Earlier this month, various union bodies in Arunachal Pradesh threatened to boycott general elections in 2019 over Chakma-Hajong enrollment in electoral rolls. These unions argued that Chakma and Hajong tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh are ‘illegally enjoying Indian citizenship status as well as refugee status’. They have demanded the state government to issue specific orders to the Chakma and Hajong tribal people to surrender refugee identity cards. Chakma Rights and Development Organization (CRDO), based in Diyun, Arunachal Pradesh, has expressed concerns over the situation.
Visibly, there is a tendency among many of Arunachal Pradesh-based organisations to project the Chakma and Hajong tribal people as refugees. It is, however, a fact that the Chakmas and Hajongs were registered as refugees and then resettled in erstwhile NEFA by the Government of India between 1964-69 similar to thousands and lakhs of Hindu refugees settled elsewhere following violence and religious persecution and/or in the wake of the construction of Kaptai Dam.
“While other refugees settled in other parts of India are enjoying benefits of citizenship, it’s a tragedy that Chakmas and Hajongs are still haunted by the stigma of ‘statelessness’ when they are truly Indian ‘sons of the soil’ whose historical legacy and connection can be traced back to the famous Sakya dynasty,” CRDO said in a press release.
CRDO lamented how these union bodies claims are equivalent to spreading lies and distorted facts. By doing so, they are misleading the common public and interfering in the functioning of the Election Commission of India (ECI) at a time when draft rolls are being prepared for the upcoming 2019 general elections.
Clarifying on the misconception and confusion among a section of the people, between the Tibetan and the Chakma and Hajong refugees, CRDO said, “The Tibetans were temporarily settled as honoured guests across Indian states, and they prefer to remain as ‘refugees’ as per the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy (TRP) framed in 1959 between the Indian government and the Central Tibetan Administration has its headquarters at Dharamshala. Each year hundreds of crores of rupees are spent on the Tibetan refugees across India, including Arunachal Pradesh, under this TRP policy. The Chakmas and Hajongs, on the other hand, were taken to NEFA under a centrally sponsored scheme and rehabilitated permanently by the Government of India. That’s why the land was allotted, government jobs/employment was given, and one-time rehabilitation grant was given to the Chakma and Hajong families to start life afresh here. As such, Chakma and Hajong people are not entitled to any refugee benefits as alleged, and no such benefits have ever been given to them after their resettlement as they were asked to fend for themselves thenceforth as citizens of India. Also, unlike the Tibetan Refugee camps, there is no designated area or refugee camp for Chakmas or Hajongs as has been projected and Chakmas have their own home and hearth with cultivable land for farming just like any other local tribe of Arunachal Pradesh.”
Meanwhile, it is another story though that the raging anti-foreigners’ agitation of the early 1980s in the adjoining state of Assam had taken advantage and the vulnerable Chakma and Hajong tribals were made the soft targets. Fundamental rights like employment, ration cards, election to Panchayati Raj institutions, etc., duly granted to Chakma and Hajong people during rehabilitation were systematically withdrawn later. It is this policy of de-nationalisation and derecognition of their rights that has led to the present condition.
Shedding light on the question of inclusion of eligible Chakma and Hajong people in the electoral rolls, CRDO said that it has already been deliberated and taken to court and reviewed vide PIL no. 52 of 2010 in AAPSU and ORS versus Election Commission of India. It inter alia, declared that “every person (Chakma or Hajong) born in India on or after the 26th day of January 1950 but before the 1st day of July 1987 shall be a citizen of India by birth” even if the parents are foreigners under the provision of Section 3 (1) (a) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
About 90% of present Chakma and Hajong population are therefore already citizens by birth and they ought to be included in electoral rolls. CRDO further notes that only about 5,000 Chakma and Hajong voters are included out of approximately 30,000 eligible potential voters. It makes for a prima facie case for Election Commission to investigate reasons for their exclusion.