The State of being Stateless: A Case Study on Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh 

1. Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defines that a ‘stateless person’ is someone who is not recognized as a national by any state under the operation of its law. They therefore have no nationality or citizenship and are unprotected by national legislation and left in the arc of vulnerability. Whether or not a person is stateless can be determined on the basis of an assessment of relevant nationality laws and how these laws are implemented by the state. Since nationality is generally acquired on the basis of an existing, factual link between the individual and the state – some kind of connection either with the territory (place of birth or residence) or with a national (descent, adoption or marriage) – it is important to look at the nationality legislation and relevant practice of states with which an individual enjoys a relevant factual link, to see if nationality is indeed attributed to the individual under any state’s law. If not, then he or she is stateless.  

2. Against this backdrop the present study would like to enquire the situation of Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh, who were encouraged by the Government of India to take shelter in the desolate land of NEFA (North East Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh), India when they were uprooted from Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) due to the building of Kaptai Dam in 1964. Perhaps this idea was being floated in view of the potential Chinese threat following the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Under the Indira-Mujib Agreement of 1972, it was decided that India and not Bangladesh would be responsible for all migrants who entered India before 25 March 1971 and therefore the Chakmas, who came to India before 25 March 1971 would be considered for the grant of Indian citizenship. However, the Government of India neither gave them citizenship nor refugee status. As a result the Chakmas are regarded as stateless and are systematically deprived of other fundamental rights. In and around August 1994 the situation in the entire North-eastern India underwent a drastic transformation following the ultimatum issued by the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU), aimed at the eviction of ‘foreigners’ like the Chakmas from Arunachal Pradesh. The state administration remained virtually a silent spectator as the situation worsened for these displaced people. Since the 1990s due to constant interventions of the NGOs, the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of India only a handful minority out of 65,000 Chakmas living in Arunachal Pradesh have been given citizenship by the Government of India.  

3. With these facts under consideration the proposed study would like to assess the present situation of Chakmas in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The possible consequences of statelessness are profound and touch on all aspects of life. It may not be possible for them to work legally, to purchase property or to open a bank account. Stateless people may be easy prey for exploitation as cheap labour. They are often not permitted to attend school or university, may be prohibited from getting married with a persons from other communities and may not be able to register births and deaths. Stateless people can neither vote nor access the national justice system. Keeping these in mind our study would intend to gather information on these aforesaid communities to understand the magnitude of statelessness.  

4. It is to be mentioned in this context that apart from the Chakras of Arunachal Pradesh there are Chakmas living in Tripura, Mizoram and also in Arunachal Pradesh, who are not documented by any statistical records. Our study would also attempt to assess the presence of these undocumented Chakmas by highlighting the legal ambiguities. 

5. For the sake of study we would follow survey method to have a broad mapping of statelessness. The study will review the existing work on the question, and would also intend review the existing legislative and administrative measures with regard to the stateless people. The study will have the following goals: 

·          Review of existing literature and making the baseline information up to date;

·          Assessment of the scale of the problem (numbers, geographical spread, etc.);

·          Establishing the profile of the population affected (demographic composition);

·          Determining the causes and obstacles to solutions to statelessness (gaps in legislation, administrative practice, etc.);

·          Bringing to light the protection issues involved;

·          Identifying all stakeholders in the solution of the issue; and

·          Suggestions to improve the situation. 

6. The study will begin in August 2010. The first draft of the report will be completed by November and will be placed in a half-day workshop on statelessness, proposed to be held in December 2010 for discussion. Following the workshop, it will be revised on the basis of suggestions. The workshop will bring together scholars and human rights activists – particularly some from Arunachal, Tripura, and Mizoram. Also the workshop will discuss the broad Indian / South Asian situation on statelessness, and the need for further focused study and analysis. Since we plan to hold the workshop as part of the 15 day course (1-15 December) in Kolkata on forced migration, the participants will also be involved.   

For Executive Summary of the  Click Here


Special half-day workshop on Statelessness in South Asia held on 11 December 2010. 

Statelessness is the quality of being, in some way, without a state. In fact it means without a nationality, or at least without the protection that nationality should offer. Nationality is the legal bond between a state and an individual. It is a bond of membership that is acquired or lost according to rules set by the state. Once held, nationality – membership – brings with it both rights and responsibilities for the state and for the individual. As the world has been divided into state systems not to be a member of any one of them is a serious concern. While membership of a state is the norm statelessness continues to be widespread and has not escaped the interest of the international community. Within the realm of public international law, rules have evolved in response to the problem of statelessness. A definition has also emerged describing a stateless person as a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law (generally equated with the term de jure statelessness). This definition can be found explicitly in Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, one of the two major international instruments to deal specifically with the issue of statelessness. Keeping these facts under consideration this workshop intended to focus on the issues related to statelessness in South Asia. This special workshop was the part of our Eighth Annual Winter Course on Forced Migration. 


Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, Faculty of Political Science, Rabindra Bharati University and Member of Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata
Nasreen Chowdhory,
Faculty, Asian University of Women, Chittagong, Bangladesh and Member of Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata
Roberto Mignone,
Deputy Chief of Mission, UNHCR, New Delhi
Samir Kumar Das,
 Faculty of Political Science, University of Calcutta and Member of Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata 

Resource Directory 

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Winter Course on Forced Migration      Rights and Globalisation