The ongoing political drama in Arunachal Pradesh: Negotiating new nature of citizenship for Chakmas and Hajongs

A Chakma youth

By Suraj Gogoi* and Shyamal Chakma**

The National Registry of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and the proposition of ‘non-permanent settlement for the Chakmas and Hajongs’ is an apparent truce for temporary engagement with the sensitive political matters of the respective states. Arunachal Pradesh is without doubt grappled in a political imbroglio where the Deputy Speaker as well as the Chief-Minister of the state was removed in a dramatic fashion. The Governor, JP Rajkhowa was the prime mover of this drama, performed at a temporary stage. The act on its own violated many constitutional provision including Article 174 and Article 175. On the contrary, the proposal of ‘non-permanent settlement’ for the Chakmas and Hajongs by the All-Arunachal Pradesh Student Union (AAPSU) and Joint Action Committee on Chakma Hajong Issue Namsai (JACCHIN) finds itself violating Section 5(i)(a) of the Citizenship Act. Such becoming is not only a failure in the dialectical sense but also an issue, which can be located in the problematic of ‘assimilation and integration’.

Non-permanent settlement

The proposal of ‘non-permanent settlers’ appears to be a vulgar version of ‘economic citizenship’. Seemingly, the issue of Chakmas and Hajongs has captured significant political attention of the student unions, local bodies as well as of organised politics. In a desperate attempt to nullify the Supreme Court judgement for the conferment of citizenship rights to eligible Chakmas and Hajongs, the AAPSU has urged the state government to pass a Bill declaring the Chakmas and Hajongs as non-permanent settlers. The North East Student Organization (NESO) urged that it has to be framed within the boundaries of Arunachal Pradesh Forest Act 2014.

The Act is in a manner regularising and legalising jhum practices in the state. In other words, there is a pre-requirement of approval by the government of the state before any piece of land is brought under jhum. In this entire process the ‘settlement officer’ acts as a mediator between the government and the people. This changes the traditional decision making of the jhum practice. The decisions hitherto decided by the community are now overtaken by the state. As per the Act, Article 10 and 11 indirectly implies that the Chakmas and Hajongs will be regulated, controlled and their rights and privileges can be decided by the state. In doing so, the full-fledged implementation of Inner Line Permits (ILP) will be applied to these tribes which itself raises questions to the rationale or logic of ILP.

Refuge to marginal ‘citizens’

Treaties that our governments sign can also be potential site for the formation of marginality. Such treaties often come with an absence of human security. Nation-states often follow the national security framework where territories become more important than the people. The intensity of this national security framework increases in the frontiers of a nation state as compared to its centre. In other words human security, if there ever is in the philosophy of the state, diminishes in the frontiers. The Indira-Mujib Treaty 1972 was meant to settle the Chakmas in the frontiers areas of North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) now known as Arunachal Pradesh, who were displaced by the Kaptai Dam in Bangladesh. However the prior permission or consent of the local people were not taken into account where the Chakmas were supposed to be rehabilitated. As it was a frontier there was no one to ‘stand up, wake up and clean up’ the decisions that were made. What is clear from this account is that marginal population or marginality itself is not only available when you are not recognised or forgotten by the state. It can also be produced when you are remembered by the state only to forget you. The Chakmas and Hajongs fit into such a description in the most apt manner.

Yet another aspect of marginality comes from fear of numbers from the nearby group formation. With marginality comes ‘othering’ and ‘alterity’.  Politics of numbers or fear of being outnumbered has been one of the mainstays of student politics starting with the All Assam Student Union (AASU) in Assam. The spillover was felt in Arunachal where as compared to their counterparts in Assam who were fighting against ‘bangladeshi’, the issue that materialised in Arunachal Pradesh amongst the student unions was the rising population of Chakmas in their state. In a state, where a singular identity did not evolve nor a language, the issue of Chakmas emerged out to be the only issue that unified the distinct geography inhabited by various ‘tribes’.

At the outset, 14,888 Chakmas and 2,000 Hajongs populations were given settlement in Arunachal Pradesh mostly in Tirap district. The white paper published by the Arunachal government and written by Vishnu Sahay, the then Governor addressing the Chief minister of Assam Bimala Prashad Chaliha a letter dated April 10, 1964. The letter states, “It occurred to me that we may get trouble between the Mizos and Chakmas in the Mizo district. These Chakmas would be quite suitable people to go into the Tirap division of NEFA where there is easily found vacant land…”

Arunachal Pradesh was earlier known as North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), which was administered by the Ministry of External Affairs through the Assam Governor. The Adviser to the Governor in a separate statement remarked the following to the NEFA officials on April 21, 1965: “Settlement of (these) people in NEFA will also help in developing the pockets that are lying unused and unoccupied… Besides, the presence of stretches of vacant land along the border is strategically not desirable…”

Such was the apathy on the part of the administrators and government that it should hardly come as a surprise to anyone. Firstly, it is based on an assumption that the ‘unlettered’ and ‘savage’ people can be bypassed. Such an understanding not only draws from a colonial anthropology and race science but sadly such understanding is used by independent state to observe people’s life-world with a narrowest of lens possible. Second, on a Lockean premise settlement became increasingly necessary in the barren frontiers to make the non-economic zones more economic and populated on one hand and the frontiers and its boundaries safer on the other.

There is no denying that the societies who lived in the areas of eastern Arunachal Pradesh were bypassed in making way for the Chakmas through the Treaty. It is also alleged that the number of Chakmas have significantly increases which is close to a lakh according to the recent data. But just on this ground the inhumane treatment and rejection of the Supreme Court judgement for granting citizenship to the Chakmas and Hajongs cannot be justified. It is also well taken that internal conflict within the state has increased as resource sharing and land has shrunk in size due to implementation of the projects such as trans-asian highways, mega dams, railway lines and so on under the Look East/Act East Policy, various conservation projects, mining and petroleum exploration.

It is against such backdrop the demands for non-permanent settlement should be seen and analysed. Hence without addressing these larger phenomena in the state, the perceived notion of the Chakma-Hajong versus rest of the tribes as an ethnic problem is itself problematic. The ongoing registration of the Chakmas and Hajongs for citizenship should be allowed to continue and the provisions for swift implementation of the Supreme Court judgement for the citizenship should be made available. At the same time the state has to be in roads in the context of addressing the larger structural issues to avoid, mitigate and have a peaceful and progressive solution to the age-old problem.

*Research scholar at the Department of Sociology, Delhi University

**Independent researcher who works on conservation practices in India and is a Chakma thinker

2 thoughts on “The ongoing political drama in Arunachal Pradesh: Negotiating new nature of citizenship for Chakmas and Hajongs

  1. In nutshell, the Hajong & chakma people are an Indian origin of undivided India; and are legal migrant; and hence Section 5(i)(a) of the Citizenship Act 1955 – is very much applicable to these 2 tribal group as implied in this Act as a person of Indian origin who is ordinarily resident in any country or place outside undivided India; and are legally migrated. The partition of India did an injustice to chakma & hajong people because the CHT was given to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) against the will of these 2 tribal group. The Chakma people had fought against British to oust from India during undivided India. The people of Chakma & hajong are very much patriotic. These 2 Tribal Group are always considered themselves as Indian.


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