For a civic solidarity: On citizenship for the Chakma/Hajong people

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For a civic solidarity: On citizenship for the Chakma/Hajong people

  • National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has directed the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Arunachal Pradesh government to submit an action taken report against the racial profiling and relocation of people belonging to the Chakma and Hajong communities.
  • The NHRC’s order based on a complaint filed by the New Delhi-based Chakma Development Foundation of India, has given the government six weeks to ensure the protection of human rights of the Chakmas and Hajongs.
  • The foundation had sought the NHRC’s intervention against the racial profiling of 65,000 Chakma and Hajong tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh through an “illegal census” that was scheduled from December 11, 2021, for their deportation, expulsion or relocation from the State.

Chakmas and Hajongs

  • They were inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) who had to flee as their land was submerged by the Kaptai dam in the 1960s.
  • Chakmas are Buddhist, Hajongs Hindu — and they also faced religious persecution in East Pakistan.
  • Most of those who came were Chakmas; only about 2,000 were Hajong.
  • They entered India through what was then the Lushai Hills district of Assam (today’s Mizoram).
  • While some stayed back with Chakmas already living in the Lushai Hills, the Indian government moved a majority of the refugees to present-day Arunachal Pradesh.

Directions of Grant for citizenship

  • In 2015, the Supreme Court directed the State to grant them citizenship, but this had not yet been implemented.
  • In a judgment in 1996, the Court had stated that the “life and personal liberty of every Chakma residing within the State shall be protected”.
  • In light of these orders and given that most of the Chakma/Hajong community members were born in the State and have been living peacefully, the announcement that they would be relocated outside the State and that steps would be taken for a “census” of the communities was clearly unwarranted.

Region-wide pattern

  • It is difficult, but not impossible, for any State government in the northeast to balance the interests of native tribal communities and those of legitimately settled refugees and their progeny.
  • Special rights guaranteed in the Indian Constitution in these States in order to protect the tribal people, their habitat and their livelihoods, have more than occasionally been misinterpreted as favouring tribal nativism.
  • The overblown demographic fears fan hatred for communities such as the Chakma/Hajong in Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.
  • Political forces have also limited themselves to using ethnic fissures for power and sustenance.

Way forward

  • Uprooting communities that fled their homelands under duress and have since been well settled in their adopted areas, contributing to the diversity of culture and the economy, would be a violation of their rights and repeating a historic wrong.
  • There is a need for a dialogue between the State government, civil society and those of the Chakma/Hajong communities which would go a long way in addressing concerns in implementing the Court judgment of 2015, rather than the course currently adopted by Itanagar.
  • Implementing the NHRC directive should be a step in the process to reverse that course.