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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

Arunachal shuts down over citizenship to Chakma-Hajong refugees

Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu has written to Union home minister Rajnath Singh expressing “inability” to accept the Centre’s decision.

india Updated: Sep 19, 2017 13:50 IST
Rahul Karmakar
Rahul Karmakar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union protests in Itanagar against the Centre’s move to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees on Tuesday.
All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union protests in Itanagar against the Centre’s move to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees on Tuesday.(ANI)

Arunachal Pradesh shut down on Tuesday to protest the Centre’s move to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees settled in the state after their displacement from present-day Bangladesh in the 1960s.

Almost all tribal organisations and NGOs backed the 12-hour dawn-to-dusk shutdown that the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) had called against the move to grant limited citizenship to the refugees.

“The support for our agitation has sent out a loud and clear message that the indigenous people will not tolerate arbitrary decisions of the centre that could change the state’s demography,” AAPSU general secretary Tobom Dai said.

“The response from the tribes of Arunachal, under threat of being outnumbered by refugees in certain areas, should make Delhi realise we are ready to fight for the rights of the indigenous peoples,” Dai added.

There have been reports of violence, particularly in southern Arunachal Pradesh where the Chakma-Hajongs are concentrated. Officials said supporters set at least four vehicles, including a state transport corporation bus, ablaze.

The Centre decided to grant ‘limited citizenship’ to the Chakmas and Hajongs a few days ago. This, according to Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, means the two communities will not get land rights or be recognised as a Scheduled Tribe in Arunachal Pradesh so that the rights of the indigenous people are not diluted.

The Chakmas and Hajongs fit into the Bharatiya Janata Party’s plan to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities fleeing persecution in neighbouring countries. The provision was made in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016.

The predominantly Buddhist Chakmas and the Hindu Hajongs are among the earliest persecuted groups to have sought refuge in India. They were settled in Arunachal Pradesh between 1964 and 1969 in Bordumsa-Diyun areas under Changlang district and Kokila area of Papum Pare district.

The first wave of refugees came after the Kaptai dam – built by the erstwhile East Pakistan government in the Chittagong Hill Tracts – washed away their homes. Later, they fled religious persecution.

The plight of the Chakma-Hajongs was similar to what the Rohingya Muslims are going through in Myanmar. The Chakmas poured into Tripura and present-day Mizoram with tales of horrors.

Tripura and Mizoram have sizeable populations of Chakmas though Delhi, keen on avoiding conflict between the local communities of these two states, relocated them to “vacant land” in North East Frontier Agency that became Arunachal Pradesh in February 1978.

From the initial 14,888 settled in Arunachal Pradesh, the population of Chakmas and Hajongs are said to have increased to 64,000. Chakma organisations claim their population is 55,000 and the fear that they will outnumber the local tribes such as Tangsa, Singpho, Khampti, Nocte, and Mishmi is unfounded.

But the AAPSU and organisations such as the Green Arunachal Foundation are not convinced.

“Delhi sent the Chakma-Hajongs to Arunachal Pradesh on a temporary basis, now it is their duty to shift them back to any other state in India and give them citizenship but not in Arunachal Pradesh,” Nabam Jollow, former AAPSU president and the union’s legal advisor now, said.

Jollow said the government is processing 4637 applications for granting citizenship to the Chakmas and Hajongs indigenous people first.

The AAPSU came down heavily on the state’s MPs – Rijiju of the BJP representing Arunachal West and Ninong Ering of Congress representing Arunachal East parliamentary constituencies and Rajya Sabha member of Congress Mukut Mithi – for not impressing upon the Centre enough to stop the citizenship move.

“I am very clear. I don’t care about any other thing as first of all I think about my people. I value human rights and constitutional norms but everything will be meaningful to me if all rights of our people are protected,” Rijiju clarified in Arunachal Pradesh’s Naharlagun on Sunday.

He also insisted that the BJP-led NDA government did not decide to grant citizenship.

“It was the decision of the Supreme Court in 2015 directing the Centre as well as the state government to grant citizenship to Chakmas and Hajongs within three months. But we did not accept it saying at present we cannot accept it and the rights of the indigenous peoples’ of the state should be first protected,” he said.

“We are trying to tell the court that giving Chakma and Hajong refugees same right as Arunachalees is not acceptable to us. So people of the state should appreciate the fact that for the first time the Centre has not agreed to the order of the court,” he added.

Ering too said he has written to Union home minister Rajnath Singh advising the rehabilitation of the Chakmas and Hajongs anywhere in India but Arunachal Pradesh.

“They have been our guests for more than 50 years and occupied the forests and habitats of the local people, now the villagers want it back. If they are granted citizenship, they cannot enjoy the benefits they got as refugees and have to be resettled outside Arunachal,” Ering said.

State chief minister Pema Khandu too warned Singh of the repercussions.

“The state is not ready to accept any infringement of the constitutional protection bestowed on the tribal people of the state,” he said.

Khandu pointed out that Arunachal Pradesh is governed by the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873, which prohibits all citizens of India from entering the state without an inner line permit.

“Arunachal Pradesh is a predominantly tribal state and the Constitution of India gives special protection rights to the people of the state. These provisions were legislated with the singular objective to protect the tribes of the state from the onslaught of an alien culture and overwhelming influx of non-Arunachalees,” he said.