Shiva Maya has the right to hold on to her position and claim the position of House Speaker. NCP should support her nomination for reelection even if she decides to resign
One would say, sati system, an ancient Hindu tradition, wherein a widow would burn herself to death on her husband’s pyre is abolished. It has, literally. Figuratively, it isn’t uncommon to witness women burning in pyre of gender biases compelled to let go of leadership position they rightfully hold just because male counterparts fail to adhere to their responsibilities.
This seems especially true in the current case of Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. After Krishna Prasad Mahara, former House Speaker had to resign from the position followed by alleged rape charges in October 2019, the position is vacant. Although Shiva Maya stepped up to fulfill Deputy Chair’s duty after the incident, what has followed is her own party asking her resignation.
Remnants of patriarchy
Shiva Maya has drawn a powerful analogy of what is happening to her with Sati system. She states, “Why should a woman pay the consequences for a man’s mistake?” In fact, it is Krishna Bahadur who committed an offense and should solely be punished. Shiva Maya should not suffer for his wrongdoings. Neither should a resignation from her current Deputy Speaker position be forced nor her rightful claim to House Speaker be blindsided.
Good news is Shiva Maya has not surrendered to the party’s demands. Bad news? Gender biases have stripped off women from leadership positions for so long, Shiva Maya could be yet another casualty despite her qualifications.
What is ironic in Shiva Maya’s case is two factions of NCP are favoring two male representatives—Subas Chandra Nembang and Agni Prasad Sapkota—for the post reproducing gender bias. Amidst political brokerage within NCP on proposing House of Representative candidacy, there is a clear indication of where Nepal’s politics stands in terms of women representation.
The irony is Shiva Maya wrote a PHD thesis on the role of women in Nepal’s political revolutions. Having been involved in politics from a young age and made a significant contribution since Panchayat till now, she is a victim of internal party politics. In a country where tokenistic gender representation is a norm, women are always holding deputy positions be in municipal or province level. Are we ready for women leadership or will we continue to just fill mandated 33 percent women representation?
What does law say?
Currently, NCP is insisting on re-election of House Speakers. However, the re-elections of the speakers is only a possibility under three grounds in the Constitution of Nepal 2015. These grounds are; written resignations by the speakers, resolution passed by two thirds majority of House of Representatives on the ground of their conduct or in case they cease to be a member of the house. None of these grounds validates insistence of NCP for resignation of Deputy Chair. So, even constitutionally, the stand of Shiva Maya is correct.
Article 91(4) of the Constitution of Nepal gives the deputy speaker the authority to chair the House of Representative in the absence of a Speaker. A reason why the position of a deputy speaker is a necessity is because they can hold the function of speaker when s/he is incompetent to do so, implying the competency of deputy speaker. The constitution allows the re-election only when both the seats are vacant. However, in the presence of a deputy speaker who has been performing responsibilities as required much like Shiva Maya’s case, a re-election is out of the picture. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that the narration of re-election to fill the positions of speakers is politically motivated, not legally-guided.
In this context, Shiva Maya has the right to hold on to her position and claim the position of House Speaker. Hence, NCP should support her nomination for reelection even if she decides to resign.
Current debate over Shiva Maya’s claim to her position and lack of support from her own party raises some larger questions. Is this a mere party politics or is it reflection of misogyny rooted in Nepali society? This brings in further concerns. Why isn’t there a woman candidacy proposed by the ruling party? Is it because of age-old question surrounding around lack of women’s competency? If not, a woman who holds a PhD on political science and has assumed the position at a time of crisis, what more qualification does she require? Or is it because her disqualification is that she is a woman.
It would be interesting to see what happens next? Will we as a country move towards abdicating a qualified woman or will we actually abolish reminiscence of sati system both literally and figuratively. If this happens, Shiva Maya might be the torch bearer of women revolution she talks about.
Dikchya Raut is a legal officer at Freedom Forum. Manita Raut is a research officer at International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Nepal office