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Refugees’ tryst with history
- Chakmas, Hajongs turn out in large numbers to vote for the first time - Proxy voting in Nagaland
Chakma and Hajong voters wait patiently outside a booth at Diyun in Arunachal Pradesh on Wednesday. Picture by Biju Boro

Diyun (Arunachal Pradesh), May 5: Chakmas and Hajongs today scripted a new chapter in the electoral history of Arunachal Pradesh by voting for the first time, defying a bandh and poll boycott call by the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU).

The estimated voter turnout in the state was around 50 per cent, said additional chief electoral officer D.J. Bhattacharjee from Itanagar. Polling in the state was by and large peaceful, barring two incidents of EVM-damage at Pating in Kurumkame district and Tagampu polling station under East Kameng district, he added.

The AAPSU, which called a 48-hour state bandh from yesterday, deployed youth volunteers to prevent the Chakma and Hajong voters from proceeding towards the booths but backed off in the face of heavy security deployment.

“They could vote because of the security forces as we did not want any confrontation or the culture of violence in our state,” AAPSU president B. Taj said from Itanagar.

He said the bandh was by and large successful as most of the “indigenous voters” preferred to stay indoors.

The AAPSU was opposing the inclusion of the Chakmas and Hajongs in the state’s electoral roll.

But it was a moment to cherish for both communities — 1,497 voters spread over the three Assembly constituencies of Bordumsa-Diyun, Miao and Chowkham — the Chakmas and Hajongs today lined up as early as 6 in the morning to have a go at the EVMs.

“The day I heard that my name has been included among the 1,497, I made up my mind to cast my vote. I am really happy today that I was among the first one from my village to cast a vote. This will always remain the best moment of my life,” said Banbehari Chakma, a schoolteacher in his thirties.

The more enthusiastic were the women voters who, dressed in traditional attire, stood in long queues to cast their vote. “This is a special day for the community and so, we all decided to dress up,” 20-year-old Archana Chakma said.

Within an hour of polling, most of the electorate was already in the queue.

The security forces — which include the state police and paramilitary forces — were on high alert. “Two platoons of the BSF, headed by a DSP, is patrolling Diyun,” said Jaswinder Singh, officer in-charge of Diyun police station.

Subimal Kumar Chakma, president of the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh, said, “I feel a lot relaxed today. After all, It has been a long wait for us.”

The Supreme Court, in a directive in 1996, asked the Election Commission to initiate the process of granting citizenship to the Chakmas and Hajongs residing in Arunachal Pradesh. The Election Commission, after browsing through 15,000 applications, enrolled the names of 1,497 people from the two communities in the voters’ list.

The hill state has nearly 60,000 Hajong and Chakma refugees.

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