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U.N. body asks India to respond to charges of racial bias against Chakma and Hajong tribal people in Arunachal Pradesh

Print edition : Aug 25, 2022 T+T-

U.N. body asks India to respond to charges of racial bias against Chakma and Hajong tribal people in Arunachal Pradesh

Members of Arunachal Pradesh Chakma Students’ Union (APCSU) during a protest against the census of Chakma and Hajong communities, , in New Delhi.

Members of Arunachal Pradesh Chakma Students’ Union (APCSU) during a protest against the census of Chakma and Hajong communities, , in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) acts under its early warning procedure.

Although the protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) have subsided, on the ground, governments in some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states have been going about stealthily identifying so-called foreigners so that they could be deported. One such case has come to light in Arunachal Pradesh after a top United Nations (U.N.) body, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), has asked the Government of India to respond to charges of racial discrimination against the Chakma and the Hajong tribal people in Arunachal Pradesh.

The CERD has also asked the government to respond on the steps taken by it to implement the Supreme Court judgment of 1996 on processing the citizenship application of people belonging to these two communities. The CERD letter, which was written on April 29 (a copy of the letter is available with this writer), says the issue of racial discrimination against the Chakma and Hajong people had come to its notice and, hence, it was seeking a response from the Government of India under its early warning and urgent action procedure.

According to the letter, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu had announced in August 2021that those belonging to Chakma and Hajong communities would be deported from the State. In pursuance of this announcement, the Deputy Commissioner of Changlang district started a special census in November 2021 to identify those belonging to these communities. The Chakma Development Foundation (CDF) then approached the National Human Rights Commission, which directed the Government of India to immediately stop the special census for racial profiling, but the local government had continued with the process. According to Suhas Chakma, founder of the CDF, local administrative officers have been pressurising community leaders to cooperate in the census. It was then that the CDF approached the CERD on December 2, 2021 and followed it up with details of how the process was still continuing on April 6, 2022, when the issue had been settled through the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in 1996 itself.

Taking note of the issue, the CERD letter said such special census was “an act of racial discrimination and profiling directed only to these communities with a view to deporting Chakmas and Hajong tribal people from the State”.

The letter also said the Supreme Court of India had declared these tribal people as citizens of India in 1996 and directed the government to process their citizenship applications ( National Human Rights Commission vs Arunachal Pradesh & Others 1996 SCC (1)742). In 2015, the Supreme Court again directed the government to process the citizenship applications of Chakma and Hajong tribes people. “But the government of India has refused to start the process and, instead, has once again launched the racial profiling process,” said Suhas Chakma.

The letter said that in accordance with powers under Article 9(1) of the Convention and Article 65 of its Rules of Procedure, it requested the Government of India to provide a response by July 15 on the “steps taken to prevent and halt any measure directed at deporting or relocating these people, including special census”; the “measures adopted to combat racial profile or racial discrimination against those belonging to Chakma and Hajong communities”; and “the implementation of the Supreme Court judgment”.

According to Suhas Chakma, these people from these two communities, who now number 65,000, were settled by the Government of India in Arunachal Pradesh during the period 1964 to 1971, when they fled from then East Pakistan as refugees. They were given all the benefits which are available to Indian citizens: names in electoral roll, voter ID cards, and even Adhaar. “Now, to be treated suddenly as aliens, to be asked to queue up for being counted, all this is hurtful.” The fact that the U.N. body had to ask the Government of India to implement a Supreme Court order shows that the rule of law did not exist in the country for these tribal people, he said.

India is a signatory to The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and is legally bound to enforce it in the country, which it had reiterated by issuing a gazette notification in September 2010.