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Naga students ‘win’ textbook battle

New Delhi/Imphal, July 22: The Naga students in Manipur have “won” this round of their battle for a separate school syllabus.

Union human resource development minister Arjun Singh has assured a delegation that Naga students in the four hill districts of Manipur would be allowed to follow the syllabus of the Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE) instead of that of the Manipur Board of School Education (MBSE).

Last year, the Manipur government, through an ordinance, made the MBSE syllabus compulsory in 163 private schools functioning in Naga-dominated Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Senapati and Chandel districts.

“The Naga students have rejected the syllabus and decided to follow the NBSE one,” said Achumbemo Kikon, tribunal general of the Naga Students Federation (NSF).

The Naga students have been agitating for over a year now, demanding affiliation with the NBSE. “In March, the 163 schools introduced the syllabus followed by the NBSE. All the schools in question are unaided private schools and, therefore, in no way dependent on the Manipur government,” said Kikon.

What the Naga students objected to in the MBSE syllabus was the way in which the textbooks were written.

“They presented a distorted version of history. There was no reflection in them of the Naga way of life,” said a delegation member.

The Nagaland cabinet took up the students’ demand, discussed and agreed to it at a meeting last month. The government then referred it to the HRD ministry for clearance. “Education is on the concurrent list, so we need the HRD ministry’s endorsement of our decision as well,” said Kikon. The situation, however, was fast approaching a critical stage. Thousands of students who had switched to the NBSE had their careers at stake.

A four-member Naga students’ delegation landed in New Delhi recently to take up the matter with the Centre.

They wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and met, among others, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Union home minister Shivraj Patil, HRD minister Arjun Singh and Congress leader Oscar Fernandez.

Sonia assured the delegation that she would take up the matter with the HRD minister. When the student leaders met Singh, he said the matter would be sorted out as soon as possible. “He agreed that the matter needed immediate intervention,” said Kikon.

In their memorandum to the HRD minister, the students said, “In complete disregard of the sentiments and rights of the minorities, the Manipur government has been propagating discriminatory policies against minorities, especially Nagas. One example is the imposition of the Meitei script.”

The delegation headed by Kikon included K. Elu Ndang, general secretary of NSF, Sounu, joint secretary, All Naga Students Association of Manipur and Ning Reichon, convenor, Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights.

The United Naga Council, apex body of Nagas living in Manipur, will meet next week in the state to discuss the issue. Women and students are expected to participate in the meeting.

K. Langamba, president of the United Committee, Manipur, which headed the 2001 anti-territory integration movement, declined to comment on the development.

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