The Centre on Wednesday decided to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees, who have been living in Arunachal Pradesh for more than half a century, The Hindu reported. The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, and attended by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju and Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu.

“The Supreme Court order has to be honoured,” Rijiju said after the meeting. “The Chakmas have settled in Arunachal Pradesh since 1964. But the rights of the Scheduled Castes and indigenous tribes [in the state] will not be diluted.” An unidentified home ministry official said that though the Chakmas and Hajongs would be granted citizenship, they would not have any right to land ownership in the state.

The Centre’s move to grant the refugees citizenship comes days after India was pulled up by United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein for its plan to deport Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, where the community is facing violence.

The Chakmas and Hajongs had lived in the Chittagong Hills Tracts of East Pakistan, 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. They entered India through the Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram), after which the government moved a majority of them to 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 it would change the demography of the state and affect minority status of the tribal population.

“The Congress settled Chakmas in Arunachal, they should have settled them somewhere else,” an NDTV report quoted Rijiju, who is from Arunachal, as saying. “The Congress made a mistake of settling them in Arunachal Pradesh without taking approval of the local community.”

The Centre now has suggested granting Chakmas citizenship, but without the rights enjoyed by Scheduled Tribes in the state, reported The Indian Express.

The Rohingya question

On Wednesday, Rijiju also spoke out about the flak the government has been facing for its stance on the Rohingya refugees. “This chorus of branding India as villain on Rohingya issue is a calibrated design to tarnish India’s image. It undermines India’s security,” Rijiju said on Twitter.

In August, the Centre had said that all 40,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees living in India were illegal immigrants and will be deported.