Historically, tribal societies are termed as egalitarian. The concept of an egalitarian society is equity for all, regardless of their gender. When one discusses the rights given to women in India, the very first notion about the Northeast is that it is an egalitarian society. The matrilineal society of Meghalaya is provided as an example of the status of women in the Northeast. However, patriarchy in the northeastern tribal society is rooted, which has not been addressed.
Although anthropologist Verrier Elwin considered these community institutions democratic, women’s representation in these bodies was negligible. The political participation of women in Arunachal is concerning. The hegemony of males had always been there. Women till today share a maximum of 6.6 percent of the legislative seats. No women MP for the Lok Sabha till date. In a state with the highest female sex ratio of 1,084 women per 1,000 males, the representation of women in the legislative assembly remains as low as 6.6 percent. Out of the 60 MLAs in the state, only four are females. We are more than 50 percent of the population, but our representation is hardly 1/20th of the total seats. Not to mention that Arunachal Pradesh, the largest state in the Northeast, is yet to have its first woman chief minister. One of the four women representatives is Dasanglu Pul, the widow of former chief minister late Kalilkho Pul. Mentioning her name was necessary as one must understand how familialism is a massive part of Arunachal politics. Women belonging to the underprivileged class have no right to contest in an election. Another woman MLA, Jummum Ete Deori, is the daughter-in-law of a former Rajya Sabha member from the state, Omem Moyong Deori. Also, Gum Tayeng, the third sitting woman MLA, is the widow of late Joimin Tayeng, who was also a sitting member of the legislative assembly when he passed away in 2013. Chakat Aboh is the legislator from Khonsa west. She is the widow of late Tirong Aboh, who was killed by unknown militants in 2019. Another MLA has family political backing, or I may call it political hegemony. All four women representatives have political backing and are somehow a part of familialism in politics.
The representation of women in the most prominent student body, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU), is merely low. The age-old student union still lacks a woman president or a woman general secretary. Although there is no website to learn more about the AAPSU’s representatives (which is a threat to the body’s transparency), a member informed that there are only three female executives. The irony is that all three posts are reserved for women. The same pattern is visible in district student unions.
Diverse political and socio-cultural factors have been termed as reasons behind the poor representation of women in the political sphere. Some are country-specific, whereas some are universal and gender-specific. The question arises: how can a woman from the most marginalized community participate in politics? Will Arunachal be getting its own Mayawati or Mamata someday? The state, which has more female voters than men (according to the 2019 election voter list, 4,01,601 women voters and 3,92,561 men) is still biding its time to get its first woman chief minister to work towards an egalitarian tribal society. Women in Arunachal Pradesh have been present in the social sphere compared to women from other regions, but when it comes to politics, it’s a clear-cut dominance of male counterparts.