Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The struggle for identity continues in Arunachal Pradesh

By Tejang Chakma

The agonizing wait for a permanent solution continues for the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh. Jubilation was writ large on the hearts of about 54,000 Chakmas including the Hajong community, as the Government of India constituted a Four Party Committee on 10 August 2010 to find a permanent solution to the long pending Chakma issue.

The Committee ignited a ray of hope for the Chakma and Hajong communities. However, the talks delayed as the Committee failed to hold even a single meeting at the end of 2011. Finally, the Committee held its first meeting at Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh on 9 January 2012. The Committee arrived at a consensus that the Chakmas including the Hajongs who migrated to India between 1964 and 1969 will be accepted as Indian citizens. In this context, the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh has been asked to conduct a survey to identify those who migrated during 1964-69. The next meeting of the Committee will start once the survey report is verified and submitted. Currently, the survey is under process.

This is a major breakthrough on the fate of the Chakmas and Hajongs who remained statelessness for the last 48 years and deprived of the very basic human rights.

One of the most abstract of human rights, the right to an identity and a name, is intrinsically linked to nationality. The statelessness of the Chakmas and Hajongs means that they have no legal identity and have no voice in influencing the society in which they live. Consequently, the Chakmas and Hajongs are not only deprived of the basic rights but also the supplementary rights which are not covered by the principal human rights conventions which are available only to the citizens. Some of which include higher school education and various other economic, social and cultural rights.

The majority of the Chakmas and Hajongs are poor. With no support from the government their condition can be best described as pathetic. Before describing the present condition of the Chakmas and Hajongs I would like to emphasize on the events and developments since the arrival of the Chakmas and Hajongs in Arunachal Pradesh. The situations of the Chakmas and Hajongs can be broadly divided into three categories according to the developments in each respective period as noted below.

1964 to 1979: A period of harmony

In the early part of 1964, about 2,902 Chakma and Hajong families comprising of about 14,888 persons migrated to India. The Government of India made all arrangements and provided all the basic facilities required during their transit. Later, the Government of India, after detailed deliberations with the native tribal chiefs of the then North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), Administration, and the then Government of Assam, settled the Chakmas and Hajongs in three districts namely, Lohit, Tirap (now Changlang) and Subansiri (now Papumpare) under a ‘definite plan’ of rehabilitation. The Government of India allotted agricultural lands and extended all helps including free rations, cash doles to the Chakmas and Hajongs to help them rebuild their shattered life.

The Chakmas and Hajongs are tribal communities and are Buddhists and Hindus respectively. So, they immediately got assimilated into the native tribal culture. By dint of sheer hard work, the Chakmas and Hajongs established a settled life. Many of the educated Chakma and Hajong youths were absorbed in services in the state government.

The Chakma and Hajong children received free education, stipends, book grants etc. Trade licenses were also issued.

1980 to 2009: A mixed period

Since 1980 misfortune struck the Chakmas and Hajongs. As the anti-foreigner agitation in neighboring Assam spread to Arunachal Pradesh, the Chakmas and Hajongs started receiving hostile and discriminatory treatment. All the facilities previously enjoyed were gradually withdrawn. The discrimination aggravated with Arunachal Pradesh becoming a State in 1987.

The Chakmas and Hajongs realised that the situation will continue in the absence of citizenship rights. In 1991, the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh (CCRCAP) was formed to demand conferring of Indian citizenship to the Chakmas and Hajongs. However, the State Government became more hostile. 

In 1994, the Chakmas and Hajongs were asked to leave the state by September 1994 or face dire consequences. Fearing for their lives, a large number of Chakmas fled the state and took refuge in the neighbouring State of Assam. However, the Assam Government ordered shoot-at sight against the fleeing Chakmas.

With no option left, the CCRCAP sought the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) following the deadline and threat to lives and properties. In December 1994, the NHRC directed the State Government to take all necessary steps to protect the lives and liberty of the Chakmas and Hajongs. But, the State Government failed to honour the direction of the NHRC. Faced with this dire situation, the CCRCAP again approached the NHRC in October 1995. Hence, the NHRC approached the Supreme Court (SC) to seek appropriate relief. In January 1996, the SC gave its judgment, among others, ordered the state and central government to process the citizenship applications of those who had migrated and protect the lives and liberties of the Chakmas and Hajongs. So far, not a single Chakma and Hajong who had migrated to India have been granted citizenship.

The State Government also made every attempt to create obstacle to deny enrolment of the eligible Chakma and Hajong voters who are citizens of India by birth in the electors’ lists. Aggrieved with the non-inclusion, a writ petition was filed before the Delhi High Court. In its judgment on 28 September 2000, the Delhi High Court ordered enrollment of all eligible Chakma and Hajong voters into the electoral rolls. 

This period also witnessed a historic moment. Although, the judgment of the Delhi High Court continued to be flouted, 1,497 Chakmas and Hajongs for the first time exercised their franchise in the Parliamentary and Arunachal Pradesh State Assembly Elections in 2004.

Subsequently, thousands of claim forms were submitted by the eligible Chakmas and Hajongs. However, majority of them were rejected on fictitious grounds. Yet, this is the defining moment for the Chakmas and Hajongs.

2010 to present: A ray of hope

The beginning of this period was bumpy. There were desperate attempts to show the Chakmas in bad light through media campaign.

Gradually, the situation calmed down with the formation of the High Level Committee by the government of India to find a permanent solution to the long pending Chakma-Hajong issue. The Four Party Committee, constituted on 10 August 2010, is headed by the Joint Secretary (North East), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and comprises representatives of State government of Arunachal Pradesh, Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh and All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union.

Unfortunately, the Committee failed to hold any talks even after the more than one year. The meetings got delayed on various pretexts. For instance, the Committee was supposed to meet on 17 October 2011 in Itanagar, but failed. Finally, the Committee held its first meeting at Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh on 9 January 2012. The Committee arrived at a consensus that the Chakmas and Hajongs who migrated to India between 1964 and 1969 will be accepted as Indian citizens. In this context, the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh has been asked to conduct a survey to identify those who migrated during 1964-69. The next meeting of the Committee will start once the survey report is completed. Currently, the survey is under process.

This is a major breakthrough on the fate of the Chakmas and Hajongs who remained statelessness for the last 48 years and deprived of the very basic human rights.

Present conditions of the Chakmas

No doubt the year 2012 started with a positive note for the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh. But, there is no improvement in their overall situation. The lack of citizenship has been the primary reason for their pathetic socio-economic conditions.

Due to state government’s policy of neglect and exclusion no schemes, including Central schemes, are provided for their development. The problems being faced by the Chakmas and Hajongs are increasingly showing its ugly heads in recent times. 

Lack of health facilities

The health facilities available to the Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh are grossly inadequate. There is only one health centre at Diyun circle where majority of the Chakma and Hajong population resides. There are villages where there is no health centre despite substantial population.

As a result, a number of people die due to lack of medical facilities every year. Some even dies from curable diseases such as dysentery, diarrhea, viral fever, etc. In October-November 2011, at least 10 Chakma children died due to malaria at M-Pen village in Miao subdivision of Changlang district. There is no health care centre in the village. The villagers have to cover a reasonable distance by foot to reach the nearest Sub-Divisional Hospital at Miao. No effective step was taken by the local administration to control the disease and no health camp was set up. The health officials rushed to the village only after the deaths of more children in November.

In fact, representatives from the health department rarely visit Chakma inhabited areas.

In the absence of medical facilities, the Chakmas have to go to Assam for treatment. But as the majority of the Chakmas are poor they cannot afford and have to rely on traditional healers for every disease.

Lack of higher schools

Education, which is generally seen as the foundation for the development and progress of any society, remained grim in Chakma inhabited areas in the state. This was largely due to state government’s repressive policy against the Chakmas since 1980 in the wake of the anti-foreigner agitation in Assam. In 1994, schools were withdrawn in Chakma areas in Changlang, Lohit and Papumpare districts, where the Chakmas inhabit and Chakma children were denied admission in other schools outside the Chakma areas.

Subsequently, these schools were opened especially with the launch of the Sarva Shiksha Abiyan (SSA). Further, the state government can also no longer deprive the Chakma children of elementary education which has become a “fundamental right” with the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009. Yet, access especially to secondary and higher secondary education continued to be difficult for the Chakma children.

There is no denying the fact that most of the Chakma inhabited villages presently have schools. But, these schools provide education only up to elementary level. More and more Chakma students are passing out of elementary education every year and consequently pressure on secondary education is increasingly being felt due to lack of secondary schools in the Chakma inhabited areas in all the three districts of Changlang, Lohit and Papumpare.

The situation is worst in Changlang district where majority of the Chakmas live. Presently, the total population of the Chakmas, including the Hajong community, is about 46,691 in the district according to a Special Survey Report of the state government. However, there is only one secondary school for the entire Chakma and Hajong population of the district. It is difficult to get admission in secondary schools which are located in non-Chakma areas. In some areas, Chakma students are not given admission at all. For example, at least 88 Chakma students, including 27 girls, were denied admission to Class IX in two schools at Miao and Kharsang circles. Consequently, the right to education of these children is blatantly violated, resulting in their future being uncertain.

Students who have the financial capacity take admission outside the state such as Assam, Delhi, etc. But, the majority of them, who are poor, have no option but to discontinue their studies. Consequently, drop-outs rate is increasing every year. School drop-outs marry early, ends up as unskilled labourers, domestic servants and few even get involve in antisocial activities. Every year, many of these drop-outs, including the girls, are going outside the state such as Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, etc in search of petty jobs. They work in hostile conditions and remain extremely vulnerable to abuse.

Similarly, the Chakmas face problems of unemployment and excluded from other basic facilities. The Chakmas are neither covered under the public distribution system nor jobs are provided under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).

Yet, against all odds, the Chakmas are surviving and hopeful that one day their struggle will bear fruits.

This article is published by Tripura State Level Bijhu Festival Organising Committee-2012 for Bijhu Nijenhi-2012.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Arunachal Govt fails to submit report, NHRC issues final reminder in Chakma students’ admission issue


On February 28, 2012, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a final reminder to the state government of Arunachal Pradesh to submit reports in connection with the denial of admission to 88 minority Chakma students in secondary schools in Changlang district.

Acting on a complaint filed by Asian Centre for Human Rights, the NHRC on December 1, 2011 issued notice to the Chief Secretary to submit a report within two weeks. No reply was forthcoming following which the NHRC issued a reminder on January 2, 2012. Despite given adequate time of six weeks the state government again failed to comply with the NHRC order. In its final reminder the NHRC directed the state government to submit the requisite report within  six weeks.

Apart from the willful violation of the order of the NHRC, which has all the power of a civil court, the non-responsive approach of the state government shows complete lack of seriousness on the issue of making secondary education accessible to the minority Chakma students.

It is pertinent to mention that 88 Chakma students, including 27 girls, have been denied admission to class IX in secondary schools under Miao Sub-Division in Changlang district in the academic session 2011-12 on various pretexts. The final examination of Class IX was already over and the students lost one precious academic year. Most importantly, out of the 88 students, 10 students were passed out of 2010-2011 academic session. They have lost two academic sessions in a row.

There are no secondary schools in Chakma areas despite substantial population. In the absence of secondary schools more and more students will be denied admission and drop-out rates will only increase. The state government must act immediately to sort out the issue.

Monday, 2 April 2012

That pain was stamped into my mind, forever

Today is the 11th anniversary of that horrible night. I still remember the night of 2 April 2001 when a group of policemen attached to the Daryaganj police station arrived at our Buddhist Temple located near Rajghat, New Delhi and unleashed terror on us. All the inmates were beaten in the temple premises, herded into waiting police vehicles and auto-rickshaws, taken to the Daryaganj police station and detained for about six hours and beaten again. I was slapped hard in the right ear by a police officer, resulting in hearing loss accompanied with pain for about 30 days. It’s been eleven years now. The hearing problem was restored, so was the pain. Although the pain had gone, it remained stamped into my mind, forever.

Next day the incident was reported in a few dailies but in parts. Today, I would like to tell what exactly happened that night.

A cricket match was to be played between India and Australia, if I remember correctly, on 3 April 2001. So, we decided to hire a television on rent to watch the cricket match the next day. At around 8.30 pm, three of the inmates namely Charu Jeevan Chakma, Bijoy Talukdar and Rajib Chakma went to the nearby market in a slum area to hire the television. The owner was not present and they were asked to wait for some time. As they were waiting sitting in a bench all of a sudden a person came from the back and dragged Charu Jeevan Chakma by his hair and taken inside the adjacent police chowki (police post) without any rhyme or reason and closed the door. For a moment, the two other were clueless as to what happened. They waited for him to come back for about 15 minutes. As he did not return they informed the incident to the inmates of the temple on telephone fearing for his safety.

Accordingly, we, about 8-9 inmates, went there to see what happened. There were about 24-25 inmates in the temple on that day. Some of them were school students who came after their schools were closed for vacation. As we were being told about the details of the incident, Charu Jeevan Chakma came out running from the back door of the police chowki. In the meanwhile, one person in plain-clothe also came out from the front door.  Charu Jeevan Chakma was short of breath and with great difficulty he somehow managed to tell that he was badly beaten up. He immediately fell down on the ground unconscious. At this, some of the inmates asked the plain-clothed person as to what he did with Charu Jeevan Chakma. However, instead of answering he pushed the inmates using abusive words. At this behavior, some of the inmates got infuriated and thrashed him. There was another person in plain-clothe who was running away from the scene. But, he was caught and thrashed. Both of them were in inebriated state. Later, the inmates called up the police control room and handed over the duo to the police. The police also took Charu Jeevan Chakma along with them for treatment.

Afterwards we came back to the temple, while two inmates went to the hospital to attend Charu Jeevan Chakma.

It was around 9.30 pm, we were sitting in one of the rooms of the temple and about to take our dinner. Suddenly, we heard a big knock on the door and one pistol-toting police officer entered the room and said “All of you have been surrounded by special force and it would be good if you all surrender to us.” Few more policemen entered the room. We were taken aback and had no time even to react. The policemen started quizzing all of us. “Set kaha hai”, questioned the police officer. We could not understood what he was exactly saying but thought that he must be inquiring about the owner of the house. We told him that this is not a house but a temple. He again repeated the question in a louder tone. One of the inmates asked him as to what he was exactly referring to. This infuriated the police officer and he slapped the inmate and screamed “Ek to police walo ko haat utathe ho aur set ke bare me pata nahi hain” (First you beat up the policemen and now you have no idea about the set). Then a policeman standing behind the police officer said that we have beaten up the Station House Officer (SHO) of Daryaganj police station and a constable and the SHO has lost the wireless set.

We told them that we have no idea about the wireless set. But, the policemen insisted that the wireless set was in our custody. As we could not give the wireless set they started beating us. Some were slapped while some were hit with batons and cricket bats and stumps. I was standing near the door when the police officer slapped me hard in the right ear. We were ordered to stand in a queue and our shoes and sandals were checked. The owners of shoes/sandals where sand/dust/mud were found were beaten up on the charge that they were present when the two policemen were thrashed. The policemen smashed everything that came their way. The telephone directory book was also torn into pieces.

After about 30 minutes of beating and questioning, we were dragged to the waiting police vehicles and auto rickshaws and taken to the Daryaganj police station. Only the monks who were sleeping in another room and an inmate who was ill were spared. Few others were not present at that time.

I was dragged into an auto rickshaw along with two others. The moment we got down at the gate of the police station we are greeted with punches and kicks. We were confined in a small transit room. In all 19 inmates including four minors were confined in the room which is too small that there was hardly space for sitting in the floor. I also noticed Charu Jeevan Chakma in the group. I am clueless as to how he was brought to the police station from the hospital. We were virtually sitting on our heels. The main door was closed and there was no ventilation in the room either. The room had no ceiling fan and we all were sweating hard.

I was squatting in the front row along with Charu Jeevan Chakma and Rajib Chakma. So, every time a policeman comes inside the room we three were subjected to beating including being hit with the elbow on our backs. Charu Jeevan Chakma was particularly targeted. These went on at regular intervals. Further, Charu Jeevan Chakma was taken to a different room a couple of times for questioning about the thrashing of the two policemen and the lost of the wireless set. He was subjected to beating when he answered in the negative.

Later, Charu Jeevan Chakma was again taken to another room for questioning. Few minutes later, all of us were also taken to the same room. An officer was present in the room and questioning the whereabouts of the lost wireless set from all of us one by one. Not happy with our answers some of the policemen present in the room started threatening us that if we do not tell the whereabouts of the wireless set Charu Jeevan Chakma will be shot dead in the bank of Yamuna and they will report that he was killed in an encounter. I was scared to hear that. After the questioning and threat we were again confined to the transit room.

For the next few minutes we three were again subjected to beating by different policemen who entered the room. Thereafter, no policemen came inside the room for a long time. We were all hungry and thirsty. The hot and humidity of the room made our condition miserable. Out of fear we could not even ask for water. Fortunately, the door was not locked from outside this time. Unable to bear the thirst, two detainees went outside in search of water. We all followed suit and came out of the room. We met a policeman who showed us the water tape. After drinking water as we were returning back we met few more policemen. They were asking as to why we were brought to the police station. "We have just come for the night shift and the duty of all the policemen previously present ended and they returned home, said a policeman.

In the meantime, a lawyer arrived at the police station and released us. Before being released we were all asked to write our names and sign in a register. A clock in a wall of the police station reads the time as 3 am in the morning.

On 3 April 2001, it was learnt the inmate who was spared due to his ill health telephoned one person who was working with a human rights organization. He had arranged the lawyer for our release.  We also learnt that the wireless set was found by the police on the same night near the police chowki while we were still being detained. We further learnt that the medical tests for detection of alcohol were not conducted on the two policemen identified as Sardool Singh (SHO) and constable Rajan who had beaten up Charu Jeevan Chakma at the police chowki to protect them.

Subsequently, we were asked to present before a senior police officer near Kamala Market to record our statements. Charu Jeevan Chakma, Bijoy Talukdar and Rajib Chakma were summoned at regular interval in connection with the case.

It was a horrific night for all of us.