The Centre is all set to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees who have been living in Arunachal Pradesh for more than half a century. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh will hold consultations today with Arunachal CM Pema Khandu to initiate the process, officials said.
However, citizenship will not entitle these refugees to the rights enjoyed by Scheduled Tribes in the state, they added. MoS Home Kiren Rijiju said, “SC order has to be honoured. Chakmas are settled in Arunachal Pradesh since 1964. But ST status & indigenous people’s right won’t be diluted”.
Chakmas and Hajongs were inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). They had to flee when their land was submerged by the Kaptai dam in the 1960s. The Chakmas, who are Buddhist, and Hajongs, who are Hindus, also faced religious persecution in East Pakistan.
The Indian Express on May 19 was first to report on government’s move to grant CI citizenship. “The grant of citizenship is in the Union list of the Constitution and can be issued by the MHA despite objections from the state government. But as normal practice we try to take the states on board,” a senior government official said.
The state government has earlier argued that once citizenship is granted to these refugees, it would reduce the indigenous tribal communities to a minority and deprive them of opportunities. The Centre, officials said, may propose that Chakmas and Hajongs can be issued Inner Line Permit, allowing them to travel and work but not allowing them land rights.
Chakmas and Hajongs entered India through what was then the Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram). While some stayed back with Chakmas already living in Lushai Hills, the Indian government moved a majority of the refugees to North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), which is now Arunachal Pradesh.
Their number has increased from about 5,000 in 1964-69 to 1 lakh at present. In the absence of citizenship and land rights, they continue to live like refugees. The state government does, however, provide them basic amenities.
Initially there was little opposition to the refugees because NEFA was an extremely backward area with low education levels and no elected body. But from 1990, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) built up an agitation demanding their ouster from Arunachal Pradesh.
The Centre was given a deadline by the Supreme Court in 2015 to confer citizenship to Chakmas and Hajongs within three months.