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Chakmas and Hajongs to be Granted Citizenship

Chakmas and Hajongs are ethnic people, originally inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of erstwhile East Pakistan which is now Bangladesh. They were systematically forced out of their country because of the Kaptai hydroelectric dam on the Karnaphuli River in the early 1960s as there was no rehabilitation and compensation. They also became victims of religious persecution in erstwhile East Pakistan and fled to India. Indian government decided in the mid September, 2017; that it would grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees living in the Northeast while ensuring that the rights of indigenous people are not diluted.

  • Chakmas are predominantly Buddhists and Hajongs are Hindus.
  • Chakmas and Hajongs entered India through present day Mizoram and Tripura in from 1964 to 1969 and around 14888 were settled in Arunachal.
  • They had initially crossed over to the then Lushai Hills district of Assam, now Mizoram. But fearing trouble between the Mizos and the Chakmas, the Assam government sent them to the Tirap division of North East Frontier Agency (NEFA, present-day Arunachal Pradesh), which was administered by the Ministry of External Affairs through the Assam governor.
  • More than one lakh Chakmas had been living long before the influx from erstwhile East Pakistan in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Assam, Tripura and West Bengal
  • Refugee are persons forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence.
  • Originally all Chakmas and Hajongs were treated as refugees, Government of India decided to grant them citizenship under Section 5(i)(a) of the Citizenship Act on the basis of a joint statement by the Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh in 1972.
  • Arunachal Pradesh, which came into being in the year 1972 as a Union Territory, treating Chakmas as outsiders, opposed granting of Citizenship to them, although about 1,500 Chakmas already had their names in the state’s electoral rolls and names of about 3,200 Chakmas currently appear in Arunachal’s electoral rolls.
  • The issue of citizenship concerns only refugees, of whom there are only around 6000 alive, and their children born on or after July 1, 1987.
  • Arunachal Pradesh attained full statehood in 1987; by then All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) had already built a strong movement against settling Chakmas and Hajongs there.
  • As for later generations, a white paper published by the state government in1996 said their numbers had increased more than 300% from the original 14888 persons settled in 1964-69 to over 60000 in 1995.
  • According to the Supreme Court, all those born in India could invoke Section 5(i) (a) and apply for citizenship. In 2005, the Election Commission issued general guidelines to include the Chakmas and Hajongs in the state’s electoral rolls.
  • Though the AAPSU contested this, Gauhati High Court dismissed its plea in March 2013.
  • In September 2015, Supreme Court ruled in favour of citizenship to eligible Chakma and Hajong refugees and said they should not be discriminated against.

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