Interview with Mr. Subimal Bikash Chakma,
President of the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh
Between 1964 and 1969 about 30,000 Chakma and Hajong tribals were migrated from East Pakistan and settled in the then North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), the present day Arunachal Pradesh of India. Until 1980, the Chakmas and Hajongs enjoyed all the facilities including employment as accorded to the fellow local tribals. Therefore, citizenship was not an issue. However, as anti-foreigner movement swept the North East, the Arunachal Pradesh government withdrew these facilities from the Chakmas and Hajongs.
In 1991, the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh was formed under the leadership of Mr Subimal Bikash Chakma to demand citizenship and other constitutional rights. The demand for citizenship created tensions but fortunately it did not turn as violent as the ones witnessed across the North East.
On 9 January 1996, the Supreme Court of India in its historic judgement in the case of National Human Rights Commission Vs State of Arunachal Pradesh and Anr (Civil Writ Petition 720 of 1995) directed the State government of Arunachal Pradesh to process the citizenship applications of those who migrated between 1964 and 1969. As those Chakmas and Hajongs who were born in India are citizens by birth, pursuant to the direction of the Election Commission of India, about 1,497 Chakmas and Hajongs were enrolled in electoral rolls and exercised their right to franchise in the State Assembly elections in 2004.
On 1 February 2007, the Election Commission of India issued direction for Special Summary Revision of the Chakmas and Hajongs which has been pending since November 2005 because of the unwillingness of the State government to implement the directions of the Election Commission of India. The State government of Arunachal Pradesh sought postponement of the latest order for special revision citing law and order problem. Mr Subimal Bikash Chakma, President of the CCRCAP in an interview to Indigenous Rights Quarterly states that it is the excellent relationship shared by the Chakmas and Hajongs with the local tribal communities which prevented any major untoward incident. This also shows the extent of assimilation of the Chakmas and Hajongs with the local communities.
IRQ: Mr Chakma, the Special Summary Revision of electoral rolls of 4 Assembly constituencies of Arunachal Pradesh inhabited by the Chakmas and Hajongs has been postponed again. Do you think it as a major set back?
Subimal Bikash Chakma (SBC): We have been learnt that State government sought postponement of the Special Revision of electoral rolls on the grounds of law and order problem. At the same time, on the Arunachal Pradesh Statehood Day celebration on 20 February 2007, Chief Minister Gegong Apang demanded a "peace bonus" for Arunachal Pradesh for maintaining its status of "Island of Peace" since its inception as a state in 1987. The obvious contradiction - where the State government cites "law and order problem" and at the same time demands "peace bonus" - is a reflection of the insincerity of the State government - which we do not consider as the sentiment of the people of Arunachal Pradesh.
IRQ: What is your next step?
SBC: The Election Commission of India is a constitutional and autonomous body and the final authority regarding election related issues. The State government might delay the special summary revision process on frivolous grounds but since the Election Commission of India is seized of the matter, it has to come to a logical conclusion based on the rule of law. We are only asking the Election Commission of India to uphold the rule of law and enforcement of its own rules/guidelines which are applied across India. We have full faith in the Election Commission of India.
IRQ: What about the implementation of the Supreme Court judgement of January 1996 which ordered the Centre and the State government to process the citizenship applications of the Chakmas and Hajongs?
SBC: The Central government in their various statements before the parliament unequivocally stated that the government will implement the Supreme Court judgement of 9 January 1996. The Supreme Court having rejected the review petition of the State government of Arunachal Pradesh as well the petitions challenging the constitutionality or correctness of the judgement, the Centre or the State government cannot have any other position but to affirm their commitment to implement the judgement. But, in reality, not a single application out of 4,677 applications submitted since 1997 has been processed until today. Many of the applicants have already died. What could be more unfortunate!
IRQ: Are you considering any measure for implementation of the Supreme Court judgement?
SBC: The CCRCAP has filed applications with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the State government of Arunachal Pradesh under the Right to Information Act on the implementation of the Supreme Court judgement. We have received some replies and are presently studying the same to see as to what steps can be taken.
IRQ: How is the present situation of the Chakmas and Hajongs?
SBC: You can describe the situation in one word, pathetic. Since 1980s all rights enjoyed by the Chakmas and Hajongs have been withdrawn. During 1994-95, the State Government withdrew whatever services left to the Chakmas and Hajongs. It withdrew the Government Middle School at Bijoypur I under Bordumsa Circle; the only Government Primary School for seven villages at Bodhisatta village under Miao Circle; Government Primary School at M-Pen under Miao Circle; and all 49 Anganwadi nutrition centres from the Chakma and Hajong villages in Changlang district. Apart from the Government Primary Schools in a few of their villages, admissions were banned to the Chakma and Hajong students in all Government schools in the state.
While recently a new Primary School has been opened at at M-pen village, neither the Middle School at Bijoypur nor the 49 Anganwadi nutrition centres have been re-opened despite repeated request to the authorities. The Chakma and Hajong students continue to be denied admissions in the Government Higher Secondary School and two Government Primary Schools at Miao; Higher Secondary School in Bordumsa; and Higher Secondary schools in Namsai.
The only assistance that the Chakmas and Hajongs at present get from the Government is one or two teachers in each Government Primary Schools in 6 Chakma villages under Diyun Circle, 2 Government Primary Schools in Miao Circle in Changlang district and 1 Government Primary School in Chowkham Circle in Lohit district. The school buildings and teacher's residences are built by the parents' committees in each village.
There is no public development work in the Chakma and Hajong villages. Not an inch of metal road is found inside the Chakma and Hajong villages. Neither there is provision of safe drinking water nor electricity. Even kerosene oil which they use to light lamps is not supplied to the Chakma and Hajong areas.
IRQ: - If the situation is so pathetic, how do the Chakmas and Hajongs sustain themselves?
SBC: The primary occupation of the Chakmas and Hajongs is agriculture. Majority of them have been surviving as daily wage labourers in tea gardens, oil extraction units of different comp., State Public Work Department; Rural Work Department; construction works etc.
IRQ: Do the CCRCAP activists face any challenges?
SBC: The CCRCAP is a peaceful and democratic movement. Our entire movement has been conducted through submission of appeals to the governmental authorities or filing petitions before the courts. For the last eight years, the CCRCAP even did not hold a demonstration. Yet, there are many false cases pending against the CCRCAP activists.
IRQ: - How is the relationship of the Chakmas and Hajongs with other tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh? Are they also hostile like the State government?
SBC: No, the native people of Arunachal Pradesh are very simple, friendly and tolerant like the Chakmas and Hajongs. All of us are tribals and we have so many similarities but not any difference. Ethnically, we belong to the same stock- Tibeto Mongoloid and you cannot differentiate a Chakma from a Singpho. As landlords, our neighbouring communities usually depend upon the Chakmas and Hajongs vice-versa. Religiously, Chakmas are also Buddhists like the Khamptis and Singphos and they regularly participate in the same religious festivals and celebrations. Over the years, the Chakmas and Hajongs have also established strong matrimonial bonds with many of the native tribes.
It is precisely because of this cordial relationship that there were no major untoward incident like in the rest of North East, and the Chakmas and Hajongs were able to sustain themselves despite the State Government stopping even the basic facilities. In times of need and crisis, the Chakmas and Hajongs always found their neighbours like the Khamptis and Mishmis in Lohit district; the Singphos, the Tangshas, and the Noctes in Changlang district and the Nishyis in Papumpare district standing by their side.
The same supported would have extended had the Chakmas and Hajongs been settled in other areas of the state. Arunachal is indeed a peaceful place, there is very good communal harmony and we have no disagreement with the demand of our Chief Minister or the State government for a "Peace Bonus".
IRQ: Any last word that you would like to add?
SBC: Not the last word but the most important things the I would like to say on behalf of the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh. We would like to appeal to the All Aruanchal Pradesh Students Union, other student organizations in Arunachal Pradesh and North East like the North East Students Organisation (NESO) as well as other civil society groups of the region to put pressure on the State government of Arunachal Pradesh and the Central government of India to grant our rights. We are tribals like all of them, we have been victimized by historical events which were beyond our control, and we do not pose any threat whatsoever to anybody. Rather, we have completely assimilated with the local people. We need their support to provide us the opportunity to contribute to the development of our state.