In middle of the uproar over Rohingya Muslims, nearly one lakh Chakma and Hajong refugees, who came from the erstwhile East Pakistan five decades ago and currently living in camps in the Northeast, are set to get Indian citizenship. The move came following an order of the Supreme Court, which in 2015 had directed the Central government to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees, mostly staying in Arunachal Pradesh.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh led a large meeting to decide whether to grant citizenship to tens of thousands of Chakma refugees who are Buddhists based mainly in Arunachal Pradesh, where locals are deeply opposed to a change in their status.
‘The Congress settled the Chakmas in Arunachal, they should have settled them somewhere else,’ said Junir Home Minister Kiren Rijiju, who is from Arunachal Pradesh. ‘The Congress made a mistake of settling them in Arunachal Pradesh without taking approval of the local community,’ he said after today’s meeting.
The Home Minister has indicated that the Chakma will not be allowed to own land. However, the refugees, who live in remote, forested areas, may be given Inner Line Permits, required for non-locals in Arunachal Pradesh who want to travel and work there.
‘Keeping the Supreme Court order in mind, we will protect the rights of the indigenous people,’ said the Junior Home Minister, though he promised a balancing act. ‘We do consider the human rights of the chakmas, we will take care of them.’
The history of Chakma Hajongs
However, the refugees may be given the Inner Line permits, which is required for non-locals in Arunachal Pradesh, allowing them to travel and work. Chakmas and Hajongs were originally residents of Chittagong Hill Tracts in the erstwhile East Pakistan who left their homeland when it was submerged by the Kaptai dam project in the 1960s.
The Chakmas, who are Buddhists, and Hajongs, who are Hindus, also allegedly faced religious persecution and entered India through the then Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram). The Centre moved the majority of them to the North East Frontier Agency, which is now Arunachal Pradesh.
According to officials, the number of these refugees has increased from about 5,000 in 1964-69 to 1,00,000. At present, they do not posses citizenship and land rights but are provided basic amenities by the state government.
In 2015, the Centre was directed by the Supreme Court to confer citizenship to these refugees. The Arunachal Pradesh government approached the apex court to review its order but in vain. After the Supreme Court’s rejection, both the central and state governments have started consultations to find a solution to the issue. The move came amidst a row over the Centre’s plans to deport Rohingya Muslims, who have come to India due to alleged persecution in Myanmar.
Photo credit- The Wire