At least 100,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees, staying in Arunachal Pradesh for over 50 years, are set to get Indian citizenship. The decision came after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh held discussions with Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu. According to officials, the number of these refugees has increased from about 5,000 in 1964-69 to one lakh. Since 1990, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union has been demanding their ouster from the state.
The Chakmas and Hajongs, originally residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of the former East Pakistan, had to flee when their land was submerged by the Kaptai dam project in the 1960s. Buddhists by faith, the Chakmas faced religious persecution in East Pakistan along with the Hajongs, who are Hindus.
Out of those who reached India, most of them were Chakmas and only 2,000 were Hajong. The groups 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.
The Chakma and Hajong refugees did not have citizenship and land rights. They were provided basic amenities by the state government. However, the Khandu-led government has argued that granting citizenship to refugees would reduce indigenous tribal communities to a minority and deprive them of opportunities. According to Home Ministry officials, the citizenship will not entitle the refugees to rights enjoyed by Scheduled Tribes in the state, including land ownership.
Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju, who hails from Arunachal Pradesh, had recently raised the citizenship issue at a Northeast meet chaired by Rajnath Singh. Read | Why Chakmas and Hajongs are India’s nowhere people
In 2015, the Supreme Court had given a deadline to the central government to confer citizenship to these refugees within three months. The state government moved the top court against the order. However, it was of no use following which the state and the Centre began consultations on the issue.
(With PTI and IANS inputs)