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Displaced from Bangladesh, Buddhist, Hindu groups without citizenship in Arunachal

By Sharma Lohit 

Buddhist Chakma and Hindu Hajongs were settled in the 1960s in parts of Changlang and Papum Pare district of Arunachal Pradesh after they had fled Chittagong Hill Tracts of present Bangladesh following an ethnic clash and a dam disaster. Their original population was around 5,000, but at present, it is said to be close to one lakh.
The Supreme Court in a 1996 judgement has given full rights to the Chakmas and Hajongs as citizens of India, but the State government doesn’t consider the judgement as helpful in the betterment of the State.
In September 2015, the Supreme Court of India passed a judgment directing the Government of India and of Arunachal Pradesh to grant Indian citizenship rights to all of the Chakmas, holding that they cannot be discriminated against any other Indian.
However, this has met with opposition from indigenous communities, whose representatives argue that granting citizenship rights to these refugees would undermine the demographic and cultural integrity of the state. On the other hand, the Chakmas and Hajongs have been advocating for their rights as Indian citizens, citing their long-standing residence in the country.
Earlier, the Chakmas-Hajongs were getting “residential proof certificates” required for job interviews and other purposes, but now these have been cancelled following a stir by the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (APPSU), which claims support of indigenous outfits.
The consequence is that some Chakmas-Hajongs communities have no facilities, their housing conditions are bad and many of them are living below poverty line.
On March 11, the Government of India formally notified the rules implementing the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The law provides persecuted religious minorities hailing from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan an expedited pathway to Indian citizenship, provided they belong to the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Parsi, or Sikh communities.
Notably, Chakmas and Hajongs would not get the benefit in the State as the Centre has exempted the tribal states like Arunachal Pradesh from the purview of the CAA. They have repeatedly asked the government for solutions, but the solution offered by the government is to ask them to move out of the state and live elsewhere.
For decades, they have been voting as citizens of the state. Now, since the general election is on the way (in 2024), the Chakma-Hajong issue has significant political implications in Arunachal Pradesh.
Political parties and leaders often take opposing stances on the matter, seeking to capitalize on the sentiments of different communities for electoral gains. This politicization further complicates efforts to find a resolution to the issue.

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