What ails Naga Youth?

Kevi Z. Savino

We are convinced beyond the shadow of doubt that education (any education) will make a person employable. Yet every year, hundreds of Naga youth with fancy degrees join the educated unemployed bracket, proving the exact opposite. Education is viewed as the means to an end and in this case, to employment. Which is why parents spend so much money sending their children ‘outside’ with the intention of giving them a better education and exposure to equip them for a career. However, it is fair to say that education in itself is not sufficient – how else can one justify the staggering number of educated unemployed youth in the state? Hardly the future we envisioned and yet here we are, living the great Naga dream – educated and jobless. 

Unemployment is what really ails Naga youth but there is no denying the vicious cycle caused by the thinking that employment is our only answer. If you look at employment, it is merely an external, physical state that can be changed, but what is worrying (and perhaps more damaging) is the attitude of our youth, our ‘well-read’ youth to be precise. Education has made the average Naga degree holder more colour conscious for whom nothing less than a white-collared job will do. Education seems to have imparted to us, a false sense of pride – a delusion that we are ‘ better and smarter’ and a disdain for menial work. Education has caused us to aspire to air-conditioned, manicured offices with glass walls and chauffeured black Boleros. The greatest irony of our education, or miseducation, is that we have learnt the economics of the market but continue to fail to grasp the value of a hard-earned rupee.

This is what ails Naga youth – the inability to recognise the dignity of labour. We expect to be given the world on a silver platter without having to lift so much as a finger. Everywhere else, people work their way up from the bottom; our youth expect to start straight from the top. We have pre-conceived notions of acceptable and unacceptable jobs and we would rather sit at home waiting for the perfect job, living off our parents than get dirt under our finger nails trying to make an honest living. Undoubtedly, our mind-set towards labour is our Achilles Heel, but that’s not where it ends – we rely on the Government as our absolute source of sustenance and for years we have depended on it to supply our end-to-end needs – from employment through retirement pension. So many of our youth make it their mission to get into the civil services because they feel that is their ticket to security and let’s face it, the good life. I know of someone with an enviable designation in a well-paying job with a private company, who is giving the NPSC exam for the third consecutive year.

Unfortunately there are many young Nagas with an attitude like this acquaintance of mine and to them I would like to point out two things. Fact number one – the number of government jobs created annually will never be in proportion to the number of employable, qualified graduates. Fact number two – the sooner we get hold of fact number one, the sooner we can explore new (and perhaps better) avenues. 

On the one hand we have those waiting for the Government to pull out a giant spoon and yell “dinner’s ready”, on the other, we have a growing number of disillusioned youth, who were once armed with a vision to ‘pioneer’ into the private sector but have had to give up because of a lack of financial support. Sure the Government wants to help and there is provision for loans under a number of schemes but the amount of paperwork and red tape (not to mention the under-the-table-exchanges) one has to go through is hardly worth the effort. Local financial institutions should extend help by way of a micro-credit system. Entrepreneurs should be encouraged to follow their dreams with low interest rates. When we challenge our youth saying ‘dare to dream big’ we should be able to substantiate and follow up our encouragement with financial support.

In the last ten years we have witnessed our very own ‘Brain Drain’ (when talented and trained individuals emigrate to other countries or ‘jurisdictions) right here in Nagaland. Many gifted Nagas with bright ideas, who could make a difference, are forced to head out in search of better opportunities and higher wages because the system and the market will not compensate or encourage their talent. Instead of investing in a local intellectual pool and cashing in on indigenous innovation, we spend lakhs of Rupees importing specialists who motivate us to maximize our local talent. The talent and skills that we fail to recognize and retain go on to become someone else’s biggest asset. Someone else is capitalizing on their potential by paying them better wages and that is perhaps our greatest loss.

If there is a corporate talent that can be attributed to the Nagas as a people, it is that we are artistic. Numerous exhibitions and poetry forums are testament to our creative inclinations. Yet, instead of exporting this very marketable talent, we stop at ‘art for art’s sake’. Even with the sudden boom in Indian art, which is worth millions of dollars and has created one of the fastest growing markets in the world, Naga art is nowhere near it. We have yet to convert our artistic sensibilities into the proverbial cash cow.

The need of the hour is an attitude adjustment, a U-turn if you will. It would require us to go back to our roots and values that our forefathers treasured and held dear – integrity, hard work and honesty were once the defining characteristics of the Nagas. We will never be able to move ahead if we forget where we come from. Our greatest hope and our deepest fear is that we are our future, and any change we want to see in Nagaland has to begin with us and in us.

(This essay won the second prize in the competition under the same title organised recently by the Youth Employment Summit (YES) Nagaland Chapter and YouthNet)