A graduate in economics from St Anthony’s College in Shillong, Meghalaya, Jyrwa, 45, has been associated with student politics
for nearly three decades. He was with the powerful Khasi Students Union (KSU), where he was president from 2002 to 2012. Initially, he served as the publicity secretary of NESO. In 2012, he was chosen chairman of NESO. Jyrwa is a contractor for private construction firms. He married after his exit from the KSU and has a three-year-old daughter. The KSU came into being in 1978, so as he grew up in a family of government employees — his father was in the accountant general’s office, and his mother was in the health department — he was witness to the influence of student-led politics
for the Khasi community. “Right from our childhood, we have seen how the KSU has been trying to protect our people,” he says.
One of the major concerns for the student body has been the influx of people from Bangladesh.
It also focuses on include student welfare, educational infrastructure and community health. Since the 1980s, the KSU has also been actively opposed to proposed uranium mining in the Khasi Hills — an issue that melds fears of negative health impacts as well as opening the door for migrant workers from outside the state.
The North East
Students’ Coordination Committee, which was formed at the turn of the 1990s, was rechristened as NESO in 1993. It is a coordinating body of all the apex student outfits in the states of north east
except for Sikkim. Of its eight members, two are from Meghalaya including the Garo Students Union. The rest include the Naga Students Federation, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union, the All Manipur Students’ Union, the Twipra Students’ Federation and Mizo Zirlai Pawl. Each of these “component organisations” nominates one person to represent them in NESO.
“NESO is working through component organisations on the ground. We have been able to evolve a united voice against the Citizenship
(Amendment) Bill even though the government of India has tried to divide the northeastern people by exempting Sixth Schedule areas and states which require the ILP [inner line permit], and bringing Manipur under the ILP system,” Jyrwa says.
After the Bill was referred to a joint parliamentary committee that was formed in 2016, leaders of All Assam
Students’ Union as well as NESO met with it in subsequent years. The committee submitted a report in Parliament
this January. The north-east flared up in protests, although not as intense and widespread as the current agitations. The Bill lapsed after failing to get approval in the Rajya Sabha.
NESO had led protests in January, and it has been holding public meetings to stress that the Bill is against the interests of the people. The Bill makes illegal migrants, who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh
and Pakistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, eligible for Indian citizenship.
“People from other countries might come tomorrow, but they can easily say that they came 10 years ago. For someone who has no document, how do you determine whether he migrated today or 20 years ago?” asks Jyrwa.
As the protests turn violent, he rues the lack of all-round backing from the region’s representatives in Parliament
over the Bill. “It’s very sad that our political representatives toe the line of their alliances. Those who are its allies vote with the government, irrespective of whether it affects their lives and their people’s future or not. This is how people are getting provoked to come out on the streets. “Their mind is already made up. They want to push the agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is to Hinduise the whole of India including the north-east,” he says, adding that NESO will move the Supreme Court as “it is our last hope to get justice.”
Is this a sign that Jyrwa, who joined student politics
in 1991 as an eleventh grader, will join mainstream politics? As he explains it, “Student organisations in the northeast are not aligned to political parties directly, unlike in the rest of India, but they are based on ethnicities.” He admits that some student leaders may have made the transition to join active politics, but denies giving it a serious thought himself so far. But he is quick to add: “If the situation demands that we join politics, we’ll see.”