Sushma Swaraj Recommends Single Administrative Unit Union Territory for the Chakmas

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The Chakma is a scheduled tribe in India and are found in many northeastern states like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram and a small number in West Bengal. The Autonomy Movement and political awareness of the Chakmas reportedly started in the early 1953 AD.
Status of the Chakmas in Mizoram:

The Chakmas of Mizoram in reference with the “Recommendations of the 105th Report of Rajya Sabha Committee on Petitions, 1997” on the Chakmas in Mizoram wherein a Constitutional set up was arranged in 1972 for the Chakma ethnic tribe for administration under the sixth schedule to the Constitution of India. On 29th April, 1972 the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) was formed to preserve culture, identity and land rights of the Chakmas under the sixth schedule to the constitution of India. However, the aspiration of the Chakmas did materialize but in half measures with the creation of the Chakma Autonomous Regional Council out of the Pawi-Lakher Regional Council leaving about 50% of its population in the lurch, out of the ambit of the District Council despite the continuous demand of the Chakmas for inclusion of all Chakma inhabited areas.

This created simmering resentments among the majority Mizo community. After the Mizoram Accord of 1986 was signed, Laldenga pressed the government to dissolve the Chakma council, but to no avail. As sociologist Paula Banerjee writes, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi addressed a rally in Aizawl saying “if the Mizos expect justice from India as a small minority, they must safeguard the interest of their own minorities like the Chakmas”.

Political scientist Ranabir Samaddar writes that, between 1986 and 2000, 21 private members’ resolutions were submitted in the Mizoram legislative assembly, urging that the Chakma council be dissolved. He further states that the Chakmas are seen as the “enemy tribe” by hardline Mizos.

In the 1990s, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), a Mizo student organisation, launched an agitation similar to the anti-foreigners movement spearheaded by the All Assam Students Union in the 1980s. Unlike the Assam agitation, the Mizoram movement did not get much media attention. But it did lead to physical violence against the Reang and Chakma tribes, the burning of houses and the displacement of thousands.

A report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights describes how, in August 1992, about 380 Chakma houses were burnt by organised Mizo mobs. In January 1995, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl served “quit notices” to Chakmas who had entered the state after 1950, asking them to leave in six months. The report also details how thousands of Chakma names were deleted from electoral rolls in the state. In January 1996, 2,886 Chakma voters were struck off the rolls in Aizawl district alone. In some cases, entire villages were left out after a few individual complaints.

Who remained on the electoral rolls, and who got left out, was essentially decided by hardline Mizo activists, enabled by the state government. “The Mizoram Police remained mute spectators,” says the human rights report.

It was in this context that Chakma social leaders demanded the creation of a Union Territory for the community. In response, the Central government in 1997 set up a Rajya Sabha Committee on Petitions, which then recommended the extension of the autonomous district council. Then Chief Minister Lalthanhawla successfully manipulated a Chakma minister Nirupam Chakma in his government, who issued a press statement denying that the Chakmas had ever demanded a Union Territory.

The same Lalthanwala is unable to placate the Chakma cabinet minister Dr BD Chakma who resigned on 21st August 2017. Now, he seems to be echoing Mizo groups, denying that there has been discrimination but asserting that his government would not welcome “illegal migrants of Chakma or other communities”.

The sentiments in play are old: Mizo nationalism and anxiety about so-called foreigners. But, unlike in the 1990s, these have tipped into racially discriminatory policies.

Over the last few years, the state government has repeatedly tried to tweak its selection policies for higher education and government services to favour Mizos at the expense of non-Mizos. Though these discriminatory policies have been stayed by the court, the state government perseveres. Various Mizo organisations also demanded that the Chakma minister be sacked and Chakma candidates be barred from contesting state elections.

Observations and Recommendations of 105th Rajya Sabha Committee on Petitions, 1997:

1. The Committee has considered the views placed by Representatives of Chakmas and the State of Mizoram. The Chakmas have, inter-alia, demended that the Western belt of Mizoram inhabiting 80,000 Chakmas should be put in a ‘Single Administrative Unit’ and be administered separately through a suitable Central Government agency.

2. The Committee, after considering all facts, feels that the expansion of the area Chakma Autonomous District Council may be considered after taking into account the density of population, the percentage of Chakmas in those areas and their overall conditions etc. The Committee feels that the Autonomous District Council after expansion may be put under the direct control of the Centre for a period till the Chakmas living conditions come at par with other inhabitants of the State.

3. As regards the conditions in Chakma Autonomous District Council, the Committee feels that the situations is not all that happy. The basic amenities being provided are inadequate, literacy rate is quite low and backwardness is all pervading.

The funds being given by the State Government to the Coucil are then Rs 6 crores out of a Budget allocation of Rs 600 crores which are extremely insufficient. Moreover, the ratio of Chakmas in Mizoram comes to 1:10 in comparison to other communities. The Committee, therefore, recommends that in order to bring the inhabitants of Chakma inhabited areas at par with other people of the State, the Chakma Autonomous District Council be allocated the development funds on pro-data basis, i.e. in the ratio of 1:10.

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