The racial profiling of the Chakmas and Hajongs

when did these migrant communities arrive in Arunachal Pradesh? Where did they settle? Why does the State want to relocate them?

The story so far: The north-eastern States have had a history of being paranoid about outsiders outnumbering the indigenous communities and taking their land, resources and jobs. The threat from “non-locals” in a specific area has also been perceived to be from communities indigenous elsewhere in the region. This has often led to conflicts such as the recent attacks on non-tribal people in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong or an Assam-based group’s warning to a fuel station owner in Guwahati against employing Bihari workers. In Arunachal Pradesh, the Chakma and Hajong people are feeling the heat since the State government decided to conduct a special census in December 2021.

Who are the Chakmas and Hajongs?

Mizoram and Tripura have a sizeable population of the Buddhist Chakmas while the Hindu Hajongs mostly inhabit the Garo Hills of Meghalaya and adjoining areas of Assam. The Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh are migrants from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Displaced by the Kaptai dam on the Karnaphuli River in the 1960s, they sought asylum in India and were settled in relief camps in the southern and south-eastern parts of Arunachal Pradesh from 1964 to 1969. A majority of them live in the Changlang district of the State today.

Why was a special census of the two communities planned in Changlang?

On November 26, 2021, a letter was issued to the officials in Miao, Bordumsa, Kharsang and Diyun circles of the Changlang district for a “special census” to be conducted in all the Chakma and Hajong-inhabited areas from December 11-31. Chakma organisations said the census was nothing but racial profiling of the two communities because of their ethnic origin and violated Article 14 of the Constitution of India and Article 1 of the International Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination ratified by India. The census plan was dropped after the Chakma Development Foundation of India petitioned the Prime Minister’s Office and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat. Changlang Deputy Commissioner Devansh Yadav reacted by saying an “unnecessary controversy” was being created when similar exercises happened in 2010 and 2015. Later, Chief Minister Pema Khandu said his Government was serious about resolving the protracted issue and will rehabilitate the Chakma-Hajongs in other States. The Union Minister for Law and Justice made a similar statement.

Can the Chakma-Hajongs be relocated outside Arunachal Pradesh?

Organisations such as the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union say the Centre did not consult the local communities before settling the Chakma-Hajongs and that the State has been carrying their “burden” for too long. Members of the two communities have allegedly been victims of hate crime, police atrocities and denial of rights and beneficiary programmes. Based on a complaint lodged with the National Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court had in January 1996 prohibited any move to evict or expel the Chakma-Hajongs and directed the Central and State governments to process their citizenship. The Supreme Court pronounced a similar judgement in September 2015 after a Chakma organisation sought implementation of the 1996 order. It was also pointed out that Arunachal Pradesh cannot expect other States to share its burden of migrants.

What is the citizenship status of the Chakma-Hajongs in Arunachal Pradesh?

Members of the two communities had been settled in Arunachal Pradesh six decades ago with a rehabilitation plan, allotted land and provided with financial aid depending on the size of their families. Although local tribes claim the population of the migrants has increased alarmingly, the 2011 census says there are 47,471 Chakmas and Hajongs in the State. According to the New Delhi-based Chakma Development Foundation of India, the migrants are about 65,000 today and 60,500 of them are citizens by birth under Section 3 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, after having been born before July 1, 1987, or as descendants of those who were born before this date. The applications of the remaining 4,500 surviving migrants following the 1996 Supreme Court order have not been processed to date. Organisations of the migrants said the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019, which amended two sections of the 1955 Act, has nothing to do with the Chakma-Hajongs since they were permanently settled by the Union of India in the 1960s. And since 95% of the migrants were born in the North-East Frontier Agency or Arunachal Pradesh, the Inner Line Permit mandatory under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873 for outsiders seeking to visit the State, also does not apply to them. They say the solution to the decades-old issue lies in the State respecting the rule of law and the judgements of the Supreme Court. There has to be an end to politicians and political aspirants deriving mileage from the Chakma-Hajong issue, they say.

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