The National Human Rights Commission on Friday directed the Centre and the Arunachal Pradesh government to confer citizenship to eligible members of the Chakma and Hajong communities within three months in accordance to a Supreme Court verdict. The human rights body has given them eight weeks to inform it about the steps taken on the matter.
In a statement, the National Human Rights Commission also told the Union home ministry and the Arunachal Pradesh government to examine if a 2015 Supreme Court order to confer citizenship to the members of the tribal communities was followed.
The directive came on a joint complaint filed by the Chakma and Hajong Elders’ Forum of Arunachal Pradesh and the Chakma Development Foundation of India on March 22.
The Chakmas and Hajongs had lived in the Chittagong Hills Tracts of East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh. They fled their homes when their land was submerged by the Kaptai dam in the 1960s.
The Chakmas, who are Buddhist, and the Hajongs, who are Hindus, had faced religious persecution in Bangladesh. After they migrated to India, the government settled a majority of them in Arunachal Pradesh.
In 2015, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees. But several organisations and civil society groups in Arunachal Pradesh were against it, saying the decision would change the demography of the state and affect the minority status of the tribal population.
The Supreme Court had also favoured granting citizenship to the members of the two communities in 1996.
In their joint complaint, the two organisations had told the human rights body that several government welfare schemes have not been extended to the members of the community.
The organisations said that not even a single citizenship has been processed on the 4,637 applications submitted between 1997 and 2003. They said that hearings were held for only 3,827 applications and 1,798 were sent to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and the Arunachal Pradesh government for taking a decision. However, no decision has been made in the last 26 years.
After receiving citizenship applications, state governments have to forward all of them to the Centre within 120 days, according to Rule 12 of the Citizenship Rules, 2009.
The Chakma and Hajong Elders’ Forum of Arunachal Pradesh general secretary said that all of these 1,798 applications have an Oath of Allegiance to India and are supported by documents such as Aadhaar cards, ration cards, police verification reports, identity cards of the applicant’s father, land possession certificates, among others.
“None of these applicants has any criminal cases against them and the police verification reports on their antecedents are clear,” he added. “Descendants of most applicants such as son, daughters and children have been enrolled as voters based on the documents of the migrants but the original migrants’ applications have not been processed.”
The founder of Chakma Development Foundation of India, Suhas Chakma, said that not implementing the 2015 order will go down in history as the “worst case of racial discrimination”, even surpassing the apartheid in South Africa.
“When the state and non-state actors take pride for non-implementation of the Supreme Court judgements, there are serious problems whether the country itself is being governed by the rule of law,” Chakma added.
Till 1980, the Chakmas and Hajongs could get government jobs, ration cards and access other rights and privileges just like Indian citizens. However, since the 1990s, they were branded as “illegal migrants”.
In August, Chief Minister Pema Khandu had again labelled the Chakmas and Hajongs as “illegal migrants”, who needed to be shifted out of the state because they were not tribals.
This was after the Centre had decided to grant them citizenship in 2017 following the 2015 Supreme Court order.
However, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has expressed the same sentiment as Khandu in public gatherings and TV interviews. Rijiju has even claimed that the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, by the central government has annulled Supreme Court judgements of 1996 and 2015.