The Supreme Court’s judgment asking the Centre and Arunachal Pradesh to immediately confer citizenship on the Chakma and Hajong refugees who have been living in the frontier state for nearly half a century, has triggered off opposition with the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) already announcing a protest rally.
The major apprehension of the AAPSU as well as other groups in the state is that the Chakmas and Hajongs, once granted citizenship and settlement rights in Arunachal Pradesh would one day reduce the indigenous tribal communities to a minority apart from taking away all opportunities currently available to them.
The Chakmas and Hajongs had fled from erstwhile East Pakistan due to persecution in the early 1960s, first entering Assam and then taken by the government to Changlang in the erstwhile North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). Their number has increased from about 15,000 in 1964-69 to about 55,000 now. In the absence of citizenship and land rights however, they have continued to live like refugees, except that the state government does provide them the basic amenities.
While there was not much opposition to them in the early period because NEFA was an extremely backward area with little education and no elected body, from 1990 onwards the AAPSU built up an agitation demanding their ouster from Arunachal Pradesh as NEFA came to be known, first as a union territory in 1972 and then as a state in 1987.
Interestingly, while AAPSU built up an agitation, it also got indirect support from the state government which told the apex court that it could not permit “outsiders” to settle in the state as it had limited resources and that it had the right to ask the Chakmas to leave. It had also told the apex court that settlement of these people would disturb the state’s ethnic balance and destroy its culture and identity.
Despite that, however, the Supreme Court’s judgement based, among other premises on the Government of India’s commitment to grant them citizenship on account of their displacement, is bound to trigger off trouble in Arunachal Pradesh in the next few weeks.