‘Not of Coronavirus, we are scared of hunger’

Voices of Nagas locked out of the state during lockdown


Rebecca K Kits
Dimapur| April 17

In the midst of the nationwide lockdown in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a section of Nagas who have been unable to make it home before the interstate road, rail and air travel was discontinued.

On April 17, Naga Students Union Delhi (NSUD) President,Hinoto P Aomi went live on Facebook to voice concerns about the Nagas stranded outside the state. Speaking about the situation of the Nagas in Delhi, Hinoto said “We are not scared of coronavirus, we are scared of hunger.” He highlighted how the Nagas are facing difficulty in availing essential commodities.

Receiving distress calls throughout the day and being unable to help is very frustrating, the NSUD president told The Morung Express. Going live was a way of de-stressing and at the same time calling for the Nagaland Government’s attention to their plight, he said.

Although the Nagaland Government has sanctioned Rs 2 Lakh for assisting the Nagasresiding in Delhi, the NSUD president said that the fund was not handed over tothem, due to some tribal students unions not being part of NSUD. The fund has been handed over to Nagaland House officials and is being used to assist Nagas in need during the lockdown.
“The Nagaland House Delhi officials led by the DRC are doing their best in helping the Naga communities,” he added.

Student unions at the forefront
The student bodies in Delhi are the first respondents to any distress situation in the nation’s capital, but in the present situation, they are left hanging with little or no fund to help thousands of stranded Nagas in Delhi. We are not asking for the money to be handed over to us, but since we are the point of contact for most Nagas here, the government could have sorted out the issue with the student unions, Hinoto said. “If the Chief Minister held at least a 15 minute video conference with all the Naga Students Union presidents, things would have been different,” he said.

The State Government has been in touch with the NSUD, asking for details on the number of stranded Nagas in Delhi since the lockdown. “Numbers are increasing day by day and they are collecting names since day one. I think they plan to collect names till the pandemic is over,” Aomi said. The government can check the union activities by asking reports of the union instead of the list, he added.

The NSUD president appealed to the state government to make Nagas outside the state a priority. We see outsiders in Nagaland receiving help from our people, but here, we do not receive help from even our government, he lamented. The Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government has set up relief camps in various localities, but Hinoto said that Nagas cannot resort to going to those camps, citing risks of infection and also because most Nagas are facing ration shortage but have their own rented spaces.

Since going to relief camps was not an option for Nagas, door to door delivery of ration to Nagas could be facilitated. He said that there are 40-50 cars lying unused in Nagaland House Delhi and the NSUD could avail car pass and use those vehicles to help the Nagas in need, he suggested. “If the Nagaland Government genuinely cares for people outside the state, just supply us enough ration,” Hinoto appealed.

Some viewers tagged Minister of Higher and Technical Education and Tribal Affairs, TemjenImna Along, who joined in the Facebook live stream and offered assurances that the needful will be done. “I understand, yet let’s be positive: heard your cry: I shall apprise the needful: all the best, be safe:” the Minister commented.

Voicing similar opinion was NSU Guwahati President,HokikheZhimowho said that they have also been receiving many distress calls from Nagas in Guwahati. Like Delhi, the CM’s fund was not handed over to the union and while the Nagaland House officials are also extending as much help as possible, the apex Naga students body in Guwahati is left helpless in most cases with less fund at their disposal.


Financial constraints
While they haven’t received reports of racial discrimination against Nagas, they face every day issues like shortage of essential commodities, rent payment etc. There are patients in need of assistance, working people who have stopped receiving salary and some deceased person cases as well. NSUG handles almost all these cases and during the lockdown, they have more pressure on their hands, with more than 200 Nagas in Guwahati, including students and working people.

The NSUG president said that they plan to write to the Assam government to waive house rents for one month for the Nagas in Guwahati. According to him, the government had been asking for total strength of the students stranded in Guwahati which they have been providing. However, he also sought the Nagaland government’s help in coordinating with its counterpart in Assam to help the Nagas there.

While Nagas outside the state face a common struggle of lack of commodities and the longing for home, some have been more fortunate than the others. In Chandigarh, the NSU President Chumroba J Sangtam said that the fund received from the state government is being used to help the Nagas during the lockdown. It is not only the students, but there are a lot of working people who need assistance during this time, he said. Those working in private companies have been unpaid and have been facing problems. On being contacted, the union collects their details and provides financial assistance or delivering essential items accordingly, Chumroba said.

Punjab and Chandigarh police are also helping out a lot, he said. Whenever we contact them regarding Nagas in need of assistance, their response is prompt and the issues are resolved in no time, Chumroba said, appreciating the police. We have contacted every police station and when our people face problems, they are ever ready to help, he said.

Along with students, the working group of Nagas are also stranded in huge numbers in Chennai. Those working in unorganised sectors are the most affected as they have to survive without salary. Some have even lost their jobs and their houses on being unable to pay rent. For some fortunate ones, the landlords have exempted rent payment for a month. But the lockdown extension has brought in a new wave of issues, NSU Chennai Chibenthung told The Morung Express. He expressed hope that the state government would assist in the rent exemption for working Nagas in Chennai during the lockdown period.

With thousands of Nagas in Chennai and many unregistered with NSUC, the union has faced difficulty in identifying those in need of assistance. However, with the fund of Rs 1 Lakh provided by the state government, they have been able to help more than 200 people. The union has also been working with the North East Welfare Association (NEWA) who has set up 3 shelter homes for people from the Northeast. At present, there are 35 from Nagaland in the shelter home, Chibenthung said. Many NGOs have been helping us with ration and food supplies, he added.


Help from various quarters
While racial profiling is common, there are good people as well, says one Naga youth in Chennai. People are very supportive and we have received help from the NSUC as well, she said.

In Mumbai, the Nagas are also receiving help from the local administration, NGOs along with the Nagaland government, NSUM president WungramthingHuileng said. So far, we have not had any untoward incidents reported, but we do receive a lot of calls from Nagas who are facing financial problems and food and ration issues, the NSUM president shared.

There are also a lot of apprehensive Nagas who want to go back to Nagaland. Nagas here are worried that we cannot go back any time soon, and even if we do, we are not sure if people back home would welcome us, he said. 

Meanwhile, it may be noted that the Nagaland Government has come up with an online platform to assist stranded Nagas. Titled ‘I am stranded / I am staying ourside,’ the platform hosted by the Nagaland Government’s official website (nagaland.gov.in) promises to assist those outside the State to get access to essential commodities and accommodation. 
It seeks to provide help in terms of health and medicine, food and supplies, accommodation and financial assistance.