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India’s Chakma & Hajong Refugees

No one is talking about the Chakma and the Hajong refugees. But come to think of it, that's not much of a change from the last 50 years.

October 31, 2017

No one is talking about the Chakma and the Hajong refugees. But come to think of it, that is not much of a change from the past 50 years.

It is to the Northeast’s credit that this mind-boggling mosaic of different people and different cultures has remained together; of course, the stitching done in keeping all these pieces together has occassionaly been very messy. But as part of the inherently diverse quilt called India, they make our country much more beautiful. It is only proper then that India itself should be held guilty for refusing to give prominence (at least in the mainstream news) to this part of the country.

So, How Did The Chakma and Hajong Communities Become News-Worthy?

 

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The Kaptai Dam (By Govt. Official – Kaptai Power Plant Archive, CC BY 2.5)

It was only in the month of September 2017, in the midst of all the fire and fury over the Rohingya refugees, that the Centre announced its decision to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees. This decision, mysteriously, came almost 2 years after the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to do the above ‘within 3 months‘. But, wait: who are they?

Originally residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, the Chakmas (majority Buddhists) and Hajongs (majority Hindus) have been documented to face two major threats in the 1960s. One, the religious persecution they faced in the Muslim-majority then-East Pakistan, and two, the submerging of their land by the construction of the Kaptai Dam. Thus, beginning in the 1960s, they left for India.

India, as the India Express goes on to summarize, gave them land, shelter, followed by a declaration of granting citizenship. Back in 1972, you may note.

What is the big deal now then?

Arunachal Protests

 

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The Hajong People (By Diarchy Hajong- under CC 4.0 – via Wikipedia)

Arunachal Pradesh is making a demand which may sound strange; make the refugees and their children the citizens of India, but do not allow them the pre-requisites for being a full-fledged Arunachal resident.

Whoa.

If you visit Arunachal today, you will be asked for an Inner Line Permit, a documentation required for every Indian who is not from Arunachal to enter the state. In that respect, this is a quote from an unnamed minister, said on September 13.

“The Chakma and Hajong refugees will not be entitled to the rights enjoyed by Scheduled Tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, including land ownership. But they might be given inner line permits required for ‘foreigners’ in the state to travel and work,”

Predictably, the refugees have protested. An open letter addressed to our Home Minister had this to say:

the Chakmas and Hajongs lost their value and identity as citizens and were stripped of all rights  by the Arunachal government one by one –  employment banned in 1980, trade licenses revoked, issuance of ration card stopped in 1991 and order of appointment of the post of Gaon Burah or to the Panchayat revoked in 1994, on the mere suspicion that we were foreigners or refugees

But the opposition from the natives has been so vociferous that the state’s very own Kiran Rijiju-who declared on September 13 that ‘Supreme Court order has to be honoured‘-said on September 19 that the Centre would appeal the earlier order. Two years later, you may note.

Apart from the protests and counter-protests, the situation has not improved even now; October witnessed protests over Chakma applicants sitting for the Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission exam.

Tribe Against Tribe?

The truth is, this is just one of the various faultlines in the state, and in the Northeast.

In Arunachal, the state government has decided to adopt a Central rehabilitation policy for Tibetan refugees, but this has also faced opposition from the state’s residents.

Meanwhile in Mizoram, Chakmas have been protesting against discrimination faced by them in the state. In response, some have pointed out the Chakma Autonomous District Council in the state, telling them to be grateful.

We have already talked about the fights between the Meiteis and the Nagas and the Kukis in Manipur, cheered on by political leaders, and about how Nagaland has not held elections for city corporations since 2004, just because it does not want to give women representation.

The Lack Of Jobs

 

Chakma (By TawsifSalam-under CC 3.0-via Wkipedia.com)

The people who drafted our Constitution cannot be praised enough; these extremely foresighted representatives provided protection where they felt it necessary. Note the genius of terming Article 370 as a Temporary Provision, but not giving the final date. The Northeastern states are also protected by their own laws, be it regarding visitors under the Inner Line Permit or security under the Scheduled Tribes status. The problem is that, we have not been talking about the future of these for a long time.

Like reservation, we have allowed a system – set up to help the people – to become something very different from what it was originally. It has been close to 70 years since some of India’s best sat down and began the ardous task of making one Constitution for the country. In regard to the Northeast, isn’t it about time that there is at least an dialogue with all the stakeholders? Understand what the people there want from the government, and how the government can help them? Fix some new goalposts, and update the rights as per the times?

Economically, the Northeast is not really in the pink of health either.

Even the achievements are tinged with the whiff of the state’s failures. Neighbouring Manipur sent 8 footballers to the Under-17 Indian World Cup squad, out of a total of 21 players. How so many? Renedy Singh, a local and a former India captain, explains:

“Getting a government job is a far cry for the common people but they have a second option to get jobs either in government or private sectors through excellence in sports.”

For Arunachal Pradesh, unemployment is a genuine issue. An editorial by retired Indian Air Force Group Captain Mohonto Panging, says the same. Even the Arunachal Pradesh Governor has also talked about the same.

So when we come to government data, the inferences are troubling.

The NSSO conducts a five-year survey, on data including the rate of unemployment. As per the 2011-12 report (which is the most recent), the unemployment rate has been rising since 2004 in both rural and urban areas of Arunachal. In fact, if we check for urban areas, the only states with higher unemployment rates than Arunachal are Assam, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram. Apart from better-off Meghalaya (2.8) & Sikkim (2.3), the entire Northeast is here.

Let’s hope someone wakes up before it is too late for the Northeast.

 


About the author: Hitesh Shetty
Dreams of writing a bestseller and changing the world. When awake, tries to figure out how to do both.

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