We are already citizens of India
The Chakma and Hajong tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh are citizens of India – 90% of population by birth under section 3(1)(a) of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 1955 and remaining 10% by virtue of the fact that they are legal migrants who came to India as refugees from East Pakistan but were later rehabilitated by the Government of India permanently in the erstwhile NEFA during 1964-69. It is a fact that they were initially kept in refugee camps and after a series of discussion between the representatives of the Union government, state administration and tribals chiefs – a total of 14,888 people comprising 2748 families were later taken 1200 km away to NEFA and finally rehabilitated by the Government of India , dispersed across 3 districts of Tirap (now Changlang), Lohit (now Namsai) and Subansiri (now Papumpare) districts which was administratively managed under the Ministry of External Affairs through the Governor of Assam. As NEFA was very sparsely populated and there was looming fear of aggression after the 1962 Sino-Indian war, Vishnu Sahay, the then Governor of Assam under the aegis of the Union government took the initiative to settle these loyal Chakma and Hajong refugees on mostly vacant lands along the bordering state of the present-day Arunachal Pradesh for strategic reasons.
Assistance and relief was provided to each family at various stages of their journey from one refugee camp to another till their final settlement even when India was struggling with food crisis during the 1960s. Ledo in Assam was the last refugee camp from where they were finally taken and rehabilitated to 5 different settlement areas – namely, Deban, Namdapha, Khagam, Chowkam and Kokila across the 3 districts of the state. They were given 5 acres of land per family, tools and implements to plough the land and seeds to sow to start life afresh as citizens of this country. Few even got bullocks and cows for agricultural use along with a cash grant of INR 4,200/- as one-time final financial assistance before they were left to eke out a living on their own. Those who had basic matriculation degrees or above were given jobs in the government administration, youths were recruited in the defense forces – Assam Rifles, SSB, Army and schools were opened for admission of Chakma students, free books were provided, ST hostel facilities, scholarships and all other rights were given to them and they were treated just like any other local tribal student. Ration cards, trade licenses, subsidized loans were also sanctioned thus effectively paving the way for their acceptance as Indians. Even gun licenses were issued to them.
Chakma Rights and Development Organisation (CRDO), a representative community based body working for the rights and development of the beleaguered and marginalized Chakma people of Arunachal Pradesh, has been founded primarily with the mission of ameliorating the suffering of the people through Restoration of Rights (RoR) so that we can lead a life of respect and dignity as equal citizens of this country without any form of discrimination.
This process of cultural integration was disrupted when the Foreigner Agitation started in Assam and the issue snow-balled into the neighboring state of Arunachal Pradesh during 1979-85. Suddenly, all the Chakmas were now branded and targeted as “foreigners” and vested political interests preyed on the prevailing xenophobic sentiments to fuel anti-Chakma ferment further. A period of dispossession, disempowerment and de-indianization of Chakma and Hajong people started after 1980, ironically destroying the very foundation and process of rehabilitation which was set in motion a decade or so ago.
It is the reversal of this definite policy of rehabilitation and withdrawal of fundamental rights one after another and a concerted attempt to de-indianise the backward Chakma tribals which is at the heart of the issue.
The judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 9th January 1996 and the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission of India [Citation: 1996 AIR 1234, 1996 SCC (1) 742], provided the much-needed relief to the Chakmas and Hajongs of AP. In fact, in a subsequent judgement, the Hon’ble Supreme Court vide (CIVIL) NO.510 /2007 dated 17th September 2015 inter alia directed the state “…to finalise the conferment of citizenship rights on eligible Chakmas and Hajongs and to ensure compliance of directions in judicial decisions referred to in earlier part of this order for protection of their life and liberty and against their discrimination in any manner. The exercise may be completed at the earliest preferably within three months from today”.
It is more than 4 years now after the said judgement, but there has hardly been any progress in respect of 4637 applications submitted and pending before the government for processing of citizenship by registration under Section 5 (1) (a) of the Citizenship Act.
Similarly, a writ petition CWP Civil No. 886/2000 was filed for inclusion of eligible Chakma and Hajong voters and the Election Commission of India under the direction of the Hon’ble Court was bound to include a total of 1497 Chakma voters in the Electoral List of the state in 2004. As of 2019, there are about 5000 Chakma and Hajong voters already included in the Electoral List as Citizens of India. However, this is only a fraction of the more than 35,000 Chakma voters who are eligible but yet to be included in the electoral list. However, even these Chakma and Hajong citizens who have the right to vote continue to be denied the opportunity to even apply for government jobs, deprived of Ration cards, PRC and ST certificates to join the Army /Defense forces or pursue their careers. All these in the name of Citizenship although 90% of Chakmas and Hajongs are already citizens of India by birth as per law.
A Paradigm Shift
With the birth of CRDO, a paradigm shift in the approach to the Chakma/ Hajong issue has dawned. It is misleading to seek grant of citizenship rights when the all-important truth is that Chakmas and Hajongs are already citizens – 90% of them by birth and 10% by the fact that they were put up in refugee camps initially but finally rehabilitated as Indian nationals during 1964-69. So, it is not grant of citizenship rights per se, but restoration of citizenship rights taken away from us especially after 1980s that we want back.
A representative body working for the rights and development of the Chakma /Hajong people of Arunachal Pradesh, CRDO, has been founded primarily with the mission of ameliorating the suffering of these marginalized people through restoration of rights (RoR) so that we all can lead a dignified life as equal citizens of this country without any form of discrimination.
The truth must be told to the public at large and it is going to be a long educative, democratic, non-violent movement for restoration of our rights that we must fight for based on truth, trust and transparency – our guiding principles. The truth must be told to the public at large and it is going to be a long educative, democratic, non-violent movement for restoration of our rights that we must fight for based on truth, trust and transparency – our guiding principle. We believe that is the only effective and viable instrument for change relevant even today– the path shown by Gandhiji -the Father of our Nation The truth must be told to the public at large and it is going to be a long educative, democratic, non-violent movement for restoration of our rights that we must fight for based on truth, trust and transparency – our guiding principles.