File photo of ENSF President Sepili Sangtam (front row-second from right) along with other leaders Credit: EastMojo Image

Kohima: For many people, the Naga peace process seems to be the only ‘news’ coming out of Nagaland. But recently, the issues of certain tribes feeling sidelined and more importantly, the youth feeling helpless are taking hold. And the result has been the threat of a long strike.

This “employment deprivation” for over the past five decades has led Eastern Naga Students’ Federation (ENSF) to protest. They made a 6-point charter of demands in the newly-constituted Nagaland Staff Selection Board (NSSB) and a 4-point demand regarding the Nagaland Public Service Commission (NPSC).

Agitating against the state government over its demands, the ENSF began its agitation at 6 am on Monday, and will continue for an indefinite period. The Students federation locked government offices within its jurisdiction and restricted the plying of government-registered vehicles.

The ENSF president informed that the democratic agitation was successfully conducted within the “length and breadth of Eastern Naga jurisdiction” and approximately 10 vehicles were seized till the filing of this report. Exemptions were made for the district administration, police, health, fire and emergency services and central agencies. The seized vehicles will be released only after the demands of the students are fulfilled, he said.

The Eastern Naga tribes consist of six major Naga tribes namely Sangtam, Konyak, Yimchunger, Khiamniungam, Phom and Chang, and pre-dominantly settled in the districts of Mon, Tuensang, Kiphire, Longleng and Noklak (new district).

As per the 2011 census of India, the total population in Mon district is 250,260; Tuensang is 196,596; Longleng is 50,484; Kiphire is 74,004. Out of the 60 legislative Assembly seats, the Eastern Naga districts comprise of 20 seats in the state Assembly.

Why is the Student body demanding for job reservation?

According to the ENSF, the Eastern Nagas have been deprived for over five decades. Sangtam said that although the reservation policy was introduced in 1977, despite 45 years of implementation, the eastern Naga tribes comprise of only around 6% gazetted and around 9%-10% non-gazetted government employees. “This is a serious issue, and we are serious about it,” he said.

He said that during the formation of the state, the Eastern Naga tribes also “equally sacrificed and contributed” and therefore questioned about the “unequal distribution and injustice” towards the six tribes.

“Even to get our share also, the government is putting us in a difficult position,” he said. Further, he added that the student body is not asking for someone else’s share. Regarding the NPSC, he said that it is only asking for the government to “compensate”. So far the demand of 45% reservation is under NSSB is concerned, he said it has many substantiate points and that Nagas must understand and must examine the Naga history.

Among its charter of demands, the demand under the Nagaland Staff Selection Board (NSSB) earmarking 45% of posts for the six tribes sparked controversy.

Also Read: Eastern Naga Students to protest against state govt from November 30

What is the government’s response?

On Monday, Nagaland deputy CM Y Patton informed that on December 3, the matter would be discussed in a meeting. He said that including the backward quota reservation, the total summed to 52% which is not permissible by the Supreme court.

Following the ENSF’s announcement to agitate against the state government over its failure to respond to the demands made by the student body on November 26, the Chief Secretary invited the student on November 28 and deliberated on demands relating to NSSB and NPSC.

The government informed that during the meeting, the ENSF was apprised of the constitution of the Cabinet Sub-Committee headed by deputy chief minister Y Patton, to look into the 6-point Charter of Demands about NSSB. The Government also set up a Committee to review the job reservation policy of the State which is headed by chief secretary J Alam.

During the meeting, the ENSF was also apprised that the matter was discussed in the Cabinet meeting on November 25. Regarding the 4 Charter of Demands over non-implementation of Personnel and Administrative Reforms (P&AR) office memorandums (OMs) and notifications, the Government sought relevant data from NPSC to further examine the specific matter. It had assured that accordingly, the required action will be taken.

The Chief Secretary while assuring that the Government will look into their demands, also mentioned that it will require more time to examine all the pertinent issues relating to ENSF representation and submit their recommendation to the Government for appropriate decision.

Despite the state government’s appeal to withdraw the seven day ultimatum served to the CM, the student body headed for the agitation on Monday.

How did student bodies respond?

In response to the demand made by the ENSF, the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) submitted a representation addressed to the chief minister on November 28 highlighting that as per the existing policy, the Eastern Nagas were enjoying 25%, the Chakhesang/Pochury 6%, Zeliang 4%, Sumi of Kiphire 2% and the physically challenged 4%, resulting to a total of 41% reservation.

As the NSSB was set up to “discourage random backdoor appointments and to encourage meritocracy”, the student body had said that “if a particular group or community resorted to unreasonable and exorbitant demands, it defeats the purpose of a cohesive, united stand on an equal footing in a harmonious society”.

The NSF had also gone to say that the total percentage of reservation in the State will increase to 61% if the state government had conceded to ENSF’s demands. “Such a development would be detrimental to the intellectual growth of the younger generation, defeat competitive mindset and ultimately murder meritocracy in the State,” NSF said.

The federation is of the view that there should be equal criteria on educational qualification for all jobs. The “qualification divide between the so-called advanced tribes and the backward tribes is no more existent” and that the cutoff marks on reservation quota for the backward tribes be specified, it added.

The Angami Students’ Union (ASU) expressed that it is totally against the ENSF’s demand for 45% reservation stating that it is “totally unreasonable, unfair, selfish and arrogant”.

“It is entirely and unacceptable. In any case, such a detrimental factor cannot be allowed to be implemented. Such destructive policy would destroy our very fragile society,” the student body said.

ENSF unlikely to budge

The president of ENSF said that the student body would continue its protest till its demands are met. He said that the eastern Naga tribes will also boycott the statehood day celebration and no flag will be hoisted within its jurisdiction. It will also boycott the virtual hornbill festival.

When asked if the student body will re-consider its reservation demands, Sangtam responded saying “In any democratic state, when we sit across the table, there will be a meeting point. But it should be reasonable, justified and with clarity.”

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