From the archives of human rights cases
T his column will carry a brief from the archives of the intricate cases of human rights violations, which became a landmark after the public authorities eventually accepted the recommendations of the NHRC.
NHRC stands up for Chakma refugees
(Case No. 23/2/97-98)
In mid 90's the Chakma settlers from Bangladesh started facing heat from the locals in Arunachal Pradesh to leave the country. About 4012 Chakmas were settled in parts of Assam and NEFA now Arunachal Pradesh after their displacement due to kaptai hydel power project in 1964.
On the 9th September, 1994, the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Delhi brought this issue to the attention of the NHRC, which issued letters to the Chief Secretary, Arunachal Pradesh and the Home Secretary, Government of India making enquiries in this regard. On September 30, 1994, the Chief Secretary of Arunachal Pradesh faxed a reply stating that the situation was totally under control and adequate police protection had been given to the Chakmas.
On October 15, 1994, the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas, CCRC filed a representation with the NHRC complaining of the persecution of the Chakmas. The petition contained a press report carried in "The Telegraph dated August 26, 1994 stating that the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (hereinafter called "AAPSU") had issued "quit notices" to all alleged foreigners, including the Chakmas, to leave the State by September 30, 1995. On October 12, 1995 and again on October 28,1995, the CCRC sent urgent petitions to the NHRC alleging immediate threats to the lives of the Chakmas.
After a thorough examination of the complaints received, the Commission asked the State Government to stay its hands and allow the status quo to be maintained. Its directions were communicated to the Governor, the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary of Arunachal Pradesh and also to the Union Home Minister and the Ministry of Home Affairs separately. The Commission also filed the writ petition in the Supreme Court to ensure that the public authorities do not overlook its stand in the matter from human rights perspective.
The petition pointed out, "the aliens in India can't be denied their basic right of existence or be subjected to such treatment by the State, which is not in accordance with the law and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Similarly, an alien can't be subjected to such hostile treatment by a private body like AAPSU, particularly when its actions are with the tacit support of the functionaries of the State of Arunachal Pradesh."
The Court held that "the first respondent, the State of Arunachal Pradesh, shall ensure that the life and personal liberty of each and every Chakma residing within the State shall be protected and any attempt to forcibly evict or drive them out of the State by organised groups, such as the AAPSU, shall be repelled, if necessary, by requisitioning the service of para-military or police force, and if additional forces are considered necessary to carry out this direction, the first respondent will request the second respondent, the Union of India, to provide such additional force, and the second respondent shall provide such additional force as is necessary to protect the lives and liberty of the Chakmas;
Except in accordance with law, the Chakmas shall not be evicted from their homes and shall not be denied domestic life and comfort therein; the quit notices and ultimatums issued by the AAPSU and any other group which tantamount to threats to the life and liberty of each and every Chakma should be dealt with by the first respondent in accordance with law." This is how with the intervention of the NHRC, India, the Apex Court ensured that the interests of Chakmas were protected.
The background of Chakma Refugees: The Chakmas lived in the Chittagong Hill Tracts erstwhile East Pakistan in 1964-65, since they lost land to the development of the Kaptai Dam on the Karnaphuli River. In addition, they also faced religious persecution as they were Non- Muslims and did not speak Bengali so eventually they sought asylum in India. In 1960, they were accommodated in the relief camps constructed in the vacant lands of Tirap, Lohit and Subansiri districts of erstwhile North East Frontier Agency NEFA ( a political division governed by the Union Government) which was renamed as Arunachal Pradesh in 1972. The locals and regional parties opposed re-settling refugees in their land fearing that it may change the demography of the State and that they may have to share the limited resources available for them.