Communities

Government to Grant Citizenship to Chakmas

The move came following an order of the Supreme Court, which in 2015 had directed the Central government to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees, mostly staying in Arunachal Pradesh.

Chakma refugees attending a Buddha puja in Arunachal. Credit: Special Arrangement

New Delhi: Amidst the uproar over Rohingya Muslims, nearly one lakh Chakma and Hajong refugees, who came from the erstwhile East Pakistan five decades ago and currently living in camps in the Northeast, are set to get Indian citizenship.

The move came following an order of the Supreme Court, which in 2015 had directed the Central government to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees, mostly staying in Arunachal Pradesh.

Home minister Rajnath Singh will on Wednesday discuss the issue with Pema Khandu, chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, which has been opposing granting of citizenship to the refugees saying it would change the demography of the state, a home ministry official said.

The central government is trying to find a workable solution to the issue by proposing that the Chakma and Hajong refugees will not be given rights enjoyed by Scheduled Tribes, including land ownership, in Arunachal Pradesh, the official said.

However, the refugees may be given the Inner Line permits, which is required for non-locals in Arunachal Pradesh, allowing them to travel and work.

Chakmas and Hajongs were originally residents of Chittagong Hill Tracts in the 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 Centre moved the majority of them to the North East Frontier Agency, which is now Arunachal Pradesh.

According to officials, the number of these refugees has increased from about 5,000 in 1964-69 to 1,00,000. At present, they do not posses citizenship and land rights but are provided basic amenities by the state government.

In 2015, the Centre was directed by the Supreme Court to confer citizenship to these refugees.

The Arunachal Pradesh government approached the apex court to review its order but in vain. After the Supreme Court’s rejection, both the central and state governments have started consultations to find a solution to the issue.

The move came amidst a row over the Centre’s plans to deport Rohingya Muslims, who have come to India due to alleged persecution in Myanmar.

Minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, who hails from Arunachal Pradesh, had said the Rohingyas were illegal immigrants and stand to be deported.

He had also said that India absorbed the maximum number of refugees in the world.

On Monday, in Geneva, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein flayed any attempts by India to deport Rohingyas to Myanmar when the ethnic minority community is facing violence in their country.