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Refugee citizenship issue rocks Aruchal Pradesh

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  31 Oct 2015 12:00 AM GMT

Indigenous tribes–people in Aruchal Pradesh are in ferment over the

September 17 Supreme Court ruling that the Chakma and Hajong refugees

in the State, numbering more than 50,000, be granted citizenship within

three months. While the Buddhist Chakmas and the Hajongs, who had fled

present–day Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) between 1964 and

1969, are celebrating the judgement of the apex court, Aruchal’s 20

major tribal groups are out protesting the decision through rallies

across the State and in New Delhi. The All Aruchal Pradesh Students’

Union (AAPSU), that is at the forefront of this protest, is not against

granting of citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees, but are

opposed to these people settling down in the State.

The tive versus alien debate may be common in Northeast India,

largely because the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh continues

to be a live subject, but the dissent in the highly sensitive frontier

State of Aruchal Pradesh that shares a 1,126 km long border with Chi

is something that can make New Delhi extremely worried. There is reason

to be uneasy because Chi has made it a point to reiterate its claim

over Aruchal Pradesh on and off, and any restiveness among the

indigenous population may make the Chinese happy. The protestors, too,

seems to be aware that the authorities cannot ignore their plea for

obvious reasons. For instance, placards during the AAPSU protest rally

in New Delhi recently read: ‘Is Aruchal dumping ground for

foreigners”; ‘If Aruchal is part of India, listen to the voice of

Aruchalees’; and ‘Despite Chi’s repeated claims, we have shown our

patriotism, now where do we go?’

There had been anti–refugee (read Chakma and Hajong settlers) stir in

Aruchal Pradesh in 1983, 1989 and 1995, during which dozens of homes

of the settlers were torched, but the rendra Modi Government would not

like the situation to go out of hand this time. After all, New Delhi,

under Prime Minister Modi, is on a foreign policy overdrive to boost

ties with the intertiol community, and would, therefore, not want

global attention turn to Aruchal for the wrong reasons. Moreover, the

Buddhist Chakmas from Bangladesh’s CHT are a global community, settled

in India and elsewhere, and any atrocity or discrimition against them

can project any government in poor light.

That New Delhi is on a sticky wicket on the issue was evident with

the response of Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijijju, an

Aruchalee himself, who said the Court order will ‘dilute the

constitutiol safeguards of the State’s people.’ Groups like the AAPSU

have claimed that the refugee population has grown from around 15,000 in

the mid–sixties to around 60,000 now, and could alter the ‘ethnic

balance’ in the State. The ‘Bara Parang’ or the great exodus of these

refugees to India followed their displacement in the wake of the

construction of the Kaptai dam in 1963 in Bangladesh’s CHT. Alleged

persecution, beginning with the partition of India, too, was believed to

have aided the exodus.

Granting of citizenship to the Chakmas and the Hajongs can have a

huge impact on local politics in the State. All political parties in

Aruchal Pradesh, including the ruling Congress, the opposition BJP,

and others, have called upon the State Government to take legal recourse

and challenge the Supreme Court ruling. The State Cabinet has already

initiated steps in this direction. The AAPSU on its part has moved the

apex court demanding it be made a party to the process concerning the

issue of granting citizenship to the refugees. The AAPSU, while

demanding that these refugees should not be allowed to settle down for

good in Aruchal Pradesh, said the Centre should bring these people

under the purview of the Inner Line Regulations, meaning they should

also be required to obtain an entry permit to the State like other


The matter is tricky and may not be that easy for the executive to

ignore the Supreme Court ruling and sit tight. The Supreme Court, for

instance, had gone into various official documents before coming up with

the ruling and cited the joint statement issued by the prime ministers

of India and Bangladesh in 1972, to confer citizenship on the

Bangladeshi refugees under Section 5 (1) (a) of the Citizenship Act

1955. This, of course, is contested like many other apparent commitments

on the subject. Some say Article 5 of the Constitution is not

applicable in this case as these refugees came much after 1950. As per

the Court order, the 1964–1969 stream of refugees are to be granted

citizenship. But, an unspecified number of Chakma and Hajong refugees

had entered Aruchal Pradesh much after the first stream of their

kinfolk arrived the State. Therefore, it is not really possible to grant

wholesale citizenship to every refugee without determining if they or

their children belong to the 1964–1969 lot within a span of three

months. The issue is bound to keep the frontier State on the boil in the

days ahead.

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