With the Supreme Court ruling last month that the Chakma and Hajong refugees from Bangladesh living in Arunachal Pradesh be given citizenship, the northeastern state’s premier students’ body, which has been leading a movement on this issue, now wants to be made a party to the process.
“After being approached by representatives of the Chakmas and Hajongs, the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) told the Supreme Court that the AAPSU (All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union) has been harassing them,” Biru Nasi, AAPSU general secretary, told this visiting IANS correspondent.
“But neither the Supreme Court nor the NHRC called the AAPSU,” he said.
According to Nasi, AAPSU, which has asked the state government to file a review petition following the apex court’s ruling of September 17, now wants to be made a party to the process.
“We are going to file an impleadment to be made a party to the process,” he said.
“Once we are made a party to the process, we (AAPSU) will file a separate review petition.”
The problem has been festering ever since the Chakma and Hajong refugees came to Arunachal Pradesh from the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh in 1964 due to the construction of the Kaptai Dam. In fact, the AAPSU was formed in 1966 primarily to oppose the settling down of these refugees in the northeastern state and by the time Arunachal Pradesh became a state in 1987, the movement had assumed robust proportions.
Though the refugees had initially moved to the Lushai Hills of present day Mizoram, most of them were shifted to Arunachal Pradesh – then known as Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA) – which was then under the governor of Assam.
“As you know, Arunachal Pradesh has been a late starter in the development process. At that time most of our people were not that well educated and the problem started growing,” Nasi explained.
According to him, U. Chakma, a political secretary of that time, identified some vacant land in Arunachal Pradesh following which the authorities in Assam moved the refugees to the place.
“We have no problem with them being given citizenship on humanitarian grounds,” Nasi said.
“But they should be issued ILP (Inner Line Permit) like in the case of any other Indian citizen coming to Arunachal Pradesh,” he said, adding that the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh have been given safeguards under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873.
Apart from Arunachal Pradesh, the ILP, designed to safeguard the rights of the indigenous people, is in force in two other northeastern states – Mizoram and Nagaland.
According to a white paper published in 1996, the number of Chakma and Hajong refugees in Arunachal Pradesh has grown to more than 60,000 from the original figure of nearly 15,000.
“But, according to our figures, the number has now crossed 100,000,” Nasi said.
“This is bound to affect us demographically as our indigenous people barely number over 700,000 (of the state’s population of over 1.3 million},” he added.
Meanwhile, union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju, who himself hails from Arunachal Pradesh, has said that while the Supreme Court ruling has to be complied with, the state government should file an appeal for the legal and demographic safeguards of the indigenous people of the state.
“It was historically wrong to settle them inside the territory of NEFA without the consent of the local people,” a media report quoted him as saying.
“There are other parts in the country where Chakmas and Hajongs are already citizens and therefore a mechanism must be worked out where Arunachal Pradesh do not take extra burden of the large numbers of Chakmas and Hajongs,” he said.
Even as it is going for a judicial process over the issue, the AAPSU is also planning a series of agitational programmes, including a protest rally at Jantar Mantar in the national capital on Friday.