Watinaro, sit-in protest and change: Sustaining pursuit of truth and justice in Nagaland
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n Nagaland one is used to power welding through political and bureaucratic wheeling and dealing under the table, behind closed doors and sometimes blatantly. The two supposedly independent estates – the legislative and the executive does so in the generic name of development, peace and prosperity. Nothing wrong with the stated objectives but surely the means can be questioned and requires stringent scrutiny. But judicial, the other estate seems to be almost muted. Notwithstanding, the political movement, that truly found its genesis on the enormous sacrifice and foresight of the founding fathers, comes closest to our national pride, duty and reverence, but now turning to a mockery because of the acrimonious fractions and actions of the splintered political factions. All these compound to the sorry state of the societal being. Truth be told, these estates in Nagaland settle uneasily as strange bedfellows, sometimes unrecognizable from each other in their interest and collaboration but for the office they represent which had become a system, coveted by many, ridiculed, scorned and abused by almost all rather than hallowed and respected. With public almost accepting such nexus and dealings as the norm, the functioning had eroded the value-system of fairness, transparency and justice in governance. With an indifferent public after all the false promises, the corruption, the burden of the reality, and highhandedness of the bourgeois, these elites go on with their business free-rein. Their bastions of power seem almost indomitable.So in tune with the norm, a student candidate with the right backing and background pushed aside the deserving candidate and snatched her seat to the DYSP University in Himachal Pradesh for B.Sc Horticulture. The long enjoyed script in Nagaland is to sweep aside people who come from the lower tier of the societal rung, representing the majority, by those in power with no rue when they can, when people stand in their interest. The candidate and his family unfortunately followed the script but underestimated the spirit of the deserving girl. And boy, what a spirit it was! The fact that another candidate has taken the seat of the deserving student is not surprising and nothing new. What is un-precedent is the response of Watinaro, the victim.
When she first went to the highest official, not once, but twice and to various offices to address her problem and point out the misdeeds, the door were firmly closed and locked to shun her out. But when she refused to go, instead of giving what had been taken from her wrongfully, attempts were made to pacify and smothere her with other alternatives. Undeterred she stood her ground and to her principles. Then she declared her intentions to protest against the blatant corruption and manipulation and system by staging a Gandhian sit-in protest and sent out a public appeal. Watinaro, with simple clarity appealed:
Since then, all my efforts for my rightful admission to the said University has being unjustly delayed and denied by the so called “official” procedure… I am left behind struggling for my legitimate rights for my career…to fight for my rights which will pave way for a corruption free future for all the future Naga students. I feel that this is not only my struggle but a common struggle for all the Student bodies, Naga students, their parents, concern NGOs and like-minded citizens, so as to put an end to this kind of corruption. It is also to show to the world that the democratic voice of the public matters and becomes a precedence over corruption. Justice delayed is Justice denied.
When the response from the public to her appeal was overwhelming, the table turned. But some support were withdrawn, fearful of the ramification thereafter, from these elites. The fight for fairness and justice were sacrificed at the altar of fear, self-serving interest and kinship. Pressure was on from many sides and put on Watinaro and her family, some maybe, well intended. But Watinaro held her own and stage her non-violence protest in the most amazing way. She picked the Secretariat, the space and epitome that symbolize the drizzling bureaucratic power situated in Kohima, the capital that wield the whole State. This was something unheard of in Nagaland. And in doing so Watinaro has become the face and the voice of the discontent public who for too long had been pushover by the government and its system. She represent a generation that refuses to be coaxed and cowed by the intricate web of lies, deceit, power abuse and proxy- money that puts fairness and justice for sale. In fighting for her right to her acquired technical seat, she was challenging the system of corruption that has permeate to almost every aspect of Naga society; she was appealing to the moral consciousness of the Naga public; she was exposing the blatant double-standard of individuals, unions or federations who advocates for the welfare of the people and students but wash their hand and stands on the fence, unwilling to get into the bad books of these elites. She has poked unsuspectingly perhaps, the crux of the powerful nexus that schemes, plot and make the public bleed. Who would have thought, that a young girl of just eighteen with nothing to show but her brilliance through sheer dedication and hard work would rattle the bureaucracy at its highest echelon? She was bullied and pushed out but she refused to go quietly, be defeated or trampled. She decided instead to fight in a way never witnessed in Nagaland- not with guns, not with money, not through political backing or begging but appealing to human sense of justice and fairness, and what a precedent it was.
That said, to be at the receiving end of rampant corruption and be the symbol of the fight against that cause is a big cross to carry upon the tender shoulder of Watinaro. Watinaro should not be staging a sit-in protest that day, the 19th August but be stationed in her university, attending her Horticulture degree classes and meandering in her business and doing normal things what a student her age should be doing. She was pushed and dragged to the public sphere because of the injustice meted on to her and did she take it on with great dignity and courage. On 19th itself in public glare and under pressure the lone seat in Dr YSP University for B.Sc Horticulture, a quota allotted to Nagaland state was once again allotted to Watinaro, which was rightfully hers at the first place based on her meritorious selection. For the second time she packed her bags and got the early morning train to leave for Himachal Pradesh two days after her victory. The following week she was successfully admitted to the seat. A small step taken against corruption. A huge victory for Watinaro and those who stand for fair means and justice. It is not the end. It can only be the beginning. But what a refreshing, hopeful journey it can be.
Yes, this is Watinaro giving a human face, a symbol to the people’s movement against corruption and blatant manipulations. Yes, it is a message loud and clear that the government and its functionaries could not take the public for cheap joy-rides. It is a voice that Nagas had enough. Most importantly the voice from Watinaro, the response during her protest and the reaction from the public through the media- visual and print and other media delivers hope that the value for a fair equitable society can still be aspired and fought for in Nagaland. And SHE is a girl, from a low-income family and so a nobody in Nagaland world of wheeling and dealing and SHE has taken Nagaland by storm.
In such wind of change, women participation in decision-making in public sphere can’t be too far off, can it? Public are no longer muted spectators, aren’t they? The younger generations are doing the unthinkable and making a stand, aren’t they? The victims are no longer willing to be taken to the gallows, wallow in their self-pity and complaints, aren’t they? The high towers of those bourgeois who are immune to the cries of the people are flustered, aren’t they?
It may be mentioned that since the academic year 1994-95 all state quota for all sorts of technical seats are filled up through the Department, Higher and Technical Education now after it bifurcation assigned to the Directorate of Technical Education (DTE) as the nodal authority. No other authority, Government Department nor North East Council (NEC) is authorized with that power as of today. To think, promote, manipulate and mislead otherwise so to serve ones interest is not only ethically wrong but violation of Government regulation. One may also remember that routine exam takes place in every respective college; the brilliance and merit of students in such exams are respected and not questioned. But as mentioned allocation of technical studies against Nagaland state quota after exams based on merit is done only through DTE so a fair chance is given to all irrespective of background and status, thereby encouraging excellence. In this respect, when the procedure laid down are followed there can be no confusion. Manipulation can create only more confusion. Unless the pursuit of excellence is encouraged, individually and collectively, a society can never truly progress. For any student and their family to explore and avail the opportunity of a seat in any institution in India or internationally in their individual capacity is a private affair. But to manipulate the seat quota of the state through various justification and means must not be tolerated for the sake of excellence, progress and fairness in Nagaland or any society for that matter.
ACAUT media cell released the six point resolution representation submitted to the Chief Minister in the presence of other top brass bureaucrats. The apology by the Chief Secretary is admirable and commendable. In addition, firstly if any concern authorities or Department wanted to avail seat, Horticulture or any other for that matter, against Nagaland quota, then it should be open and transparent to all deserving students through competitive merit exam under DTE. Secondly, it is just right that Watinaro be compensated by the Government for her precious energy and time spend; money wasted from her meager budget; classes she had missed; mental trauma and tension caused; and emotional stress inflicted which is no fault of hers but for manipulation of the system by the powerful whose self-interest and dealing conflicted simply because Watinaro had the ability to make it to the merit list and that could not be accepted. Not that money will be enough to pay off but this symbolic gesture is an acknowledgment of the injustice meted upon an innocent girl. Finally, there should be a thorough investigation into how this outrage discrepancy was allowed to happen at the first place.
Watinaro is the hero here and deserves all applause for her courage and spirit. But I must mention her family, specially her aunt; the Nagaland media; Z. Lohe, former President NSF for his bold unbiased write-up; Yaongyimsen Union, all other frontal organizations and individuals specially ACAUT who responded so selflessly. The courage, vision and leadership of all the concerned parties are laudable. It just goes to show that such action is a collective effort if we must make it sustainable and an ongoing process.
Interesting things are happening in Nagaland. Some-things are shifting in Nagaland. We may not expect the moon just yet, but I know change is there somewhere in the air. Don’t you feel it? The public, the so call subaltern and the generation Watinaro represents are speaking, some shouting, some singing in unison, slowly but surely it is happening. We remain hopeful. This in itself is a wonderful gift. And who can take this away from us.
So then, how can we keep the steady momentum to continuously fight for a just society and this precious spirit alive? In Nagaland more often than not any issue and contention between individuals or group takes the tone of tribal lines instead of thoughtful assessment and working towards a fair, just agreement and direction to change. On the other hand, if the contending parties are from the same tribe, the numerous union of the respective group normally pacify and hush up the issue behind closed doors with the rationale that our dirty linen should not be washed in public for all other community to belittle us, lest we lost our self-inflated estimation in their eye. Such sense of identity, pride, sacrifice and allegiance is important. It has brought us thus far. But such must not take precedence over justice and truth. This time in Watinaro dharna, mentioned must be made of the fact that the unions and organizations of the contending parties who belong to the same community did not played such rationale and diktat. This is commendable. Nagas must grow into a society that encourages public spaces where freedom of expression can be informed and responsibly shared, respected and deliberated. Objective thinking, reflection, dialogue and decisions that take people and society beyond and above narrow allegiance, biases and misguided calculations should be undertaken as a serious enterprise. We must develop a social system where our kinship, our familiarity or allegiance to a said identity may not blind us to the rights and wrongs that occurs in our system. Our allegiances, identities and kinship must be build and sustained upon a foundation not because we blindly embrace and smother the wrongs and the injustices but we take a stand against the wrongs and make it right; and hence, our comradeship and camaraderie despite and inspite of it because we care enough. Otherwise it is a weak and a shallow foundation upon which the enormity of building a nation let alone society cannot be undertaken. It called for a structural change, a new thinking, thoughtful reflection and renewed vision. The various Naga units, organizations and federations starting from the very foundation- the villages must seriously take on their responsibility to address truth, honesty and justice and internalize its value into their functioning, system and way of life.
Justice, truth and honesty much as they are a private, are also a collective public virtue. These virtues should be diligently pursued individually and collectively with humility, compassion and understanding. Otherwise there is a danger such campaign can lead Naga society rather into a vindictive cycle of anger, resentment, revenge and elimination.
How do the churches in Nagaland speak out clearly the issue of morality of right and wrong in adherence to the biblical foundation of truth, justice and mercy? How do the Naga Christian individuals and families apply these moral values in everyday lives? How do we imprint these virtues into our Naga value-system? How do we translate this in our governance? How do the various individuals and organization working for these noble causes transform themselves, individuals and society? These questions need to be processed with humility, continuously and reflectively, individually and collectively. Otherwise the casualness, the recklessness, the pretence and the self-righteous stance that can characterize such pursuit may become be a futile exercise.
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