriarchy. It is the same as saying good police and bad police, it is nothing. There is only policing,” Patricia Mukhim, editor, Shillong Times, told EastMojo, emphasising that women have fought for decades against the disempowering force, which is not only oppressive but keeps women under subjugation.
“That sort of structural order in society can never be called good or bad. It is just not needed because it empowers one gender against another. So we have to be very careful with the words we use. We can’t use words flippantly, we have to understand their intrinsic meaning. Especially, coming from someone who is supposed to be an empowering force in the state, who is supposed to help women in distress, who is supposed to look at sexual abuses of all kinds; coming from such a person. It weakens the whole purpose of that commission and defeats the purpose,” the Shillong Times editor told Eastmojo.
An oxymoron to feminism
“I think her statement was made under the influence of Naga customary laws that do not allow women outside the home and in the public space, this division is very sharp in Naga societies. There are women who are working, who are educated, and some are fantastic writers. It is not that Naga women are not educated or non-emancipated, it’s the institutional patriarchy that is backed by laws and old tribal systems that do not allow women to move ahead,” Rakhee Kalita Moral, Head, Centre of Women’s Studies, Cotton University, said in a conversation with EastMojo. She described this as the reason behind why even a woman like Tachu went ahead and made that statement.
“I think what she was trying to say is that, while women are self-reliant, their safety depends on good patriarchy where women are in the house and the men take care of them, which goes completely against the norms of any notional gender equality,” added Moral, explaining that Tachu too was being pulled by her social customary situation.
She believed Tachu too to have unknowingly, or perhaps even knowingly, succumbed to the patriarchal institution that is deeply entrenched in Naga society. “I think it is quite regretful as she made such a statement because when she looks after, and she heads the commission for women, this is completely in contradiction to her public role as the Chair Person of the state commission and perhaps her own personal feminist responsibility,” she said, calling her statement a blight on women’s freedom and privileges of Naga women.
She further added that Naga women are independent and great at managing resources, and have great control over the food chain. They participate in the biodiversity of their community, and such women don’t need to be taught what liberation is but this customary tribal apparatus pulls back. “It’s a pity that she went on and made the remark, it is an oxymoron.”
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