Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury
[Research & Programme Associate,Calcutta Research Group]
Santosh Kumar Chakma (name changed) is a Gaon Burah (head man) of a village called Dumpani in Diyun circle of eastern Arunachal Pradesh, India. Santosh and his family decided to leave Chittagong Hill Ttracts (CHT) having faced the violence that broke out in 1964. His family had eight members when they left their village. After walking for several days in a group with his ailing parents, wife, and a two-year old son he crossed over on this side and reached Demagri transit camp, set up by the Government of India in the Mizo district (now Mizoram) of Assam. The moment they registered their names in the refugee list of the camp, they got a new identity - “Chakma refugees”. Santosh after losing his two wives remarried and has a son from his third wife. He has two more sons from his earlier two wives, who have got Indian citizenship by birth. By the time when Santosh’s youngest son was born, the Government of India amended its Citizenship Act 1955. The amended Act entails that “every person born in India, - a) either on or after the 26th day of January, 1950, but before the commencement of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 1986 or (b) on or after such commencement and either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth, shall be a citizen of India by birth” (Art 3, clause 1). According to this new amended Act Santosh’s youngest son cannot be an Indian citizen as either of his parent is not Indian citizen. Irony is that in a same family his two elder sons are Indians by birth (as they were born before 1986) and his youngest son has become stateless just because either of his parents is not Indian. Santosh’s family is not the only one in Arunachal Pradesh. There are many other Chakma families, who are facing the similar problem due to legal anachronism.
History reveals that the Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh,were encouraged by the Government of India to take shelter in the desolate land of NEFA (North East Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh), India once they were uprooted from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) in 1964. Chakmas were displaced primarily due to the construction of the Kaptai dam in connection with a hydroelectric project over the river Karnaphuli. The government records of Arunachal Pradesh indicate that between 1964 and 1969, a total of 2,748 Chakmas and Hajongs comprising some 14,888 persons were sent to the NEFA. Initially these refugees were settled in 10,799 acres of land in the three districts namely, Lohit (214 families settled and 1192 person altogether), Subansiri (now in Papum Pare: 238 Families and 1133 persons in total) and Tirup (now in Changlang: 2146 Chakma families with 11813 persons in total and 150 Hajong families with 750 persons in total). By 1979 these figures increased up to 3919 families consisting of 21,494 persons. According to the 1991 census report total number of the evacuees from the CHT increased further to around 65,000, whereas the total population of the state was 8,58,392. Due to absence of census survey since then the aforesaid figure is quoted in all accounts of the issue.
The plots of land varying from 5 to 10 acres per family (including 3 to 5 acres of cultivable land) depending upon the size of the family was allotted to these refugees under a centrally-sponsored rehabilitation scheme of India. A cash grant for each family was also sanctioned by the Ministry of Rehabilitation. Later, under the Indira-Mujib Agreement of 1972, it was decided that India and not Bangladesh would be responsible for all migrants who entered India before 25 March 1971 and therefore the Chakmas, who came to India before the aforesaid date, would be considered for the grant of Indian citizenship. However, though these “new migrants” got refugee cards after crossing the international border, the Government of India provided citizenship to only a microscopic minority (1530 in numbers as of 2010) out of 65,000 Chakmas. As majority of these Chakmas do not have nationality they are regarded as stateless and are systematically deprived of other fundamental rights.
Due to increasing incidents of social discrimination and economic boycott against the Chakmas and Hajongs since early 90s the Committee of Citizenship Rights for the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh (CCRCAP), was formed to raise their demand for citizenship rights. Since its inception the CCRCAP repeatedly informed National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) about the threat to the lives and property of the Chakmas. Though initially the NHRC treated it as a formal complaint however, on 7 December 1994, it directed the State Government of Arunachal Pradesh and Central Government to provide information about the steps taken to protect the Chakmas and Hajongs. The issue became critical following the resolution passed by the political leaders of Arunachal Pradesh led by then Chief Minister Mr. Gegong Apang to resign en masse from the national party membership if the Chakmas and Hajongs are not deported by 31 December 1995. The resolution also prohibited any social interactions between the local Arunachalees and the Chakmas and Hajongs. The CCRCAP approached the NHRC again to seek protection of their lives and liberty in view of the deadline and the support extended to the strongest students’ organization AAPSU (All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union) by the State Government. As the State Government was inordinately delaying to inform on the steps taken to protect the Chakmas and Hajongs, the NHRC, headed by Justice Ranganath Mishra, approached the Supreme Court to seek appropriate relief filing a writ petition (No. 720/1995). The Supreme Court in its interim order on 2 November 1995 directed the State Government to “ensure that the Chakmas situated in its territory are not ousted by any coercive action, not in accordance with law.” As the 31st December 1995 deadline approached, then Prime Minister P V Narashima Rao formed a high-level committee headed by then Home Minister S B Chavan. On 9 January 1996, the Supreme Court gave its judgment in the case of NHRC vs. State of Arunachal Pradesh, issuing the following orders:
a)The State of Arunachal Pradesh, shall ensure that the life and personal liberty of each and every Chakma residing within the State shall be protected and any attempt to forcibly evict or drive them out of the State by organised groups, such as the AAPSU, shall be repelled, if necessary by requisitioning the service of para-military or police force, and if additional forces are considered necessary to carry out this direction, the State will request the centre to provide such help;
b)Except in accordance with law, the Chakmas shall not be evicted from their homes and shall not be denied domestic life and comfort therein;
c)The quit notices and ultimatums issued by the AAPSU and any other group which tantamount to threats to the life and liberty of each and every Chakma should be dealt with by the state in accordance with law;
d)The application made for registration as citizen of India by the Chakma/s under Section 5 of the Act, shall be entered in the register maintained for the purpose and shall be forwarded by the Collector or the Deputy Commissioner who receives them under the relevant rule, with or without enquiry, as the case may be, to the Central Government for its consideration in accordance with law; even returned applications shall be called back or fresh ones shall be obtained from the concerned persons and shall be processed and forwarded to the Central Government;
e)While the application of any individual Chakma is pending consideration, the State shall not evict or remove the concerned person from his occupation on the ground that he is not a citizen of India until the competent authority has taken a decision in that behalf.
The situation has slightly changed after the Supreme Court verdict in 1996. However, the state government is yet to take any steps to foster the process of granting them citizenship. Recently a Committee under the Chairmanship of Joint Secretary (North East), Ministry of Home Affairs has been constituted to examine various issues relating to settlement of Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh including the possibility of grant of citizenship to eligible Chakmas and to recommend measures to be taken by Central Government/State Government in the matter. The committee has decided to organize a four-party talk among the representatives of AAPSU, CCRCAP, the Central Government and the State Government on this issue. All the stakeholders are pinning high hopes on this talk as they feel that dialogue among them can only help to listen to each other and in the long run it may be helpful to fill the gap between the Chakmas and the other major indigenous tribal groups like Khamti, Singphoo, Adi, Nishi of Arunachal Pradesh. Colonial history coupled with the post-colonial transition, and the role of identity politics has made the situation complicated, where a large number of the Chakmas and Hajongs living in the designated areas of Diyun and Bordumsa in Changlang, Chowkham in Lohit and Kokila areas of Papumpare districts have become de jure stateless.