THE CENTRE will grant citizenship to all Chakma and Hajong refugees living in the Northeast but will ensure that rights of indigenous people are not diluted, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said on Wednesday. The Chakma-Hajong refugee issue was discussed in detail at a meeting convened by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and attended, among others, by Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu, Rijiju and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
After the hour-long meeting, Rijiju said that a “middle ground” will be found so the 2015 Supreme Court order to grant citizenship to Chakma-Hajong refugees can be honoured, and the rights of the local population are not diluted. “The Supreme Court order has to be honoured. Chakmas are settled in Arunachal Pradesh since 1964. But ST (Scheduled Tribe) status and indigenous people’s rights won’t be diluted,” he said.
The initiative on the Chakma and Hajong refugees comes amid the ongoing row over the Central government’s plans to deport Rohingya Muslims, who came to India due to alleged persecution in Myanmar. Rijiju, who comes from Arunachal Pradesh, has said that Rohingyas are illegal immigrants.
Several organisations and civil society outfits in Arunachal have been opposing citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees. They contend that it would change the demography of the state. The Centre is trying to find a workable solution by proposing that the refugees will not be given rights, including land ownership, enjoyed by Scheduled Tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, an official said. However, they may be given inner line permits — required by non-locals in Arunachal Pradesh to travel and work.
Rijiju blamed the Congress for the current situation, saying that the then government had settled the refugees in Arunachal Pradesh without taking the local people into confidence. “The Congress has done great injustice to the local people,” he said. “We are trying to find a middle ground so that the Supreme Court order is honoured, the local people’s rights are not infringed, and human rights of the Chakmas and Hajongs are protected.”
Rijiju added that a petition may be filed on the issue in Supreme Court soon.
Chakmas and Hajongs were originally residents of Chittagong Hill Tracts in erstwhile East Pakistan (bordering India and Myanmar in present-day Bangladesh), who left their homeland when it was submerged by the Kaptai dam project near Chittagong, Bangladesh, in the 1960s.
The Chakmas, who are Buddhists, and Hajongs, who are Hindus, also allegedly faced religious persecution and entered India through the then Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram). The Centre moved the majority of them to the North East Frontier Agency, which is now Arunachal Pradesh.