The problem arising out of Chakma-Hajong refugee issue since 1964 in Arunachal Pradesh is probably as old as the settlement itself. The origin of the problem lies in the manner of the settlement, or, to be precise, the Indira-Mujib agreement, which was penned violating all the time honoured norms, principles and legal provisions. Even the most basic rule of ‘Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)’ wasn’t considered. While, in the opinion of the indigenous tribal people, their customary laws have been violated and traditional rights encroached upon by allowing settlement of Chakma and Hajong refugees against their wishes, these refugees have been mounting pressure on the authorities concerned to grant them citizenship rights.
While taking decisions, the policy makers should always keep in mind that humanity and inclusion should never be accompanied by lawlessness and disturbances. It should never be at the cost of the identity and livelihood of the local indigenous populace. The policies must not cross our understanding about the sufferings we Arunachalees have been enduring all through these years, and of the loss of our ancestral lands, culture, livelihood, identity and our very entity due to the (temporary) settlement of the refugees.
The All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) has been struggling to get justice all through these while. One must not forget the sacrifices and martyrdom of then AAPSU members like Kipa Kache, Tabam Bam, Keoda Dolu et al, least to talk of those who have been and are being incessantly losing their lives due to the anti-social activities of the Chakmas.
During my tenure as the President of AAPSU, a High Power Committee (HPC) was constituted in August, 2010 under the Chairpersonship of Sambhu Singh, joint Secretary (NE), Ministry of Home Affairs, GoI – with participation of all the stakeholders – in order to look into the issues arising out of the Chakma-Hajong refugees in Arunachal Pradesh. The HPC thus constituted was first of its kind. AAPSU, including me as the President, was represented by Tojum Poyum (Gen Secy), Nabam Tamar (Vice President, Protocol), Advocate Tony Pertin (Legal Advisor) and advisory members JM Singpho and TT Tara. The Chakmas were represented by Committee for Rights of Chakma and Hajong of Arunachal Pradesh (CRCHAP) led by Subimal Bikash Chakma (President), Santosh Chakma (Gen Secy) and Ajay Chakma (Executive member). The then Deputy Commissioners of Lohit, Changlang and Papum Pare, along with other state level officers, participated as agents of the state government. It was duly agreed upon during the second sitting of the HPC in September, 2011 at Banquet Hall, Itanagar to: A) conduct a visit by the HPC to the designated blocks where Chakmas were consigned in order to substantiate and verify the ground realities. B) Maintain the status quo of dwelling within their designated blocks/territories. The CCRCHAP consented to do so in letter and spirit and assured the committee that no individual or group of individuals of Chakmas would stray from their consigned blocks, nor would they create any social nuisance in the nearby habitats of the local indigenous populace. c) To grant settlement to only those Chakmas and Hajongs who came to Arunachal Pradesh between 1964 and 1969. CCRCHAP conducted a survey and verified the legal immigrants, a copy of which is with the Green Arunachal Foundation.
Unfortunately, the refugees have started straying out of their designated blocks and have started occupying lands in the reserved forest areas. But the government is still keeping a blind eye to their activities. Despite all our efforts, neither the state nor the central government has come up with any constructive or befitting solution till date.
When both the eastern and western Parliamentary constituencies were won by Tapir Gao and Kiren Rijiju – both NDA candidates – people of Arunachal Pradesh saw a ray of hope for bringing solution to this vexed refugee imbroglio. Hopelessly, the aspirations of the people were not taken into consideration in a truthful spirit. And to strike the last nail to the coffin, the Hon’ble Supreme Court is in favour of granting citizenship to the refugees. That too, shamefully, while Kiren Rijiju is holding the MoS for Home Affairs in the centre. Not to mention that both the Hon’ble Chief Minister and Hon’ble Deputy Chief Minister Minister of Arunachal Pradesh belong to refugee affected districts of the state.
Now, the big question is, “When would we realize of our past mistakes and be conscious enough to correct those?” It’s high time we raise voice before it’s too late.