REVIEWING UNIFICATION POLITICS OF MANIPUR NAGAS THROUGH ETHNICISATION OF EDUCATION (2006-2008)

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By Aheibam Koireng Singh

The issue of affiliating schools and colleges in Naga inhabited districts of Manipur to Nagaland Board of School Education and Nagaland University first came into notice as a delegation of All Naga Students Association Manipur (ANSAM) met the Nagaland Chief Minister, SC Jamir to press their demand. It urges to facilitate affiliation of schools and colleges in Naga inhabited districts of Manipur to NBSE and Nagaland University. The representation claimed that ‘displaced’ Naga students, who left Imphal valley in the wake of the anti-ceasefire agitation, failed to pursue their academic career due to the hostile environment compelling the students to take admission in schools and colleges in Nagaland.

The demand for affiliating the schools in the four hill districts of Manipur to NBSE in lieu of the Board of Secondary Education Manipur (BoSEM) and subsequent replacement of BoSEM textbooks with that of NBSE in Manipur’s four hill districts of Chandel, Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Senapati which was being launched as a part of the non-cooperation movement by a section of the sponsored Nagas in pursuit of its agenda for Naga unification resurfaces in July 2006. In its pursuit, thousands of BoSEM textbooks were confiscated and consigned to flames alleging that syllabi of BoSEM underrate the cultural, social and traditional values of the Nagas. Such a move is very much related with the common Naga aspiration to live together as one under a single geographical entity. BoSEM text books are allegedly instrumental in subjugating the culture and tradition of Nagas and other ethnic groups of hill districts on the grounds that it amounts to imposition of Meitei culture over other ethnic groups. Naga Students Union, Chandel (NSUC), Naga Students Federation (NSF), Angami Students Union (ASU), ANSAM, Tangkhul Katamnao Saklong, Zeliangrong Students Union Manipur (ZSUM) were the organizations involved in the burning of books. The Naga organizations involved in the demand for shifting to NBSE affiliation alleged the state government of imposing Meitei script, but it was denied by the Manipur Education Minister stating that pursuing the Manipuri language/ Meitei script by tribal students is optional. In view of the Naga Peoples Conventions (NPC) resolutions of August 8 and 9 in the year 2001 and 4th of November 2005, the movement for affiliation to NBSE and Nagaland University was statedly launched by ANSAM as part of the non-cooperation movement against the ‘present state of Manipur’ in pursuit of the demand for unification of all Naga homeland. UNC, Naga Womens Union Manipur (NWUM), and Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) too supported the pursuit for affiliation to NBSE.  UNC, NWUM, NPMHR, and ANSAM issued a press clarification stating it as inevitable to set the record straight to justify the resolute stand of the Naga people for common administration. The joint statement outrightly rejected the allegations that the demand for introducing of NBSE syllabus in the four hill districts was planned by the NSCN-IM as a blatant lie.

The matter reaches the corridors of those in power at the national capital as a delegation team of NSF on July 2006 met the Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh and apprised him of the affiliation issue of private schools of Manipurs four hill districts to NBSE. The delegation also apprised the matter to Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Minister of State, PMO Prithiviraj Chavan, and also called on George Fernandes, Convenor of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The delegation then met Mohammad Hamid Ansari, Chairman, National Commission for Minorities and Joint Secretaries of University & Higher Education, Department of Secondary and Higher Education. Earlier, the NSF submitted a memorandum to Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh stating that the four Naga Hill districts the Naga student community of four hill districts of Senapati, Chandel, Ukhrul and Tamenglong resolved to severe affiliations with the States educational system and had denounced the imposed syllabus prescribed by the Board of Secondary Education Manipur. Subsequently, 163 private schools of the four Naga hill districts on March 25, 2006 have introduced the syllabus prescribed by NBSE and the process of affiliation had been initiated as well, claimed the NSF memorandum.

The State Cabinet of Nagaland on June 12, 2006 referred the matter to the Ministry HRD for urgent intervention. However, reacting strongly to the reported assurance given by the HRD Minister to the NSF delegates, he had not received any intimation from the centre in connection with it, the Manipur Chief Minister stated. Later, he informed that HRD Minister had denied giving any assurance to the NSF team further adding that the HRD Minister guaranteed him of no interference from the centre. The Kuki Students Organisation, General Headquarter (KSO, GHq) too came out on 25 July 2006 deriding the affiliation stand of the Nagas stating it as being conceivably framed to aid logistic support to the integration move of the districts in question with Nagaland at the behest of NSCN-IM. While rejecting the move as lacking validity and acceptance, KSO negated the claim by Nagas that the four districts in question belonged to them and asserted that it have been proportionately possessed and represented by both the Nagas and the Kukis in all sphere of domains. In the meantime, NSCN-K issued a warning of strong action on 25 July 2006 against any civil organization which becomes a partner in the campaign to adopt the books prescribed by NBSE in the schools located in the four hill districts of Manipur at the alleged instigation of the rival NSCN-IM stating that no civil organizations should encourage the NSCN-IM in its sinister design of impairing the career of the students and sowing the seeds of communal distrust, further warning that if any of the organisations and individual ‘found taking part and supporting the drama being enacted by NSCN-IM, NSCN-K’ would awarded capital punishment without giving time for clarification or explanation and that none of the student organisation should also give in to the pressure of ANSAM, NSF, UNC and Naga Womens’ Union, Manipur which were acting at the behest of NSCN-IM. It also added that NSCN-K would never allow the NSCN-IM to succeed in its devilish design.

The NSCN-K, Zeliangrong Region reiterated that whatever the NSCN-IM, UNC and ANSAM did nothing had been long lasted and successful and termed them as communal forces trying to create problems among different communities living in the state. The Kangleipak Students Association (KSA) also took serious note of the NBSE affiliation campaign by NSF and its accomplice, and urged the State Government to take up definite steps so as to neutralise the design of NSF and to safeguard the career of the students who were being put under serious trouble. The Kuki Movement for Human Rights (KMHR) along with KSO, in its open letter sent to the Union HRD Minister in the early part of August 2006, while asserting that the movement for NBSE affiliation was being undertaken by ANSAM conceivably in support of NSCN-IMs Nagalim agenda, mentioned that NSCN-IM, UNC and ANSAM were behind the slaying of 900 Kukis during the ethnic cleansing campaign of early 90s. The letter also took serious note of the claim by some Nagas that Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong and Chandel are Naga districts. The letter further noted that  any matter or issue pertaining to these districts should be a State subject and it must be up to the State whether the matter needs to be forwarded to the Centre or not. It further noted that anything related to hill districts has to be dealt with by the Hill Area Committee of the State which is responsible for all the hill people and the entire hill areas. Contending that Kukis, not Nagas are majority in the hill districts of Manipur, the open letter stated that if the Nagas want to continue their communal politics, they can, at best speak for Nagas. They dont have any right to speak for the whole hill districts of Manipur without the consent of the Kukis or to bypass the State Government.

In the meantime, five Naga MLAs from Manipur have, on August 2006, written to the Prime Minister requesting for early intervention to give effect to the affiliation of all the private schools in the Naga areas in Manipur State to the NBSE and approval thereof as a special case. However, the six other Naga MLAs, all from the Congress party did not append their signature to the representation. They include MLA and MPCC (I) President Gaikhangam, A Aza, RK Thekho, DK Korungthang, Power Minister Francis Ngajokpa, and Z Mangaibou.

On 8 August 2006, a one-day open discussion on demand for an informal adoption of Nagaland Board curriculum and syllabus by some schools in Manipur and the future of students involved was held under the joint aegis of All Manipur Students Union (AMSU) and Democratic Students Alliance of Manipur (DESAM) at GM Hall. Taking part in the discussion, noted educationist Late Dr TS Gangte categorically stated that the efforts being made to adopt the curriculum and syllabus prescribed by Nagaland Board in the private schools located in the hill districts is unreasonable and would never materialise. It was done at the instigation of some vested interest group of people with the main objective of setting one community against another, he said. The contents of the text books and the syllabus prescribed by the Manipur Board were in no way inferior in comparison to the all India level whereas Nagaland State didn’t even have its own literature and standard language, Dr Gangte added.

On 26 August 2006, there was a mass rally in Senapati and Ukhrul districts demanding speedy implementation of affiliation to NBSE.  The rally at Senapati ended with a submission of memorandum signed by President of Private Schools Forum and addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, favouring the affiliation to Nagaland. In Ukhrul, the representatives and students of Tangkhul Katamnao Saklong (TKS), Hungphung Katamnao Long (HKL), ANSAM, Ukhrul District, Tangkhul students Union, Tangkhul Naga Long, Tangkhul Youth Council and Tangkhul women union took part in the rally and concluded with submission of memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister by handing over to the district authority pleading the same as submitted in Chandel.

On Sept 2006, the Naga agitators favoring affiliation to NBSE began to target Government schools by ransacking Government schools, and offices of Zonal Educational Officers. On 8 September 2006, the ANSAM issued a stricture banning the CDs/video cassettes, audios in Meitei language in the four hill districts of Tamenglong, Senapati, Ukhrul and Chandel. ANSAM has also banned the use of Meitei Mayek (Meitei Script) in these four districts. In a statement ANSAM stated that the ban on Meitei Mayek in the four hill districts would be enforced immediately while the ban on Meitei language CDs/cassettes of audios and videos would become effective from September 17. Further it said that, in pursuance of NPC resolution adopted on November 4, 2005 and in concurrence with the directives from the office of the UNC of September 6, 2006, the ANSAM informs all the units and sub-ordinate bodies to implement the ban on Meitei language audio/video CDs/cassette in the hill districts of Tamenglong, Chandel, Ukhrul and Senapati with effect from September 17, 2006 and warned the violators with strict penalty. The UNC later justified the ban imposed on Meitei Mayek (script), films and songs by ANSAM, stating that it had become inevitable to check dilution of Nagas history from the impact of the Meitei endeavors Meitei films, songs and script influence the Nagas identity, tradition and culture thereby evoking the prohibitions. Moreover, it could also be construed as a part of the Nagas non-cooperation movement against Manipur Government as was adopted by the Naga Peoples Convention, it further stated while endorsing the ban.

Further deepening the imbroglio of the NBSE affiliation issue, it came to light that Outer Manipur Parliamentary MP, Mani Charenamei had written to the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil as well as to the Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) in the middle of September that the BoSEM is harassing the Naga community in Manipur following the letter from the NCST seeking relevant information from the BoSEM within 30 days time. Charanameis letter to the NCST also mentioned that that ANSAM and Naga Students Federation had rejected the books prescribed by the BoSEM as the education system in Manipur had never been in the interest of the tribal communities, including the Nagas. The Naga students of Manipur, though separated by the imposed State boundarie have found the syllabus prescribed by the NBSE very friendly, owing to ethnic affinity, cultural and historical oneness. On many counts, the NBSE syllabus had been found learning friendly, the text books cover relevant topics pertaining to the history, social and cultural life of the Nagas. He further argued that the syllabus prescribed by the BoSEM, on the other hand, was too taxing and too tough for the poor and facilities starved tribal students of Manipur resulting to the rise in the number of school drop outs among the tribal communities. The MP further accused the BoSEM of imposing Meitei language and Meitei script on the tribals allegedly as a policy to assimilate the minority communities into the culture of the majority community at the cost of their distinct identity, culture and languages. The Government of Manipur had also banned schools from seeking affiliation to CBSE and ICSE, amounting to violation of the rights of the tribals, the MP added.

On 5 November 2006, NSF declared that all Naga student bodies have made necessary preparations to exert strong pressure on the Union Government to realise their mission to affiliate all schools in Naga areas of Manipur under NBSE. He further cautioned of massive stir at unprecedented level if the Union Government failed to honour the aspirations of Naga students. NSF, ANSAM and other Naga student bodies would press their points and urge the Union Government particularly Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh to resolve the issue of school affiliation according to the aspiration of Naga students. stating that Nagaland Government was quite supportive towards the move to affiliate all schools in Naga areas of Manipur under the NBSE and had been extending unstinted cooperation in the campaign, the NSF leader noted that the only impediment delaying resolution of the issue was the official approval from the Centre.

On 14 November 2006, Nagaland School Education Minister Imkong L Imchen said Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh had sent a letter mentioning the Centres inability to address the imbroglio between Nagaland and Manipur over the affiliation of schools to the NBSE stating that the matter should be resolved between the two States, Imchen said. He also said the students from Manipur were being allowed to appear for their examinations in view of the situation in Manipur by a collective Cabinet decision, taken after examining all aspects.

One of the media report which came out on the eve of NBSE examination 2007 claimed that altogether 2500 students from the four hills districts of Manipur would be appearing the HSLC examination in Nagaland in three centres – one at Kohima (John High School, Viswema) and two at Dimapur. The Nagaland Government had also provided adequate security in all three centres following the threat from the NSCN-K to conduct the examination without any disturbances. In connection with it, NSCN-K afterwards alleged the Nagaland Government of spending more than Rs. 71 Lakhs for accommodation and protection of the Manipuri students appeared in HSLC and HSSLC examinations under Nagaland Board from the fund meant for the people of Nagaland. The NSCN-K, had afterwards issued warning to the Nagaland Education minister to immediately submit the amount without fail, failing which the burden would be (borne) by his posterities, the outfit stated adding that the issue has not been forgotten. Any act of defiance would be met with equal measure, the NSCN-K cautioned.

In the HSLC examination for the year 2007 staring from 12 March,  over 23,000 students appeared  matriculation examinations despite the disruption threat  and avowed declaration of not allowing the Board of Secondary Education, Manipur, to hold matriculation examination in Ukhrul, Senapati, Chandel and Tamenglong districts by ANSAM, the examinations was held at 80 centres across nine districts of Manipur with over 2700 students appearing the examination at the ten examination centres in the  four hill districts, where over 2,700 students would appear in the examination. One day ahead of the BoSEM HSLC 2007 examination, a senior official stated that there was no decrease in the number of students appearing in the BoSEM Exam authenticating that most of the students, who appeared in the examinations in Nagaland, were also appearing in the examination in Manipur. He further stated that several students from the four districts migrated to the valley after the Naga students campaign and they were appearing in the examinations at several valley schools.

On 3 July 2007, in apparently well coordinated and clinically executed wanton acts of destruction, eight Government schools including one Government aided institution in the three hill districts of Senapati, Chandel and Ukhrul were set on fire in the intervening night.  On 5 July 2007, ANSAM neither denying nor owning up the responsibility for the arson categorically stated that the news of the burning down of Government high schools in the hill districts of Manipur does not come as a surprise; it was bound to happen. Indignation and discontentment had been building up for decades.  On 6 July 2007, UNC issued a statement endorsing the stand of ANSAM to affiliate all the private schools in the four hill districts of Manipur with the NBSE and also justifying the act of burning down 11 government schools.

On 14 September 2007, the Nagaland government promulgated an ordinance allowing schools in Manipur to affiliate to the NBSE. The Manipur Cabinet in its effort to counter the move   of the Nagaland Government met the same night to promulgate an ordinance prohibiting schools in the State from affiliating to any board outside the State. The Cabinet also decided to amend Section (I) of the Manipur Elementary and Secondary Education Act, 1972 to make it mandatory for schools to obtain the governments permission for affiliation to any board outside the State. Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh rushed to New Delhi, the following day with a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for urging them to intervene on the sensitive issue.

On 18 September 2007, the Nephiu Rio government initiated a move to allow the NBSE to bring into its fold schools located outside the state, including Manipur. The notification to this effect was tabled in the fifteenth session of tenth assembly. It stated that in exercise of the powers conferred on NBSE may in selective cases extend the institutions located outside Nagaland and recognize the various internal promotion examinations conducted by them which will henceforth be called the Nagaland Board of Secondary Education Rules 2007 will come into force with immediate effect once enacted as a resolution. Leader of the opposition, I Imkong also assured that Congress would support any legislation on the ffiliation issue, as and when it is tabled by the government in the house. The bill was said to be eventually passed.

The UNC, NWUM, NPMHR and ANSAM while lauding the passing of a legislation in Nagaland Assembly regarding the School board issue have also appreciated as a historic effort of the Nagaland Government.  The Naga organisations also thanked the Naha Hoho and its tribe Hohos, Naga Mothers Association (NMA), NPMHR, NSF and its federating units and sub-ordinate organisations, Churches, schools, individuals and every Naga people for their understanding and co-operation in making the efforts of school affiliation a reality.  We appeal to every section of society in the region to discourage and shun politicising the school affiliation issue because pursuit of education is universal. The ethnic minority seeking better and suitable syllabus according to the choice of the people under any school Board is a process of building quality education for the deprived, urged the UNC, NWUM, NPMHR and ANSAM.  On 16 October 2007, ANSAM and others have sought from the Secretary of Education of Schools, government of Manipur to issue No Objection Certificate credentials to the private schools operating in the four hill districts in Manipur giving them the “privilege of writing HSLC Exam 2007 in Nagaland”.

However despite the multipronged effort involving the overground organizations, elected Nephiu Rio led DAN governments in Nagaland, and legislators and parliamentarian from Manipur, the movement for affiliation whimpered and gradually damp squibed by 2008 and in the succeeding years the issue is as good as dead. Factor could be non embracement of the issue by the public, for the true motive of the decision being taken to allow affiliation to NBSE by the DAN government in Nagaland as well as those who stir and swirl for it are not in the genuine interest of the students in terms of availing them with more appropriate syllabus, but guided by sheer ethnic politics of complying with the agenda of aspired Nagalim protagonized and espoused by a faction of the Naga ethnic armed group who are in peace talk with the GoI. Those who steadfastly pursued for the NBSE affiliation must have realized the futility of their effort and found it to be inconvenient and too bulky a baggage to be dragged further.

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