The Indian government has been accused of religious and racial discrimination after members of the Chakma ethnic group said their pleas for help following the devastating floods and landslides that swept the country’s north-east have fallen on deaf ears.
About 2 million people have been affected by the severe rains that have hit the region over the past two months. More than 80 people have died, with homes and land destroyed.
Members of the Chakma group, which live along the riverbanks across four states – Mizoram, Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya – claim that government has been deliberately slow with its rescue efforts.
“The Chakmas are Buddhist,” said Paritosh Chakma, secretary general of the All India Chakma Social Forum. “We are ethnically and linguistically different from the local people and we suffer racial discrimination. The worst affected areas here are those by the river banks, where most Chakmas live. The government has been slow to provide relief to these areas because it’s where the Chakmas live and they don’t care.”
World Vision said tens of thousands of people continue to wait for rescue teams to reach them. The charity has distributed food, tarpaulins, and bedsheets to roughly 800 Chakma families in the Lunglei district of India’s Mizoram state, close to the border with Bangladesh.
The charity estimates that £150,000 is needed to help the community rebuild their homes and replant crops.
“The scant roads that existed before the floods were washed away by landslides,” said Kunal Shah, World Vision India’s director of disaster management. “As we floated along the river to the reach the Chakma communities, we saw their houses smashed to bits.
“Reaching out to the most affected people was really tough. It took us two days by car and a two-hour boat trip to reach the remote villages. These isolated communities live in densely forested areas.”
Shah said his team was “met by people standing waist-high in water”.
“Silt deposits had covered their small plots of land; their bamboo houses had been destroyed and their livestock had drowned,” he added.
The Chakmas have been settled in the region for about 50 years, since arriving as refugees from Bangladesh. While most state governments have granted them Indian citizenship, Arunachal Pradesh – where local groups fear being “swamped” by the Chakmas and losing their culture – has not.
The issue has been further complicated by the Arunachal Pradesh government’s refusal to allow anyone from outside the state to buy land there. Without citizenship, the state’s Chakmas have none of the official identity documents they need to access government schemes and aid. Regarded as “nowhere” people, they have no land rights or access to schools, and are denied the ration cards that would entitle them to subsidised food.
Even those born in the state are often considered outsiders, and many suffer discrimination.
In 2015, India’s supreme court directed New Delhi to give citizenship to the Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh. So far, this has not been acted on.
Santosh Chakma, who lives in Delhi but comes from Arunachal Pradesh, said lack of citizenship made it easier for the government to ignore them during the floods when they needed food, tents and clothes. Chakma said that families living on riverbanks had still not recovered from last year’s floods, for which they received no relief or rehabilitation, when this year’s monsoon hit them again.
“Our pleas are ignored by the government. It’s discrimination, no other reason. We are abandoned every time the floods hit our homes,” he said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010