Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh

The Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh are originally from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of undivided India, who were displaced by the construction of the Kaptai Dam by Pakistan and subsequently settled by the Government of India under a ‘definite plan of rehabilitation’ between 1964 and 1969 in the erstwhile NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh). Physically they are of mongoloid stock, with a distinct language, script and culture. They are followers of Theravada Buddhism and have also been described as being fiercely loyal to India.

The Chakmas participated in the Indian Independence movement. At the time of partition of India, the Chakmas led by their leader Sneha Kumar Chakma met and petitioned the national leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel for inclusion of their homeland CHT an area comprising 98% non-muslim population to India. Despite assurances and support, it is unfortunate that their land was included in Pakistan against the very basis of two-nation theory. Mr. Sneha Kumar Chakma also passionately argued for the case of CHT to be included in India at the Bengal Boundary Commission. It is interesting that the Commission Chairman Sir Cyrill Radcliffe was absent from the hearing on that day.

At the stroke of midnight as the nation awoke to freedom, the Chakmas of CHT also hoisted the Indian National Flag with much joy at Rangamati, the headquarters of CHT. However, they came to know on 17th August through a radio broadcast that CHT had been awarded to Pakistan. Subsequently, the Indian national flag was forcibly pulled down by the Baloch Regiment of the Pakistani Army on the eighth day.

Thus, from its inception the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan viewed the Chakmas as pro-Indian, which led to the religious and ethnic persecution of the Chakma by successive governments. The special status granted to the Chittagong Hill Tracts by Act XXII of 1860 as a wholly excluded area was revoked through an amendment by the Pakistan government in 1963 and also repealed the CHT Frontier Regulation Act of 1881. With no compensation whatsoever and the future looking bleak when the Kaptai dam submerged their land and destroyed their lives, roughly 14,000 of the over 100,000 displaced Chakmas took refuge in India through Mizoram and Tripura from where they shifted from one refugee camp to another. The last camp was at Ledo, Assam after which they were settled permanently by the Government of India in the erstwhile NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) with the consent of the local administration and tribal leaders /chiefs.

The Chakmas of AP continued to exercise all rights and privileges as citizens of India till the 1980s when the newly formed state of Arunachal Pradesh, under the influence of the nearby foreigners agitation of Assam erroneously mis-identified the Chakmas as foreigners and systematically began to take away their rights and left no stone unturned to evict the Chakmas from Arunachal Pradesh. 

Another reason for the victimization of the Chakmas and Hajongs is best described in terms of the findings of Dr. Nicholas Christakis, the noted sociologist and physician who was named among the top 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2009. He explains that “In order to band together, we need a common enemy”. Now, the fact is, whereas most Indian states have been linguistically organised, Arunachal Pradesh comprising 26 major tribes and more than 100 subtribes is a rare exception and thus lacked a pan-Arunachali identity. The (mis)-identification of the Chakmas and Hajongs as the “other”, provided the required “enemy”, so crucial to create a pan-Arunachali identity. However, the innocent Chakmas and Hajongs caught at the receiving end of this bargain found their rights derecognized day by day as various student groups and political parties picked up this misinformed propaganda to further their political careers. 

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