Status of Chakmas in Arunachal and their socio-economic development consciousness

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Udayan Tanchangya

The deprivation of political rights of the Chakmas living in Arunachal in the north-eastern region of India is not unknown to anyone today. In spite of that political deprivation, spirit of socio-economic development has been widely noticed among them. There has also been awareness in the arena of education, health care. Labor force is the basis of self-reliance among the human beings. Therefore, production oriented awareness for achieving self-reliance is noticeable in most of the Chakmas of Arunachal. That’s why hardworking spirit has been widely developed among them.

Needless to say, the construction of a hydroelectric dam at Kaptai in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in the 1960s by the then Pakistani government displaced more than one hundred thousand Jumma people, the majority of whom were Chakmas, from their ancestral lands. 40 percent of the total paddy land in the hilly areas – amounting to 54,000 acres – was submerged in the waters of the Kaptai Lake. Due to non-availability of proper rehabilitation by the Government of Pakistan and shortage of equivalent arable land, about 40,000 Chakmas of this displaced population migrated to Arunachal, where they were rehabilitated by the Government of India. Descendants of those 40,000 people are believed to have transformed into a population of around one hundred thousand now after 60 years of ‘Bor Porong’ (Huge Exodus).

Not only the Chakma community was rehabilitated in Arunachal in the sixties, some of the Hajong people who were refugees due to communal riots in 1964 in the then East Pakistan were also rehabilitated in Arunachal. Currently, the Chakma and Hajong communities live in communal harmony as neighbors. It is learnt that the population of Hajongs may be approximately 10,000 at present.

It is learnt that in the initial stages of the rehabilitation of the Chakma-Hajongs in Arunachal, there was sincere cooperation of the local indigenous people of Arunachal as they had no objection to the rehabilitation of the Chakma-Hajongs. Arunachal was then known as North Eastern Frontier Agency or NEFA. The NEFA authorities had provided ration cards, gun licenses, PRC (Permanent Resident Certificates), government jobs with para-military forces and recognition as Scheduled Tribes to the Chakma-Hajongs. Even the Chakma-Hajongs were asked by the administration to take the citizenship certificate. A handful of people took that citizenship certificate, but most of them did not. Simplicity of their lives, lack of awareness, lack of foresight, being nature-dependent small and simple crop producers, etc. are some factors among the Chakma-Hajongs that made them not to take citizenship certificate at that time.

Later, when this region was upgraded from a Union Territory to a statehood naming Arunachal in 1987, a political issue about the Chakma-Hajongs arose in the state politics. From the student bodies to the political leaders of the state raised political slogans to drive away the Chakma-Hajongs from Arunachal province. As a result, it is known that ration cards, gun licenses, permanent residents and Scheduled Tribes certificates provided to the Chakma-Hajongs were gradually taken away by the state administration on various pretexts. Since then, they are denied citizenship of Arunachal. They are not included in the electoral roll as voters. It has been alleged that their children born in India are also denied to provide birth certificates.

However, a couple of thousand Chakmas who were born there are reported to have been registered as voters. But, now no one can register as a new voter due to lack of citizenship certificate and birth certificate. As a result, they are deprived of political and citizenship rights. Most of those who were adults during the ‘Bor Porong’ in 1964 are now dead, dying, or becoming old. Many Chakma-Hajongs born on Indian soil after rehabilitation are also deprived of inherent political rights like citizenship and voting rights. Moreover, there is constant political pressure on them to oust them from Arunachal. The Chakmas of Arunachal are also saddened by the fact that they do not get any government facilities for socio-economic development. They do not get any development allocation from the state government in agriculture and Jum farming, cattle rearing, fisheries, cooperatives, social welfare, culture, women and youth development, industry and commerce etc.

However, the continuous political pressure on them and the deprivation-neglect towards them, has created a kind of determination among the Chakmas to stay on the ground, to stand up on the ground, to survive in the homestead. As a result, it appears that there has been an awareness of educating children, focusing on production to achieve self-reliance, working hard, engaging in business. It can be said that they are almost turning the curse of deprivation into a blessing.

It is undoubtedly a positive aspect that although the Chakma-Hajongs of Arunachal are deprived of political rights like citizenship and voting rights, they are not completely deprived of the civic benefits of the state government like education, health care, communication etc. Almost every Chakma-Hajong dominated area has a government school. It is also noted that with the rehabilitation of the Chakma-Hajongs in the sixties, the Government of India provided schools in every area, in which many of the rehabilitated Chakmas were employed as teachers. However, at present, the teachers in each school are among from the local indigenous communities of Khamti, Nyishi, Mishmi, Singpho, Nakte, etc.

The communication system of the Chakma-Hajong dominated area cannot be said to be so bad. If not a good communication system, there are at least motorable roads. It can be undoubtedly said that these roads are much better than the roads in Chakma dominated areas of Mizoram. Healthcare is provided through NGOs. There an NGO called ‘Asha’ is providing health care and health awareness work in every area. It cannot be said that there is no government health care at all. But the government health care is not so advanced and has no friendly or harmonious situation. As a result, many people go to Tinsukia or Guwahati in Assam for better treatment.

The most noticeable aspect is the productive spirit among the Chakmas and their dedication to educate their children. Just as the awakening in education came among the Chakmas of Chittagong Hill Tracts after being displaced by the Kaptai Dam, the same thing can be said to be going on among the Chakmas of Arunachal. Many may not be able to give higher education to their children, but efforts are being made to educate them in primary or secondary education, which is creating production-oriented spirit among the Chakmas in Arunachal due to which almost all people are seen working in crop production, shop business, vegetable business, driving, mechanical and construction works. After being educated, many young people migrate to work abroad like Dubai, South Korea, USA, Europe, etc. They also move to cities in India in search of work in various industrial areas like Noida in Delhi and Bengaluru in Karnataka.

Most of the families, whatever size of land they own, have developed plantations and farms almost everywhere. In particular, most of the families have grown betel nut and banana plantations. Now many people are gradually concentrating on fruit plantations like mango, lemon, boroi, malta etc. However, there are still marketing problems. The selling cost of produce is very low. Many people are engaged in production not only in their homesteads, but also by renting lands from local tribals. These productions are considered as ‘Jum’. A kuro of land (one kuro is equal to three and a half kani) is rented from the local tribals at Rs. 900 to Rs. 1,200 per year. It can be said that in Lohit, Namsai and Changlang districts, most of the jungle land of the local tribals is being cultivated by the Chakmas. After renting the land to the Chakmas for cultivation, when the lease is over, many a time the local tribals use such land in tea plantations, paddy cultivation, housing etc. It should be noted that Chakma inhabited areas under Lohit, Namsai and Changlang districts and neighboring areas are plain land and very fertile areas.

For example, Mani Bhushan Dewan of No. 2 Diyun region went to the Mishmi-dominated area and has rented a land from the Mishmi and cultivated about 10 kuros of land this year. In that land, he cultivates paddy, pumpkin, sweet pumpkin, potato, pepper, dal etc. Businessmen come there to buy his agricultural produce from different parts of the State or Assam. Mani Bhushan Dewan said he will expand his production to an additional 10 kuros of land next year.

Husband of Kajama Chakma, a resident of Chakma Basti No. 2 in Changkam area of Lohit district, has been in South Korea for 5 years. She, her husband’s three brothers and one sister, along with her mother-in-law, are living with own families with financial consistency. All of them have betel nut plantations and farms. Her only son has appeared in the secondary examination. They have their own tractors, which they use to plow their own land, cultivate others’ land on lease and transport other goods. Sukhabindu Chakma, husband of Kajama Chakma’s sister-in-law, said there is a government primary school in their area. Local children can study there. However, at the secondary level, one has to study in the high school of the neighboring local tribal area. AADHAAR card must be submitted as a document for admission in 9th grade. He said that although there is sometimes quarreling between Chakma and local tribal students in school, but there is no discrimination against Chakma students in teaching.

Chigulo Chakma, a resident of Diyun, is a driver by profession. He has his own Mahendra Jeep which he drives on rent. He plans to buy another Mahendra pickup next year. He has two daughters. Among the daughters, the elder girl studies in grade twelve and the younger one in grade seven. His daughters are reputed to be brilliant in studies. The family lives on the business of renting the vehicle. His family members did not have to live without food or clothing.

Sumati Prabhat Chakma of Madoidip area said that he was young at the time of Bor Porong and remembers many events he faced during migration. He has four children. One son passed B.A. The rest of the children studied in grade twelve, grade nine and grade seven respectively. He said that soon after the rehabilitation, the Government of India had set up 6 schools for areas No. 1 to No. 6. He also said that during Bor Porong, Chakmas were brought to Arunachal keeping temporarily in about 25 transit camps in Mizoram. His father wrote down the names of the camps one by one, which is now considered a historical information.

Kalasona Chakma of Dhumpathar area of Diyun works for an NGO called ‘Asha’. Under her jurisdiction, there are about 500 families in the working area of this project. Under this scheme, she has to conduct health related survey. Health services such as health awareness, reproductive health care, arrangement of first aid medicine etc. are provided under this scheme. She said, once their settlement was on the bank of Dihing river. But the Dihing River’s strong currents washed away many of their homes and settlements. So they had to settle in a new place. At present, there is a betel nut plantation in their homestead. They also cultivate pepper on betel nut trees. The betel nut plantation earns about one hundred thousand rupees a year. Two of their four daughters are married and two girls are studying.

Gagan Chandra Chakma alias Ghangra, a resident of Abhaypur in Diyun, is an ex-service holder in the CRP. He was a senior officer in CRP. He was 7 years old at the time of Bor Porong. After Bor Porong, he studied in a school established by the Government of India in Assamese Medium. At the beginning of Bor Porong, when the Chakmas were given Scheduled Tribe and Permanent Resident certificates, he got a job in the CRP with those certificates. Many others got jobs in various government offices including para-military forces with such certificates. But currently the state government of Arunachal has stopped providing those certificates, so Chakma youths are not getting jobs despite having educational qualifications.

Hriddhimoy Chakma and Jaymati Chakma, the couple, are farmers and shopkeepers in the 6th mile area of M-Pen. Both are very hard-working persons. They have a grocery store on main road. They have betel nut and mixed fruit plantations including boroi. They planted 2,000 betel nut trees. They have about 7 kuros or 25 kanis of land. They also have paddy land on the bank of Dihing river. They have one son and one daughter. Son studied IT after passing grade twelve. The girl is studying in grade twelve. They want to send their daughter abroad.

Thandamuni Chakma at 6th mile of M-Pen area has a grocery shop. He expressed his grievance by saying that he was not getting any development facilities from the government. But he has betel nut, mango, lemon, malta plantations. He also has paddy land. He said there was a land dispute with a Singpho woman in M-Pen area. More than 100 Chakma families have been living in that disputed land since Bor Porong. 15/16 ago, suddenly this Singpho woman named Toyen claimed ownership of that land. He also said that there were clashes, shootings and burning of houses between the Chakma and Singpho communities over the disputed area. Since then, the legal battle between the two sides has been going on in the Gawahati High Court. However, the case is still in their favor. They have to spend money for lawyers almost every month. However, he said, Toyen Singpho’s father-in-law Pichila Singpho is a decent person. He is in favor of living in harmony with the Chakmas, said Thandaamuni Chakma.

The couple, Jiten Chakma and Purnima Chakma, lives at Diyun Bazar. Purnima Chakma’s father’s house is in Tripura State. She got married to Jiten Chakma, a resident of Diyun. Purnima Chakma is an official of the Industrial Police (CISF). She also had postings at the airports. They are service holder family. They have a single storied pacca house in the area adjacent to Diyun Bazar. The Chakmas of Arunachal are getting married with Chakmas of Tripura, Mizoram and Chittagong Hill Tracts. The unity and bond of the Chakmas of Arunachal with the Chakmas of different States of India and Chittagong Hill Tracts is being maintained through marriage. Not only the Chakmas of Arunachal are marrying with the Chakmas of other regions, but also sometimes, marry with the indigenous Khamti, Nyishi, Mishmi, Singpho, Nakte communities of Arunachal state.

A couple of Shobha Ranjan Chakma and Shobhapriya Chakma lives in No. 3 Bijaypur area of Changlang district. Husband is a driver and businessman by profession. And the wife is a housewife and farmer. They have two daughters and one son. The elder daughter settled in France. The younger daughter studies in Bengaluru. The only son passed B.Com. They have 15/16 bigha land on which they have developed a betel nut plantation. Shobha Ranjan Chakma said that local tribal children in Arunachal are affected by drug addiction. Chakma children are also not exempt from it. Drug addiction is spreading widely among Chakma children. This is causing the moral degradation of the youth. However, he said, Youth Association of Bijaypur is vibrant against drugs. Their efforts have reduced the impact of drugs in Bijaypur area. In this regard, the Youth Association has been working in cooperation with the local administration. If someone is found to be addicted to drugs, he/she is arrested and kept in the correctional centre for three months. They are changed there through moral and religious education. After three months, drug-free children are handed over to their guardians with a bond. Sobha Ranjan Chakma said that drug addiction has reduced a lot in Bijaypur area due to anti-drug drives of Youth Association.

Religious influence is quite noticeable among the Chakmas of Arunachal. There are Bana Viharas and Parbatya Viharas. A separate branch of Raj Bana Vihar has also been established in No, 3 Bijaypur. Due to religious influence, there is no domestic poultry farming. The surrounding environment of the house is very clean and neat. Although there was religious influence on not doing poultry farming, the influence of alcohol did not seem to decrease. The proportion of alcohol consumption in the general population appears to be substantial. However, the traditional manners, simple behaviours, culture of open-minded hospitality of the indigenous society are still intact among the Chakmas of Arunachal. The migration of educated Chakma youths to various cities of India, especially Noida in Delhi, Bengaluru in Karnataka, and clean urban life environment thereof can also be considered to have a positive impact in terms of surrounding clean environment and healthy sanitation in the Chakma villages. The Chakmas who are passing secondary, higher secondary or graduation, are deprived of government jobs due to lack of birth certificate, PRC and schedule tribe certificate. As a result, they are forced to migrate for looking for work in the industrial areas of Noida or Bengaluru or somewhere else.

But it is undeniable that, despite being deprived of political rights of citizenship and francise, they have a lot of freedom in the socio-economic sphere. In this case, it should be noted that the areas or villages inhabited by Chakmas are very compact areas. It can be said that there is no such area where local tribals are mixed and close with the Chakmas. This geographically distinct location of Chakma inhabited areas has played a role in socio-economic independent living and livelihood of the Chakmas. In fact, most of the Chakmas in Arunachal have the lower middle-class affiliation. It can be said that there is no family dependent only on daily earning or lived on starvation.

Each village has a traditional Gaonburo (village head) according to the customs and traditions of the Chakmas. Social and family disputes are resolved through village elders under the leadership of this Gaonburo. However, the existence of social organizations was not seen. The youth organization in the village has not developed much. The use of own traditional dress in religious and social events is widely seen among women and girls. The lack of cultural organization is quite noticeable. As cultural practices can be observed in India’s Tripura or Mizoram, that trend of such cultural activities cannot be observed in Arunachal. In comparison of socio-economic development, education and health awareness, the Chakmas of Arunachal can be said to be somewhat backward in terms of cultural development. They need to focus more on cultural practices and awareness. However, one thing can be said without a doubt that in terms of socio-economic development, education and health awareness, the Chakmas of Arunachal are progressing faster than the Chakmas of Mizoram or Tripura in India, or even the Chakmas of Chittagong Hill Tracts. There is no doubt that ongoing political deprivation and pressure on them is keeping them strong and solidarity in socio-economic development, education and health awareness.