Granting scholarship to three Chakma and Hajong students has become a major flashpoint in Arunachal Pradesh amidst renewed ethnic churning over the state government’s decision to dispel the refugee communities settled in the state for over five deca
An influential students’ union issued an ultimatum to the government, demanding that by Wednesday (August 26) names of the three students should be withdrawn from the beneficiary list of scholarship to be given under the MLA local area development fund.
The latest flare up over this protracted issue comes close on the heels of the state government’s August 15 announcement. The chain of developments naturally sparked tension and resentment among the over 60,000-strong twin communities who were given settlement between 1964 and 1969 in present day Changlang, Namsai and Papum Pare districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Almost 90 per cent of the population now live in five circles of Changlang.
In his Independence Day speech, Chief Minister Prema Khandu declared that all Chakmas-Hajongs would be shifted out of the state for their “rehabilitation with dignity”. He even claimed that the matter was already discussed with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Khandu’s assertion took the two communities by surprise as there was no immediate provocation to “reopen the old wounds” festering for decades, said Subimal Bikash Chakma, the president of Committee for Citizenship Rights of Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh (CCRCHAP).
He said the move might have aimed at pandering to local sentiments to deflect people’s attention from the non-performance of the state government.
The announcement revived the spectre of a violent student agitation triggered by a similar expulsion move in mid-1990s that had forced thousands of Chakmas to flee to neighbouring Assam. The then Congress government-led by Gegong Apang threatened to resign unless the Centre relocated the refugees from the state.
To prevent their entry, the Congress government in Assam led by Hiteswar Saikia had issued shoot-at-sight orders along the Assam-Arunachal border saying, “We won’t let outsiders into our state.”
Chakma bodies fear that the latest move would create a similar humanitarian crisis and urged the state government to desist from any attempt to “dump” them in Assam.
The CCRCHAP president said that there were some indications that the two communities would be relocated to Hailakandi district of Assam. “We strongly oppose this suggestion or proposal to relocate us outside Arunachal Pradesh and strongly demand the unconditional withdrawal of statements made in this regard, which have caused enormous fear and insecurity in the minds of Chakmas and Hajongs,” said Subimal Chakma.
The Chakma Development Foundation (CDF) of India in a joint memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prema Khandu, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat rejected the proposal.
“The Union of India must not create more conflicts nor must it aid creation of ethnocentric states,” the CDF said in its memorandum.
The Chakmas (mostly Buddhists) and Hajongs (mostly Hindus) fled the Chittagong Hill Tracts of eastern Bangladesh in the 1960s.
India gave settlement to a group of Chakma-Hajong refugees in sparsely populated Arunachal Pradesh, raising fear among local tribes that they would be “swamped” by outsiders and their ancestral land would be taken over.
Even though Chakmas-Hajongs were given settlement by the government of India, they were not granted any citizenship rights in Arunachal Pradesh though almost majority of their present day population were born in the state.
“We strongly oppose granting scholarships to students from these communities as they are not even citizens of India,” said Chumtu Tunghkhang, the president of All Changlang District Students Union.
The Union in its ultimatum to the government said if the list were not revised by dropping names of the three students, it would resort to a series of mass agitation.
Deputy Commissioner of Changlang district Devansh Yadav on August 20 notified the names of 10 beneficiaries for availing the scholarship to be given from the local area development fund of Bordumsa-Diyun assembly constituency.
A screening board after scrutiny and interview recommended the 10 names including that of Bewla Jyoti Hajong, Rohima Chakma and Victor Chakma, the DC said.
Tunghkhang said that inclusion of names of three students for scholarship was unacceptable as it was “infringement into rights of indigenous people.”
In the face of the students union’s demand, the Arunachal Pradesh government appears to be caught in the vortex of its own identity politics.