Why Chakmas and Hajongs are India’s nowhere people

The Supreme Court has asked the government to grant citizenship to several thousands of these peoples who fled erstwhile East Pakistan in the 1960s, and were resettled in Arunachal Pradesh.

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap | Published:October 2, 2015 1:06 am
chakmas, hajongs refugees, india refgees, refugees in india, india citizenship, india refugee citizenship, india news Supreme Court.

Who are the 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.

Why was Arunachal Pradesh chosen?

The Centre told the Supreme Court that the decision was taken after discussions with the NEFA Administration. A white paper published by the Arunachal government quotes Vishnu Sahay, then Governor of Assam, telling then Assam Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha in a letter dated April 10, 1964: “It occurred to me that we may get trouble between the Mizos and Chakmas in the Mizo district. These Chakmas would be quite suitable people to go into the Tirap division of NEFA where there is easily found vacant land…” Arunachal Pradesh was then called North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), and was administered by the Ministry of External Affairs through the Assam Governor. P N Luthra, then Adviser to the Governor, informed NEFA officials on April 21, 1965: “Settlement of (these) people in NEFA will also help in developing the pockets that are lying unused and unoccupied… Besides, the presence of stretches of vacant land along the border is strategically not desirable…”

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What was their legal status?

While they were originally treated as refugees, New Delhi decided to grant them citizenship under Section 5(i)(a) of the Citizenship Act following a joint statement by the PMs of India and Bangladesh in 1972. The NEFA/Arunachal government opposed this, and continues to do so. The state told the Supreme Court that it could not permit “outsiders” to settle in its territory — they would affect its demography, and stretch its limited resources.

When did the opposition begin?

NEFA initially had no elected government or representatives. Political parties emerged only after it was made a Union Territory in 1972. Also, until 1972, there was no mention of citizenship. By the time Arunachal Pradesh was made a state in 1987, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) had built up a strong movement against settling the Chakmas and Hajongs there. The refugee population had, meanwhile, been growing, and the 1996 white paper said their numbers had increased more than 300% from the original 14,888 persons of 2,748 families settled in 1964-69 to over 60,000 in 1995.

What about citizenship by birth?

Only about 5,000 of the original 14,888 are alive today. All present-day Chakmas and Hajongs should be citizens by birth. The Supreme Court has said that those born in India could invoke Section 5(i)(a) and apply for citizenship. A total 4,382 people accordingly applied, but they are yet to be granted citizenship. In 2005, the Election Commission issued general guidelines to include the Chakmas and Hajongs in the state’s electoral rolls. AAPSU contested this, but its case was dismissed by the Gauhati High Court in March 2013. Names of 1,497 Chakmas currently appear in Arunachal’s electoral rolls.

What did the Supreme Court say on September 17?

It reiterated earlier orders by the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court and Gauhati High Court that the Chakmas and Hajongs needed to be protected, and their claims of citizenship considered “as per applicable procedure”. It ruled they “could not be discriminated against in any manner pending formal conferment of rights of citizenship”.

What is the state’s stand now?

An all-party meeting in Itanagar on September 28 discussed the court’s order, and said they were not against Indian citizenship for Chakmas and Hajongs, but objected to their permanent settlement in Arunachal, and their exclusion from Inner Line Permit provisions. The state government endorsed this view the following day. On September 30, the government decided to file a review petition in the Supreme Court.

All parties are unanimous that permanent settlement would contravene the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, Scheduled District Act, 1874, Assam Frontier Tract Regulation, 1880, Assam Frontier Forest Regulation, 1891, Chin Hills Regulations, 1896, and Assam Frontier (Administration & Justice) Regulation, 1945 (1 of 1945). The AAPSU says the court’s order would dilute the constitutional safeguards for the indigenous communities of the state, and pose a threat to their identity and culture.

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  1. N
    Nongaw chakma
    Jun 2, 2016 at 5:55 pm
    dead drop of world if not sympathy among human life.
    Reply
    1. B
      bhagwat manral
      Oct 4, 2015 at 5:26 pm
      what happened to the comment i just gave
      Reply
      1. S
        Swapna Jyoti
        Oct 7, 2015 at 4:52 pm
        A very enlightening article especially because the ideny of the Chakmas and Hajongs get less importance for the media. The Chakmas and Hajongs are perhaps the most unfortunate tribes of Indian sub-continents who are suffering for decades in Arunachal Pradesh only because of historical ber made by some of our re-known leaders, who have ignored the patriotism & sacrifice towards their willingness to be identified as indian and to be a part of India not Bangladesh.
        Reply
        1. B
          BharatK
          Oct 3, 2015 at 11:21 pm
          Nehru made Chakmas and Hajongs homeless. Chittagong Hill Tracts was more than 95% Buddhist-Hindu majority. It was wrongly given to East stan by the boundary demarcator. Nehru did not oppose this. Sardar Patel did and worked to bring the region back to Indian Union. But sad he died soon. Indian schools do not teach these histories. This region was Indias gate to the Bay of Bengal tthrough Chittagong port. It is sad that natives of CHT now refugees in India and still not citizens.
          Reply
          1. L
            L Chakma
            Oct 4, 2015 at 5:45 pm
            Indeed a nice and enlightening article about us the Chakmas.
            Reply
            1. M
              Mithun Chakma
              Oct 6, 2015 at 1:40 pm
              Thanks to the writer Samudra Gupta Kashyap for his thorough writing and understanding of tha Chakma-hajong plight in Arunachal State under India. The Chakma people (including hajong people)of Arunachal Pradesh, who are till now are literally whomeless non citizens in the India, had to flee away from their land Chittagong Hill Tracts(CHT) of Bangladesh after their land had been flooded after building Kaptai hydroelectric dam. The then Government of east stan(now Bangladesh) didn't rehabilitate many Chakme people. So they had to go away and took shelter to India. We, the Chittagong Hill Tracts(CHT) people, still feel heartfull for them. We always hope that Chakma people of Arunachal Pradesh would take the rest after getting their rights. But I don't know if the Chakma people and hajong people wouldn't get their rights then whether these people would come to their ancestral land and how they would be welcomed then in their volcanised land? We hope peace and stability for them. thanks Mithun Chakma
              Reply
              1. N
                Nabam Raji
                Oct 11, 2015 at 7:54 pm
                Nicely presented, detailed write-up on Chakma-Hajong issue in AP. But I am very regretfully of the view that most of the national level media, GoI, SC, various human right organisations, etc.; in their pursuit to shower sympathy with the Chakma and Hajong communities have very conveniently forgotten the woes, aspirations and sentiments of the indigenous ppl of AP. To this, I sometimes wonder, if the Arunachalees are any less Indian than those Chakmas & Hajongs. Despite so many officially registered cases of criminal activities, land encroachments, etc. by the Chakmas; the fact that Arunachalees have so far tolerated them is, I suppose, a clear example of humanitarian support. Instead of being grateful for such humanitarian help towards Arunachalees by these Chakmas, they (Chakmas) are going all out to claim permanent ownership of the Arunachalee lands despite clear objection from the Arunachalees. Infact, due to their better reach and lobbying at various fora, they seem to be suceeding so far in achieving their goal, thereby grossly undermining the sentiments of the indigenous poce. Amidst full of unrest in North East India, the indigenous ppl of AP have always been patriotic towards mother India so far. The indigenous ppl of AP are still very innocent and under-developed, who needs full support and cooperation from all for proper amalgamation with mainstream India. AP has never opposed to granting citizenships to Chakmas and Hajongs. They have only objected to their permanent settlement in AP as it may eventually lead to complete deprivation of indigenous ppl in their own land. I earnestly appeal to all concerned to kindly try to feel the sentiments of indigenous ppl of AP. No power on earth can impose their will on the poor indigenous ppl of the state. If it is so, then it will be a complete murder of democracy and gross injustice towards the indigenous ppl of AP. We refuse to follow the fate of red Indians... Please.
                Reply
                1. B
                  BABU
                  Nov 15, 2015 at 8:33 pm
                  in our consution if the person stay at same place for five year they can play apply for citizenship but chakma and hajong staying in arunachal p more than 50 year so i think we should g thm
                  Reply
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