The COVID-19 pandemic has added more grist to the refugee debate in Auranchal Pradesh.
The All Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union (AAPSU) has asked the State government, particularly the Changlang district authorities not to include the Chakma and Hajong communities in the State’s tally of COVID-19 positive cases.
The Buddhist Chakmas and Hindu Hajongs were displaced from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of erstwhile East Pakistan — present-day Bangladesh — by a hydroelectric project. A few fled religious persecution later. They were mostly settled in Changlang district in the 1960s.
“The Chakmas infected with COVID-19 have every right to avail healthcare facilities and essentials items, but they cannot be given an identity as Chakmas are not Arunachalese,” AAPSU vice-president Meje Taku told newspersons in the State capital Itanagar on Friday.
“The State government should discuss with the Centre and put them on a separate refugee list,” he added.
There is no clarity on how many Chakma and Hajong people are infected. But Changlang district has reported the bulk of the State’s fresh cases — 28 out of the 45 that are currently active.
The AAPSU has also asked the government to declare Diyun, the subdivision of Changlang district with the highest concentration of Chakha-Hajong people, as a containment zone.
Rights groups have panned the union’s demand as illogical.
“There is no word called ‘Arunachalese’ in the Constitution of India which defines people of Arunachal Pradesh into Schedule Tribes and non-tribals. The Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh, particularly the infected, are citizens of India by birth as per Section 3 of the Citizenship Act and they have been exercising the right to franchise in the elections,” said Suhas Chakma of the Delhi-based Rights and Risks Analysis Group.
“By the illogical definition of the AAPSU, about 3,84,435 non-tribals as per 2011 census and all the Indian soldiers serving in Arunachal Pradesh including in Indo-China border also cannot be counted in Arunachal Pradesh in case of infections,” he added.
The Chakma and Hajong population in Arunachal Pradesh is believed to be more than 1 lakh.