The Game of Chakma-Hajong Returns

Recently, a statement by Kiren Rijiju has reignited the debate, sparking a fresh round of one-upmanship and public posturing by various stakeholders in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
The Game of Chakma-Hajong Returns
The Game of Chakma-Hajong Returns
Mrinal Talukdar

As Bangladeshi infiltration remains a perennially exploited issue by politicians in Assam, the Chakma dispute plays a similar role in Arunachal Pradesh.

Both issues stir strong emotions in their respective states yet remain unresolved, serving as politically beneficial tools for various leaders to catch votes.

Recently, a statement by Kiren Rijiju has reignited the debate, sparking a fresh round of one-upmanship and public posturing by various stakeholders in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

The result is surely net zero, conveniently forgotten in a fortnight and tragic saga of Chakma shall continue.

Since 1985, Assam has seen two Chief Ministers, around four dozen ministers, and a hundred MLAs pledge to expel Bangladeshis. Similarly, Arunachal Pradesh has had three Chief Ministers along with numerous MLAs and ministers vowing to expel the Chakmas.

For some, the Chakma issue in Arunachal Pradesh, much like the Bangladeshi issue in Assam, serves as a stepping stone for political, social, and economic advancement.

Kiren Rijiju, who rose from student leader to MP and minister, has consistently claimed he would expel the Chakmas, yet they remain in Arunachal just as the Bangladeshis remain in Assam.

The Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh originally hail from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of what was then undivided India. They were displaced by the construction of the Kaptai Dam in Pakistan and resettled by the Government of India between 1964 and 1969 in what was then known as NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh).

The Chakmas are of Mongoloid descent, with a distinct language, script, and culture, and practice Theravada Buddhism. They have also been recognized for their staunch loyalty to India.

The Assam Chief Minister has expressed concerns about land availability for resettling refugees and stated that no representatives from the Chakma or Hajong communities have approached him, nor has the Indian government consulted him on this matter.

He plans to discuss the issue with Rijiju after the elections. Furthermore, he mentioned that Assamese residents in Arunachal Pradesh, estimated between 6,000 and 7,000, will be issued permanent resident certificates by the Assam government.

During the press conference in Itanagar, Rijiju, who is campaigning for re-election to the Lok Sabha, described the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as a significant boon, asserting that it precludes citizenship for any foreigner or refugee in his state.

He also noted that the Chakma and Hajong refugees have been asked to leave the state, with arrangements for their relocation to be facilitated by the Government of India.

"We have spoken with the Assam government and other stakeholders about relocation, but we prefer not to disclose much until the identification of suitable land for resettlement is complete. However, I can confirm that discussions with the Assam government have occurred," the Union Minister stated.

Rijiju mentioned that he has discussed this issue with Sarma, as well as with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, regarding the relocation of the refugees. Sharma point blank refused.

More than 60,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees have resided in Arunachal Pradesh since the 1960s. While technically one might assume a straightforward solution, it appears Rijiju is using the issue to engage the public attention, particularly as these communities are settled near Miao.

As expected, Rijiju's statements have triggered strong reactions in Assam, with groups involved in the anti-CAA movement demanding clarification from the Chief Minister on this matter.

Prominent voices from organizations such as Raijar Dal to AASU have expressed strong opinions, which could strategically be useful for Himanta Biswa Sarma to present his case before the Union Home Minister and potentially settle the controversy.

Assam and Himanta Biswa Sarma have lot of problems to solve and Chakma is not his headache. It is a political issue of Arunachal Pradesh. The present hue and cry will become a good dossier for Assam to bury the issue.

The tragic story of the Chakmas

The Chakmas played an active role in the Indian Independence movement. During the partition of India, their leader, Sneha Kumar Chakma, along with his community, lobbied national leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to include their homeland, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT)—an area with a 98% non-Muslim population—in India. Despite receiving assurances, the partition arrangements unfortunately resulted in CHT being incorporated into Pakistan, contradicting the logic of the two-nation theory. Sneha Kumar Chakma also presented the case for CHT's inclusion in India at the Bengal Boundary Commission, notably on a day when the commission's chairman, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, was absent.

As India celebrated its independence at midnight, the Chakmas in CHT joyously hoisted the Indian National Flag in Rangamati, the headquarters of CHT. However, on August 17, they learned through a radio broadcast that CHT had been assigned to Pakistan, and soon after, the Pakistani Army forcibly removed the Indian flag.

From the start, the Government of Pakistan viewed the Chakmas as pro-Indian, leading to their religious and ethnic persecution by successive governments.

The special status of CHT, granted by Act XXII of 1860, was revoked in 1963, along with the repeal of the CHT Frontier Regulation Act of 1881. When the Kaptai Dam project submerged their lands and devastated their lives, about 14,000 out of over 100,000 displaced Chakmas sought refuge in India.

They migrated through Mizoram and Tripura, moving from one refugee camp to another until they were permanently settled by the Indian government in the erstwhile NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) with the support of local administrators and tribal leaders.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the Chakmas continued to enjoy all rights and privileges as Indian citizens until the 1980s when, influenced by the anti-foreigner agitation nearby in Assam, they were mistakenly identified as foreigners. This misidentification sparked systematic efforts to strip the Chakmas of their rights and to expel them from the state.

The plight of the Chakmas and Hajongs has also been exacerbated by the lack of a unified identity in Arunachal Pradesh, which is home to 26 major tribes and over 100 sub-tribes.

Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a renowned sociologist, has suggested that societies often bond over a common enemy. The erroneous identification of the Chakmas and Hajongs as outsiders provided such a 'common enemy,' crucial for forging a collective identity in Arunachal Pradesh.

Unfortunately, this misidentification has led to ongoing discrimination against these communities, as various student groups and political entities have leveraged these sentiments to advance their own agendas.

The Game of Chakma-Hajong Returns
"No Land for Settlement of Chakma-Hajong Community Members in Assam": CM Sarma

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