The All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union on Tuesday protested the Centre’s move to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees settled in the state. The students’ union has called for a 12-hour shutdown on Tuesday, which was backed by tribal outfits and a few non-government organisations.
Chakma refugees started arriving in India from Bangladesh in the 1960s, as their homes were swept away by the newly-built Kaptai dam. On September 13, reports had said that the Centre had decided to grant “limited citizenship” to the refugees. In 2015, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees.
“The support for our agitation has sent out a loud and clear message that the indigenous people will not tolerate arbitrary decisions of the Centre that could change the state’s demography,” AAPSU General Secretary Tobom Dai told the Hindustan Times. “The response from the tribes of Arunachal, under threat of being outnumbered by refugees in certain areas, should make Delhi realise we are ready to fight for the rights of the indigenous peoples.”
Union minister Kiren Rijiju had said on Sunday that the Centre will urge the Supreme Court to modify its order granting limited citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees, so that the rights of indigenous people in Arunachal Pradesh are not affected. “The government has not made any decision to grant citizenship [to the Chakma and Hajong refugees],” Rijiju said, according to PTI. “We are trying to tell the honourable Supreme Court that giving Chakmas and Hajongs the same rights as the Arunachali is not acceptable to us.”
“The people of Arunachal Pradesh must appreciate that for the first time the Government of India has not agreed [to grant citizenship to the refugees],” Rijiju told reporters at Naharlagun helipad. He said the Centre wanted the rights of indigenous Arunachalis to be protected.
Rijiju said that the state government should “identify and evict all illegal occupants”. He said that the population of Chakma and Hajong refugees had risen to over 64,000 in Arunachal Pradesh. Rijiju seemed to blame the Congress for the problem. “We were not in the government then [when Chakma refugees were settled in Arunachal Pradesh in 1964],” he said. “I am now protecting the interest of Arunachal Pradesh because all the damage had been done. I don’t want further damage to be done.”
On Monday, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu had said the state was not ready to accept any infringement of the Constitutional protection bestowed on them, The Indian Express reported.