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Arunachal Suspends Residential Proof Certificates of Chakmas, Hajongs

The state BJP government will also probe the issuance of RPCs following a call by AAPSU for a statewide shutdown on August 3.
Arunachal Pradesh

TawangMonastery-ArunachalPradesh. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The Arunachal Pradesh government has suspended residential proof certificates (RPCs) issued to the Chakma and the Hajong refugee communities in the Changlang district following a call by the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) for a statewide shutdown on August 3.

Fearing unrest by AAPSU, which wants the Chakma and the Hajong communities ejected, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Pema Khandu government issued an order suspending the certificates and the issue of new ones.

The government of Arunachal Pradesh has decided to suspend all residential proof certificates (RPCs) issued in Changlang district with immediate effect,” the order read, according to a Northeast Now report. “Further, it has also been decided to suspend the issue of fresh Residential Proof Certificates (RPCs) forthwith.”

Besides, a committee would probe the issuance of RPCs, The Hindu reported. “The probe committee, which will include two AAPSU members, will submit its preliminary report within 15 days of its constitution and the final report within 45 days,” the state joint secretary (political department), Rajeev Takuk said.

If it is established during the inquiry that the RPCs were issued erroneously, they will be cancelled,” Takuk added.

The Chakmas and the Hajongs, who belong to the Tibeto-Mongoloid race, were initially residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Newsclick reported on January 12 that the two communities had to flee when the Kaptai Dam project submerged their land. These people also faced religious persecution in East Pakistan. Subsequently, they entered India through the then-Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram).

Finally, the refugees, who numbered 5,000 but have increased to almost 1 lakh, were settled in Arunachal between 1964-69 by the government. Chakmas are primarily adherents of Buddhism while Hajongs follow customs that are a mix of Hinduism and animism.

Indigenous communities have been demanding the ouster of Chakmas and Hajongs from the state for several years. Since the 1990s, AAPSU has been demanding their resettlement somewhere else and has spearheaded mass movements against granting citizenship to the two communities.

Defending its stance, AAPSU general secretary Tobom Dai had told Newsclick that “the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873 and Chin Hills Regulation Act of 1896 amply protect the tribals and their rights”.

Mentioning that AAPSU is not against granting citizenship to Chakmas, Dai said that “but they cannot be settled here. We are against their continued presence on our land. The reason is simple but glaring: the demographic impact and the competition for limited resources are already rearing their ugly head”.

Dai added that “according to the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873, the British framed regulations that restricted the entry and regulated the stay of outsiders in designated areas. For inward travel into any of the ‘protected’ or ‘restricted’ areas of some of these states given under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order 1958, an official document issued by the government, which is known as the Inner Line Permit, is required. Besides, the order prohibits outsiders from acquiring any land in these tribal areas”.

However, the Chakmas and Hajongs contend that the RPCs are “absolutely legal”. “The issuance of proof of residence certificate to the Chakmas and Hajongs is not illegal but in compliance with the laws,” Chakma Hajong Rights Alliance (CHRA) spokesperson Krishna Chakma told The Hindu.

The Chakmas and Hajongs have lived in Arunachal Pradesh for the last 60 years and 95% of them have been born and brought up in the state. There is a need to end the racial discrimination against the Chakmas and the Hajongs and allow everybody to contribute towards the development of the state,” the CHRA added.

Suhas Chakma, the founder of Chakma Development Foundation of India (CDFI), told Newsclick in January that the Chakmas and Hajongs “came from undivided India like thousands of other refugees since the Partition. The Chakmas and the Hajongs were permanently settled by the Union of India, the relevant competent authority of the then NEFA, during 1964-1969”.

There is no specific law recognising the tribals. Based on these criteria, the Chakmas and the Hajongs were recognised as Scheduled Tribes in Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal under the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950,” Chakma had said.

They do not live in refugee camps but in villages just like all others. They have always lived in peace with their neighbours and have good relations. The Chakma-Hajong issue is nothing but an issue to rake up for political mileage—an ill influence of the anti-foreigner agitation in Assam. If the threat to indigenous peoples was the issue, the focus would have been the control of the marketplace by non-APSTs of Arunachal Pradesh starting from Itanagar,” Chakma added.

Until 1980, the Chakmas and the Hajongs could get government jobs, ration cards and access other rights and privileges like every Indian citizen. They were also given trading licences and agricultural assistance. But their rights were taken away in the 1990s and they were branded as illegal migrants. In September 1994, the then-chief minister Gegong Apang tried to resettle members of these groups but was not successful.

Relief came in the form of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) vs State Of Arunachal Pradesh & Anr on January 9, 1996, in which the Supreme Court ruled: “The state of Arunachal Pradesh shall ensure that the life and personal liberty of 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 paramilitary or police force as is necessary to protect the lives and liberty of the Chakmas.”

Still, successive state governments have refused to accept the judgement and implement it.

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