Recently, the Arunachal government’s aborted plan to hold a special census targeting Chakmas and Hajongs triggered concerns of their racial profiling.
- The often-violent Assam agitation from 1979 to 1985 had a domino effect on some of the other north-eastern States.
- The agitation, spearheaded by students, was aimed at expelling the “illegal immigrants” — by which they referred to “Bangladeshis” — who they claimed were outnumbering the indigenous communities.
- The Assam agitation also impacted Arunachal Pradesh and the politics of xenophobia was primarily directed at four communities — Chakmas, Hajongs, Tibetans and Yobins — who had settled there before Arunachal Pradesh was upgraded from the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in 1972.
- These four communities were largely settled in the present-day Changlang district when NEFA was under the Ministry of External Affairs up to 1965 and then under the Ministry of Home Affairs until 1972.
- The Yobins, formerly called Lisus, came from northern Myanmar.
- The migration of the Tibetans started in 1959 with the flight of the 14th Dalai Lama from Lhasa and peaked during the 1962 war with China. The main concentrations of the Tibetans today are in West Kameng and Tawang districts of Arunachal Pradesh.
- The Buddhist Chakmas and the Hindu Hajongs came from present-day Bangladesh. Communal violence in 1964 and the construction of the Kaptai dam on the Karnaphuli River displaced about 100,000 Chakmas from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. Some Chakmas were settled in areas of Mizoram and Tripura contiguous to the CHT.
- The flow of Chakmas to Arunachal Pradesh continued till 1969. Those who came later were mostly from Bihar’s Gaya.
- Over time, the Chakma-Hajongs became more of a political issue than a humanitarian problem in the State with indigenous groups mobilising on a plank of pushing back refugees.
Key areas of concerns
- New Delhi had granted migration certificates to about 36,000 Chakmas and Hajongs settled in the erstwhile NEFA. These certificates indicated legal entry into India and the willingness of the Centre to accept the migrants as future citizens.
- Neither the local people nor their representatives were consulted before settling the refugees in their backyard. They also pointed out that the prolonged stay of the refugees violated the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) of 1873 that requires outsiders to visit the State with a temporary travel document called Inner the Line Permit, also applicable in Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland.
- The Chakma-Hajongs were at the core of the first bandh that Arunachal Pradesh experienced in April 1980.
- According to Chakma organisations, the State government had by then systematically denied the refugees access to social, economic and political rights they were entitled to under Indian and international laws.
- The employment of Chakmas and Hajongs was banned in 1980 and all trade licences issued to then in the 1960s were seized in 1994. There were reports of blockades and attacks on the refugee camps and Vijoypur, a village in the Changlang district, was reportedly destroyed thrice between 1989 and 1995. In September 1994, the State government allegedly began a campaign to close down schools in the refugee areas and to relocate the Chakma-Hajongs.
- Increasing population of the Chakma-Hajongs to justify the perceived threat to the identity and culture of the indigenous people.
Chakma Development Foundation CDF):
- The CDF says that there is no provision in the Constitution as a tribal State that stops the Chakmas from staying in Arunachal Pradesh.
- It also said the government has not processed their citizenship applications despite the Supreme Court’s orders in 1996 and 2015 to do so.
- The solution, Chakma organisations said, lies in the State respecting the rule of law and the judgments of the Supreme Court and the politicians stopping using the Chakma-Hajong issue for political benefits.
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