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Shadow over Rongmei rights

Kohima, April 23: The fate of the Rongmei community in Nagaland hangs in balance with the state government deciding to review the recognition it had given to the community in 2012.

The state government has set up a five-member committee, led by chief secretary Banuo Z. Jamir, to review the cabinet decision of July 23, 2012, which had given recognition to the community as a tribe of Nagaland.

The review aims to bring clarity to the subject of recognition of tribes by distinguishing indigenous inhabitants from those in domicile. The government has suspended all proposals and representations from any community seeking recognition in Nagaland.

The Mao community from Manipur, settled in Nagaland for decades, has also demanded recognition as a separate community of Nagaland.

Though the state government gave Rongmeis living in Nagaland recognition as an indigenous tribe of Nagaland, it clarified that the Scheduled Tribe and Indigenous Tribe Certificates would be issued only to those members of the tribe, who or whose ancestors were enumerated in the 1963 electoral roll of the state and whose names were enumerated in the report of the committee in May, 2012. At present, this number stands at 1,313.

The recognition enabled the Rongmeis to avail “all the benefits of reservation to pursue employment and education” and the special privileges under Article 371(A) of the Constitution enjoyed by the Nagas of Nagaland.

The government reviewed its decision after organisations like the Nagaland Tribes Council (NTC) and Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) strongly opposed the move on the ground that recognition of Naga communities from other states in Nagaland would tantamount to infringing on the rights of the Nagas of Nagaland.

NTC president Lendinoktang Ao and its secretary, information and publicity, Theja Therieh said in a release that the Rongmei community belonged to Manipur’s Tamenglong district and, as such, was not qualified to be recognised as an indigenous tribe of Nagaland.

The NTC said it was committed to the cause of Naga integration but any group or community, including Naga communities, from outside Nagaland could not be termed as “indigenous inhabitant community of Nagaland”.

“The NTC reiterates its stand that it is not against Naga unity as Nagas belong to the common family of the same racial stock. However, it is an undeniable fact that every Naga community resides in a particular contiguous geographical area,” the release said.

The NSCN faction led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah has banned the NTC, alleging that it was going against the wishes of the Naga people.

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