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Arunachal Pradesh: The Chakma-Hajong Refugee Crisis

30 March 2005

M Amarjeet Singh
Researcher based in Guwahati

T he Arunachalese are getting increasingly worried about the future of their tribal identities, in view of the threat posed by the Chakma-Hajong refugees. They have been demanding their deportation, alleging they were dumped by the Government of India as a temporary measure, but much against their wishes.

I n doing this, political parties have joined the chorus to highlight the State’s four-decades old vexed refugee’s issue, mostly to score political points especially in the times of elections. Lately, even the militant outfits have joined the bandwagon against the refugees. The militant National Liberation Front of Arunachal (NLFA) has also renewed its threat to drive out the Chakma-Hajong settlers from the State.

W ay back in the 1960s, following the alleged atrocities committed on them by the majority Muslims and construction of the Kaptai hydro-electric dam in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, several thousand Chakmas were displaced. A large number of them sought refuge in India. Subsequently, in 1964, the Government of India temporarily resettled some 35,000 Chakmas in the former North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), in the areas that comprise the present day Lohit, Changlang and Papumpare districts of the State.

W hen NEFA was upgraded into the full-fledged State of Arunachal Pradesh in 1987, the issue gathered momentum. Since then, successive governments in the State have been pressing for their deportation. Leading the campaign, the vocal student body, All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (APSU) had even issued a ‘Quit Arunachal Pradesh’ notice to the Chakma-Hajong settlers. These efforts are yet to produce any result. However, the Chakma-Hajong communities have intensified their struggle for citizenship rights since the early 1990s and accused the State Government of human rights violations. Due to their constant pressure tactics a total of 1,497 of them were enrolled in the State’s voter lists in January 2004 in a significant move with far reaching implications.

A presence of Chakma-Hajong communities in the State is perceived as a potential threat to their indigenous tribal culture and traditions by the host tribal communities. Their apprehension is that the 65,000 strong Chakma-Hajong refugees could in future emerge as a dominant political force. Such an eventuality would seal any prospects of their deportation. They are also increasingly worried about the alleged gradual transfer of their land to the refugees. Besides, the refugees are also accused of encroaching on the reserved forest land.

T aking strong exception to the killing of a zila parishad member of Diyun in Changlang district allegedly by Chakma refugees on 30 November 2004, the militant NLFA served notice on the Chakma-Hajong communities to leave the State within two months. Condemning this incident, NLFA’s self-styled publicity secretary, B. Dollung said that the raising criminal activities of the refugees were beyond tolerance limits in a faxed message to the local media on 10 December 2004. The militant group also warned that it was time for the refugees to vacate ‘Arunachal soil’ at the earliest. The outfit had also protested against their enrollment in the State electoral rolls.

A bove all, there are alarming reports of nexus between the Chakma refugees and the underground extremists operating in Tripura, which is a cause for serious concern. As time passes the issue is becoming more complicated. It must be borne in mind that India’s powerful neighbour, China, is not far from Arunachal Pradesh. In such a situation, serious efforts need to be made by the central and the state government to resolve the impasse, so as to prevent Arunachal becoming another Tripura. Half-baked solutions are bound to create more security challenges in future. The issue needs urgent attention as the region is prone to violent insurgencies.

Source: Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies

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