Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said that as per the Supreme Court’s order, the government would grant citizenship to over one lakh Chakma-Hajongs, Buddhists and Hindu refugees who came to India from the Chittagong Hill Area in undivided Pakistan in the 1960s.
Mr. Rijiju told that as per the constitutional provisions and various regulations, the Chakma-Hajongs “cannot be equated with the indigenous people of Arunachal Pradesh”.
The Chakma-Hajong refugee issue was discussed threadbare at a high-level meeting convened by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and attended by Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Mr. Rijiju.
Chakmas and Hajongs were originally residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in erstwhile East Pakistan who left their homeland when it was submerged by the Kaptai dam project in the 1960s. The Chakmas, who are Buddhists, and Hajongs, who are Hindus, also allegedly faced religious persecution and entered India through the then Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram).
The Chakmas and Hajongs living in India are Indian citizens. Some of them, mostly from Mizoram, live in relief camps in southern Tripura due to tribal conflict with Mizos. These Indian Chakmas living in Tripura take part in Mizoram elections too. The Election Commission sets up polling booths in relief camps.
Why does Arunachal Pradesh have a problem with Chakmas?
In the 1960s, the Chakma refugees were accommodated in the relief camps constructed in the “vacant lands” of Tirap, Lohit and Subansiri districts of the erstwhile North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), a political division governed by the Union government.
In 1972, NEFA was renamed Arunachal Pradesh and made a Union Territory, and subsequently, it attained statehood.
The locals and regional political parties opposed re-settling refugees in their land fearing that it may change the demography of the State and that they may have to share the limited resources available for them.
Why grant citizenship now?
In 2015, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajongs who had migrated from Bangladesh in 1964-69. The order was passed while hearing a plea by the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas. Following this, the Centre introduced amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955. The Bill is yet to be passed, as the opposition says the Bill makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion, which is a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution.
The Union government is keen in implementing the Supreme Court directive now since the BJP is the ruling party in both the Centre and Arunachal Pradesh.