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Hekani Jakhalu: Inspiring a discourse for youths

Morung Express Feature
What happens when a young Naga lawyer decided to form a youth organization and then join hands with the government to tackle socio-economic problems facing the youth in Nagaland? The result was YouthNet. Hekani Jakhalu, youth activist, lawyer and chief of the NGO is a force unto herself.  In this smart, and sassy young lady’s world, age and gender is anything but a barrier to one’s goal in life.
Hekani has certainly crossed many big milestones in her life already. After her studies at Kohima, she went to Bangalore where she finished her eleventh and twelfth standard at Bangalore, she has an LLM, degree from University of San Francisco, and trained extensively at Harvard University, American University in Washington D.C., Amnesty International- San Francisco and the United Nations Head Quarters in New York. An alumnus of Lady Shri Ram College and Law Faculty in Delhi University, Hekani worked both at the Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court. Quite not content with her achievements, she boldly quit as a Partner of a New Delhi law firm in 2005, and returned home to Nagaland to start YouthNet.
Spirited and feisty, this young activist wastes no time mincing words. She says that she was very ambitious and so full of herself that she did not want to come home. It was a point in her life where there was so much confusion. But all these changed when she visited a prayer centre. “Very reluctantly I spent some days at the centre where at the end of they told me that I was to come back home and serve my people”. At that point it was so strange for me, but now I’m a believer.

YouthNet: Launched on the 1st of February 2006, the organizations success has received the UN Habitat Youth Award 2010-11. YouthNet works in partnership with several organizations and educational institutions, corporations. It also works actively with the government. Hekani said that when she first initiated YouthNet, she really did not know where the organization would be in six years time. “I have never visualized in my past about how the organization would become, I have never planned and YouthNet has taken a 360 degree and not even a 180 degree” she said. Hekani also said that it was not a chosen conscious decision because initially she envisioned YouthNet to be young group of people having fun. “There are so many things that happened in my life and I think this is Gods plan. I think YouthNet is also a mission and we are all a part of it” she said.
“Over the years, there were so many threats but we are not scared” Hekani shared that she and her staff has faced challenges while starting the project. She also shares that YouthNet and its members take solace with that fact that although they might never see the changes during this lifetime, they feel proud that they could do something during their lifetime. “We needed to start the process,” she said. Hekani also recollects that there was no youth activity taking place when they first started. “We would not like to say we were the first or the trendsetter but would like to say we definitely influenced people,” she said.

Government and Policies:
Having worked actively with the Government of Nagaland and youth issues, Hekani opines that it is so important for the Government to really look at youths as equal partners in development. “Once you look at it from that angle, so much will change. It’s important to have a consultation with the young people, and so far it was the government who decided what the youth needs. Government has been pumping money. That is true, but it’s important first to understand what young people want before you make any policies. However, Hekani feels that the present Chief Minister is pro-youth and in that we are lucky. “We have a leader who is so proactive youth that I feel proud that we have a government that is youth friendly” she stated.

Youth involvement in Development: Hekani had once quoted that “Nagaland will be an example of what youth intervention can do to a State….” When queried if she still stands by what she had said, Hekani answers that the youth of Nagaland today could do much better in their contributions to the society. She also said that it is mainly out of ignorance that youths are not contributing as much. However, people who have had exposure after coming back are already contributing.
Conflict has always been an excuse made especially by the older generation, but today even with the society still rife with so many issues young people are going on with their lives and jobs. Though Nagaland is like this, you can see it yourself. Irrespective of the killings today young people are going on with their lives. I want to get my job done; they are not going to be disturbed by what’s happening we are already seeing that.
Hekani felt that there are a lot of frustrated youths in the society. “They are very confused and this negativity is dangerous”. She also commented that youths are venting out a lot on popular networking site which is a reflection of what the majority of youths are going through. “We can’t blame this attitude of the youth, and it’s not the fault of the young people, or old people. Everything just happened too fast.

YouthNet and its target audience: “Our target audience is such that a villager and the elite can identify with YouthNet. That is the balance we want to keep. We are not on tribal lines. It is solely on merit” Hekani stated. She also said that an organization can be on friendly terms and work with the government. “But that doesn’t mean we always say ‘Yes Sir’. It’s much easier to work with someone you see eye to eye on issues. We are very clear that we work with the government” she said.  People have even commented to her, “Do not bite the hand that feeds us. There is so much of the blame game. The gap needs to be bridged between the government and the youth.
On if YouthNet has plans of expansion, Hekani said, “We are very selfish its very important that Nagaland is built first we need to prove we are smart and we are. It’s just that we have to come together to prove it,” she confidently says.
Hekani has hope. Hope because she sees the present young generation believing that they can do something in their spheres. “This is the hope from the youth of Nagaland,” she adds.

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