Mainland Indians ignorant about the Northeast : India Born – A tragedy

Swaroop Sharma

North East Region of India saw various indigenous movements fighting for identity from the time after India celebrated its independence from the Britishers. Amongst the 7 sisters of North East states Manipur saw several armed and blood shed activities, each seeking a homeland for particular indigenous groups. So did Assam, where ethnic nationalisms were directed against foreigners or Bangladeshi immigrants, and which rang with the rampant slogan then of – ‘Divide Assam 50-50’ through the 1980s. Mizoram, after years of armed conflict, broke away from Assam to become a Union territory in 1972 and a state in 1987.

Recently, these armed struggles grew low; indigenous patriotisms have been substituted by projects of citizenship reaching deep into history in its search for the indigenousness. Assam has decided to update its national register of citizens for the first time since 1951, in order to document the ‘aboriginal inhabitants’ of the state and shoo away the ‘illegal immigrants’. Manipur has seen a transformed demand for the Inner Line Permit system, a bureaucratic arrangement under which people outside the state would need a special permit to enter it. With this response, the state government passed three belligerent bills to protect the indigenous people of Manipur, making it difficult for people outside the state to buy land, settle down/ set up business within the state. These bills, which were returned for reconsideration by the Centre, are now hanging like a fire in these states.

At the meantime, states like- Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh are known as threatened areas under the Inner Line Permit, ferociously guard the special rights guaranteed to those recognized as indigenous Scheduled Tribes. Such threatened protections are not peculiar to the North East states.  The states – Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, fake out of tribal distresses for bigger rights for   their land. They also had restrictions on non-local inhabitants owning property.

One of these tribes – Chakmas, spread across the states of the North East, is permitted varying levels of indigenous tribes. Especially in the state of Tripura, Chakma’s form 6.5% of the population, as per the 2001 census.  They were recognized as one of the Scheduled Tribes of the state of Tripura. In the year 1972, Mizoram is a state where Chakma’s have lived for eras they are also recognized as a Scheduled Tribe and were given their own self-ruling district council.  In the majority of the states Chakmas, living outside the district council areas, did not get the rights and resources available to those in the district council areas.

Arunachal, Hajong and Chakma refugees were originally allowed 10,799 acres of land but as their population grew up, they spreaded out into surrounding regions, since then they have lived with a reduction group of services guaranteed by the state and with no rights to the land inhabited by them. In last few decades, they have been banned for government jobs; have not been issued trade licenses or ration cards etc. Other than these fundamental dispossessions student groups claimed to represent indigenous communities have launched an economic blockade against the refugees, forbidding other residents from buying goods from the foreigners. As per the report of 1994, the state government burnt down schools in Chakma inhabited areas

Chakma refugees have received limited citizenship which is presumably having roughly the similar rights and benefits as an outsider from any other Indian states. Now the question is having these Chakmas tribes with citizenship in other states performed much better? State of Mizoram, the community speaks of the same stints of violence and age old discrimination with thin representation in government and inadequate opportunities for education in the region.  Recent controversies broke out in August over the suspected rejection of medical seats which the state government would reserve for Mizo tribes to four candidates who belong to Chakma tribe. Allowing citizenship in such an electorally fraught region will not only solve the purpose of giving higher rights and dignity for these Chakma refugees. Until and unless the government can assure these, its move to give them incomplete citizenship will remain a trivial dogmatic gesture, aimed at establishing which are the refugees who are given a hearty welcome in this land. Amongst these tribes Chakmas are mainly Buddhist, and Hajongs are mostly Hindu which is  fitting  into the government project for welcoming  them as a  citizenship to non-Muslim subgroups escaping oppression in neighboring countries as well  articulated in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. But the Rohingya Muslims running away from the annihilation in Myanmar, for instance, are not so lucky for this instance.

Swaroop Sharma 



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