New Delhi: On Wednesday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh led a large meeting to decide whether to grant citizenship to tens of thousands of Chakma refugees who are Buddhists based mainly in Arunachal Pradesh.
The Chakma are an ethnic group who began fleeing in the 1960s to northeastern India from former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, partly because they were being persecuted because of their religion. They are scattered in Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya and West Bengal as well as in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh and western parts of Myanmar.
Chakmas and Hajongs were originally residents of Chittagong Hill Tracts in the erstwhile East Pakistan who left their homeland when it was submerged by the Kaptai dam project in the 1960s.
The Chakmas, who are Buddhists, and Hajongs, who are Hindus, also allegedly faced religious persecution and entered India through the then Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram).
The Centre moved the majority of them to the North East Frontier Agency, which is now Arunachal Pradesh.Kiren Rijiju and Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu attended the meeting on Chakmas
In 2015, the Supreme Court ordered the government to grant citizenship to the Chakma and refused Arunachal Pradesh’s request to reconsider its verdict. The state’s Chief Minister, Pema Khandu, who heads a BJP government and met with the Home Minister on Wednesday, says that recognising the Chakma as citizens would change the demography of the state.
The Home Minister has indicated that to prevent that, the Chakma will not be allowed to own land. However, the refugees, who live in remote, forested areas, may be given Inner Line Permits, required for non-locals in Arunachal Pradesh who want to travel and work there.