Post Mortem

Rethinking Reservation in Nagaland

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 12/18/2020 2:10:15 PM IST

 In 2017, when the NPF government in Nagaland, compelled by Supreme Court’s order, decides to conduct the municipal elections with 33 percent reservations for women, most of the Naga civil bodies including the Naga Hoho, ENPO and the CNTC objected vociferously. The opposition to the women’s reservations were mainly based on two contentions. One, in Naga society there are no differences between men and women and that women are treated equally. Two, reservation infringes the Nagas customary practices as enshrined under Article 371A. Should these arguments have logical consistency, empirical adequacy and experiential relevance as Ravi Zacharias would put it, the same arguments could be used against the Nagaland backward tribe’s reservation policy. 

Several countries in the world implement reservation policy that gives preferential treatment to certain sections of the society in terms of education, employment or political representation. India is one such country that has implemented one of the most aggressive affirmative action backed by constitutional provisions. However, despite the fact that reservation policies are being considered as a powerful redistributive tool, the efficacy of these policies in terms of socio-economic and educational outcomes has been extremely controversial.  To start with, reservation policies are discriminatory in nature. That is, it favors a particular community or person at the cost of the other. A redistributive policy is not ideal if it make someone worse-off while making another better-off. For this very reason there is no theoretical or policy consensus on this matter. Another prominent defect of reservation policy is that merit, efficiency and hard work is often superseded by birth, social and economic class. This breed animosity and conflict between social and economic classes. 

The current feud on reservation policy has been stirred by the demand of 45 percent reservation in the Nagaland Staff Selection Board for the six tribes for a period of 20 years. Currently, 37 percent of jobs in government sector in Nagaland are reserved for certain tribes while 4 percent are reserved for differently abled persons, making it to 41 percent. On top of this, candidates from backward tribes can also compete in the unreserved categories. If this formula does not satisfy us, nothing would. Should the demand of the ENSF be granted, the total reserved seats would rise to 61 percent. Such a scenario would attract undesirable chaos and imbalances in our society. The Supreme Court in A.K. Thakur vs. Union of India, 2008, underlined that “When more and more people aspire for backwardness instead of forwardness the country itself stagnates”. It further adds that “While affirmative discrimination is a road to equality, care should be taken that the road does not become a rut in which the vehicle of progress gets entrenched and stuck. Any provision for reservation is a temporary crutch. Such crutch by unnecessary prolonged use should not become a permanent liability.”

The demand for increase in job quota comes at a time when many people from the unreserved community are of the opinion that it’s time to review or even do away with this reservation policy in the state. Four and half decades is a long period for any policy prescription to have its desired effect. If on the contrary, the reservation policy is not having its desired effect in uplifting the social, economic or educational standards of the reserved communities, the solution to these problems may not be reservation itself. In that case, the government may replace this effete policy with other effective measures. 

There is this constant pestering by some members of the reserved communities that their share and entitlements have been wrongly appropriated by others making them impoverished and backward. Well, that be the case, some people can also say that they have not tasted even a single penny belonging to others, and that they have their own share of poverty, illiteracy, inequalities and economic backwardness, despite being members of the unreserved tribe. Nagas must understand that social and economic backwardness are not exclusive but are prevalent in every nook and corner of our state, and that we cannot solve them by simply shifting the blame to others.

To categorize an entire tribe as backward or advanced is again a misnomer. This is also one of the major drawbacks of the reservation system. In every society or community there are rich and poor, educated and illiterate, employed and unemployed, cultured and otherwise. Therefore, to pack them in one single basket with the tag of backward or non-backward and afford them a uniform policy measures basing on their tribe or caste is a poor choice of action. Because of this classification, it is the dominant and advanced class within the reserved tribes that continues to appropriate the benefits of reservations, thereby, marginalizing the deserving people within those communities. 

The objective of reservation should be such that it identifies the most deprived and deserving individuals and afford them the benefits to enhance their standard of living. From this perspective, families of high-ranking officials, high income earning professionals and those above certain income thresholds, fixed by the government as deemed fit, should not get the benefits of reservation. Conversely, the weak and marginalized members from the currently unreserved tribes should also be included and entitled to avail such benefits under reservation. After all, poverty, unemployment or economic backwardness is an individual and a household problem and therefore, cannot be segregated by tribe or caste alone. 

The entire Naga tribes has been categorized as scheduled tribes because of their socio, economic and cultural similarities and are thus eligible for various benefits under the reservation policy enacted by the government of India. We are aware that many societies in India are ahead of us in terms of civilization, knowledge and education, technology, wealth and economic development. But that does not make us inferior, because life is not just about competition or comparisons. Every society matures and advances in their own pace and time. We may not have the best roads or the biggest industries. But we have each other, our culture and history, our traditional knowledge and skills, our lands and forest and the enormous possibilities of the future.  Likewise, within our Naga family, there are some who are ahead of others while some are lagging behind in one or another way. Yet, it would only weaken our society if we see each other as this tribe or that tribe. In a country of 1.35 billion people, Nagaland population accounts for less than 0.15 percent of the total population. Within this, already 10 tribes fall under state’s reservation policy, including the Sumi’s of Kiphire district. In that case, only four Naga tribes are left out of the reservation system. Within these four tribes, there are also many families who struggles every single day to put food at their table. Just because the chief minister or the chief secretary belong to a particular tribe has nothing to do with how ordinary citizens struggles every day for survival. 

All of us must endeavor to eat through the sweat of one’s brow. The state must also play its role effectively, especially, in providing basic necessities for decent livelihood. If at all some sections within our society needs preferential treatment, it should not be based on one’s tribe but should be based on one’s standard of living conditions.  For, we cannot discriminate the poor and the marginalized on the basis of their tribe, color or creed. 

Dr. N Janbemo Humtsoe

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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