By Soumya Raj:
Almost all of us have a birth certificate stashed somewhere inside our cupboard safely for us to reproduce at the time of need. It is our birth right, and often we take it for granted that this document is presented very effortlessly to us during the time of our birth, and everyone will naturally, have it with themselves. As valuable this proof of identity is, I would request you to imagine your lives, till date, without a birth certificate. No mark of your nationality, no chance of receiving an admission in a school, no other proofs of identity — for instance, passport, driver’s license, ration card, etc. Tough life, right?
In Arunachal Pradesh, this scary scenario is a reality. The Chakma community has been excluded from receiving this essential record, and life has been a downward spiral for them. The Chakmas have to visit the office on a regular basis but have remained unsuccessful in procuring a birth certificate for their new-borns and children. Khalishi Chakma, is 16 and has no birth certificate. He has no knowledge of the Hindi/English languages in written or spoken form. Dipankar Chakma is another example — he’s sixteen, he’s in class 10th, and he had to drop out of school due to his inability in producing a birth certificate in front of the school administration. Meena, a Chakma refugee, has had to struggle for a birth certificate for her daughter Aleesha, who was born in 2011, for a long time, but failed miserably in securing one. Every time she went to the Extra Assistant Commissioner’s office, she was asked for more documents like the father’s birth and educational certificates, which needless to say, she didn’t have.
What is actually happening, in the Diyun circle, is that there is only one EAC who can issue a birth certificate for a population of a good 32,007 people. On top of this duty, the EAC also has other magisterial functions to tend to. There is only one day in the week, Friday, for the issuance of the birth certificate, and one has to be extremely lucky to be able to secure it or have a personal understanding with the officer to do so, since most Fridays, the EAC stays out of the station for various reasons. In the Miao and Karsang circles, the officials have denied birth certificates to Chakmas since 2006, stating as an excuse, that there is no order to issue them from the office of the Deputy Commissioner.
While the near future seems troublesome to the refugee community of Chakmas, amidst all the troubles, the Seven Sister’s Project has emerged as a platform for the whole community to voice their grievances. It is a mobile-based initiative found by Shibayan Raha. The Seven Sister’s Project has has two objectives, which it fulfils simultaneously:
Seven Sister’s Project (SSP)Â enables mobile phone users to listen to latest podcasts and comment on them, thus keeping the campaign an almost effortless one, while having a lot of power, reach and agency as well. Prahlad Chakma’s campaign has taken a new turn, where instead of just recording your grievances on the SSP’s portal in order to be voiced, he is also requesting people to call the Deputy Commissioner of the Changlang district, Ms. Chanchal Yadav, so that she resolves this issue at the earliest. Apart from SSP’s contribution, there is a joint high powered committee set up by the Government of India comprising of members from the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union, a member of the Government of India and a member of the Committee for Citizenship Rights of The Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh. This committee is established to discuss the details of the non-issuance of the birth certificates, and also to look in to the matter regarding the Chakma’s permanent settlement in Arunachal as respected citizens of India, rather than just refugees.
What is supposed to be a birth right of every individual born in the Republic of India, is considered a privilege if given to the Chakmas. There is no obvious or unobvious reason to not provide them with this essential certification, this is a form of discrimination at the worst. Not only is this an act of oppression maiming the progress of the Chakma tribe, it is also harming their self-respect, and also allowing others, especially the officials, to treat them differently, and as immigrants; where in reality there have been generations of Chakmas who have derived their sense of nationality from India herself. If this form of fascist despotism is not overruled as soon as possible, the damage has a chance to leave permanent scars. Finally, with the provision of a mouthpiece through an organization like Seven Sister’s Project and participation of every man and various committees in favour of the Chakmas, there will be a quick and early solution, and an end to this problem will mean an end to many other difficult situations for the Chakmas as well.