Chakma Society At The Crossroads: Unravelling Realities Of Chakma Youths From Arunachal Pradesh

(Author: Sintu Chakma)

This paper, based on the study of the Chakma youths of Arunachal Pradesh migrating to cities highlights the livelihood crisis of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh from a historical perspective. It also tries to analyse the impact of migration on the youths and their respective families in Arunachal Pradesh. The youths mostly boys are migrating for survival as livelihood options back at home are very few and limited. In cities, most of them are engaged in factories and plants as daily wage labourers. Those few who can speak English are fortunate enough to get jobs in BPOs and shopping malls and are paid moderate salary. This phenomenon of forced migration is impacting negatively on the youths and on their respective families as well. The livelihood crisis and its subsequent large scale migration of Chakma youths is a direct consequence of the extremely vulnerable situation of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh that began with the Partition of India in 1947. The Indian Central government, the State government and other civil societies across the country must come forward to undo the historical injustice done to the Chakmas by the leaders of undivided India at the time of Partition.


The Chakmas are a tribal or indigenous community that inhabits the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) of Bangladesh, North-east of India and Rakhine state of Myanmar. They belong to a tribal clan of the Tibeto-Burman race and thus are closely related to the tribes of the foothills of the Himalayas. Approximately, their total population is around 0.8 million and are divided equally between India and Bangladesh (East Pakistan earlier) and a few thousands in Myanmar. Almost all the Chakmas are followers of Theravada Buddhism, a religion which they have been practising for centuries and it is the Buddhist monks that play a vital role in the religious matters in Chakma social life. They have their own culture, folklore, traditions, and language and scripts.

During the time of Partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947, the unfortunate fate of the Chakmas was decided without their knowledge. They got separated almost equally between India and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. The Chakmas who coincidentally fell within India were relatively secure due to the presence of democratic means of addressing one’s issues. Those within East Pakistan consistently faced religious and political persecution at the hands of the East Pakistan regime. In 1971, East Pakistan became a new independent nation by the name of Bangladesh but the religious and political persecution of the Chakmas continued unabated.

The Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh are one of the fragmented groups who have settled there since 1964. Recently, they are under a severe livelihood crisis because of which large scale migration into cities is taking place especially among the male youths. The present critical situation of them with regards to their search for identity and livelihood crisis is a direct result of the development-induced-displacement from their homelands in the CHTs and was a part of the strategy of persecution of the Chakmas by the then East Pakistan regime. As Singh (2010) rightly put it that the “Chakmas are amongst the first victims of development-induced-displacement in modern South Asia. The completion of the Kaptai reservoir in CHTs in early 1961 had turned around 100,000 people into ‘environmental refugees’. The Buddhist Chakmas constituted the single largest ethnic block of affected people who became landless, with their prime cultivable land submerged under water. In the absence of adequate compensation and consistent subjection to political and religious persecution at the hands of the East Pakistan regime, whose singular interest in the region was the land and not its non-Muslim ethnic inhabitants, some 40,000 Chakmas took asylum in India in 1964”. But because of the denial of basic entitlements, the condition of the Chakmas is extremely vulnerable since few decades.

The hapless situation complemented by the indifferent attitude of the State government of Arunachal Pradesh and of the Central government has compelled many especially the youths to move out and migrate to cities and towns for earning a livelihood that is just adequate for bare subsistence. This is having negative impacts both at the individual level and at the larger community level.

The analysis is based on 550 respondents drawn from different cities like New Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Surat, Mumbai, Nagpur, Bengaluru, Mysore, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Guwahati and migrants families in Arunachal Pradesh. Questionnaires were mailed to those respondents who are living in cities and have access to internet and telephonic interview was done with those who do not have internet access either in cities or in Arunachal Pradesh.

The paper tries to understand the Chakma issue from a politico-historical perspective by broadly focusing on the present livelihood crisis of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh; causes for migration of youths; types of jobs engaged in; number of working hours; income/salary received and savings, if any, for sending back home. Secondly, it tries to analyse the impact of migration on the youths themselves and on their respective families.


As is the case with most of the smaller ethnic groups, very little is known about the history of the Chakmas since very less documentation is available about them. Their history has been recorded in an unwritten form and can be found in the form of folklores, songs, dances, and plays known by different names such as ubogeet, genghuli, pala, and so on. From these sources, it can be deduced that the Chakmas are a simple peace and nature loving community. It also talks about leading an honest, caring, helpful, virtuous and dignified life. If somebody performs wrong acts, he/she will be punished naturally and when somebody performs good acts, he/she will be rewarded with good things in life.

The Chakmas are believed to be originally from Arakan who later on moved to Bengal after being defeated by the Arakan king and settled in the CHTs. We can trace the settlement of the Chakmas in CHTs as early as the 16 th century. A map dating back to 1615 drawn by a Portuguese cartographer was published in a book called ‘Fourth Decade of Asia’ by Joa De Baros shows a place called “Chacomas” on the eastern bank of the Karnaphuli river suggesting this is where the Chakmas used to live during that time.

Fig. 1 A map showing a place called “Chacomas” on the top-left corner

The Mughals also recognised the sovereignty of the Chakma kingdom by granting autonomy in exchange of taxes. Following the Mughals, the British also recognised the Chakma kingdom as early as 1763 with a proclamation fixing the territorial jurisdiction of the Chakma Chiefs as “all the hills from the Feni river to the Sangoo and from Nizampur road in Chittagong to the hills of the Kookie Raja (Mizo Chiefs of the present day Indian state of Mizoram).”

But the history of autonomous or self-rule of the Chakmas have collapsed with the occurrence of the most tragic incident in the history of undivided India- the Partition of India into Pakistan and India on religious line. The partition of 1947, which essentially means the Muslim majority areas will form as Pakistan while the Hindu majority areas will form as India, took place by taking into account of only the two big religious communities- the Muslims and the Hindus. The smaller communities like the Chakmas and other such indigenous or tribal groups in the CHTs have been totally excluded during the process of partition. Their opinions were not considered. As a result, these communities who, culturally and historically staying together with a strong sense of communal feeling, got fragmented when their areas got divided in an abrupt manner without their knowledge. Who is to be blamed for the fragmentation of these smaller communities that has pushed them into further marginalization and exclusion?

The Chakmas are one of such smaller communities whose areas got divided between India and Pakistan. In the context of the Chakmas, this ill-fated and illogical decision was taken by the Indian leaders in consultation with Sir Cyrill Radcliffe, the Chairman of the Bengal Boundary Commission on 16 th August 1947 when it was declared that the CHTs would be annexed with the sovereign Islamic nation of Pakistan. Firstly, this decision is ill-fated because it fragmented the Chakma community between two different nations (India and Pakistan) and in different states in India (Mizoram, Tripura, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh). The fragmentation has given rise to a complex set of problems for the Chakmas. Because of being a minority group even among the other minority groups especially in India, the situation of the Chakmas on different socio-economic and developmental indicators is dismal. Secondly, it is illogical because of the fact that CHTs in those days was autonomous and was mostly (98%) inhabited by population belonging to Mongoloid race and practising Buddhism. So, the argument or logic (partition on the basis of religion) does not qualify here. So, how can anyone justify the annexation of the CHTs with Pakistan (an Islamic nation)?

In fact, on 15 th August 1947, the year of India’s Independence, the Chakmas have celebrated it by hoisting the India’s national flag on their homes and other important locations assuming that they also got freedom and are free. They expected that their area would naturally be annexed with India because of the fact that many of their customs, beliefs and even the religion share many similarities with that of the Hindus of India. Therefore, it’s quite natural for the Chakmas of CHTs to assume to be with India rather than Pakistan. Indeed even before the declaration of India’s independence, the Chakma leaders prominent among them are Sneha Kumar Chakma, Kamini Mohan Dewan and others, to make sure that CHTs remains with India, went to Delhi and met Indian leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel and others on July 1947 and avowed their allegiance to India. The Indian leaders promised the Chakmas that CHTs would remain with India. But to their utter surprise, later, the Chakmas found and realised that their homeland, the CHTs have been annexed with Pakistan. The Indian leaders failed to keep their promise and instead deceived the Chakmas with broken promises. From here it can be deduced that they are responsible for the deplorable situation of the Chakmas today.

Meanwhile, just after the partition, the Pakistan authorities followed a policy of neutralizing the indigenous tribal population of CHTs by bringing in Muslims from other parts of the country. As Talukdar (1988) says that the Pakistan authorities lost no time in taking measures for integrating the ethnic Buddhist people of CHT with the majority Muslims in Pakistan lest it should go to India. Many who opposed the policy of drowning the ethnic Buddhist groups in the Muslim majority were ruthlessly suppressed. Thus the processes of social, religious and political persecution against the Chakmas have started. Bangladesh after its birth from East Pakistan also followed this same strategy and is still following it in one way or the other.

The scheme of constructing the Kaptai Dam in the CHTs is a part of that policy of Pakistan government that displaced around 100000 indigenous people and paved the way for the coming and settling of the Muslims in the area. Neither the government provided adequate compensation or rehabilitation nor could the displaced demand justice fearing more brutal suppression and persecution. Thus majority of the displaced were forced to cross border into the neighbouring countries namely India and Burma. Around 40000 of the displaced mainly Chakmas took refuge in India and another 20000 crossed over to Burma. The remaining displaced people somehow got adjusted in CHT with the help of the community support. The displaced who took refuge in India are presently residing in the state of Arunachal Pradesh which was then called as NEFA at the time of their settlement.

The Indian government initially sheltered the displaced Chakmas in Assam for few years and later shifted them into NEFA. Few families were even resettled somewhere in Bihar who after a few years of stay moved to NEFA to join others fellow community members. Many of the elderly people who are among the first generation of Chakmas in NEFA also reminisces that there was even talk of settling the Chakmas in the Andaman Islands which of course did not get materialize. For identity purpose, refugee cards were issued at the time of entry into India. Each and every household was provided 2 acres of land for subsistence agriculture supplemented by rations like foodgrains, kerosene, dal, salt etc. Those who wanted to conduct business were given license for the same. The initial two decades in NEFA was peaceful for the Chakmas. But with the declaration of NEFA into a union territory during the late seventies and a full-fledged state by the name of Arunachal Pradesh in 1987, the problems for the Chakmas have started to emerge. Gradually, facilities like education, rations, license for business were withdrawn. And it was instead replaced by an anti-foreigner movement against the Chakmas and Hajongs which is being spearheaded by the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU). Prasad (2012) view this as a spill over of the anti-foreigner agitation that was going on in Assam. AAPSU in its campaign has got itself involved and has incited other Arunachalees to force the Chakmas leave the State by attacking them and their property, burn their houses, restricting free movement and so on. Such kinds of attacks have gradually decreased after a strong assertion by the Chakmas of their right to live life peacefully and with dignity.

It has been almost half a century of their settlement in Arunachal Pradesh but yet they are to be recognised as Indian citizens by granting them citizenship and subsequent entitlements. This has been the case even though the Chakmas and Hajongs are fully eligible to apply for and become Indian citizens under the existing laws that govern citizenship in India viz. Citizenship Act of 1955, amended in 1986, 1992, 2003 and 2005 and the Indira-Mujib Agreement of 1972. On the other hand, the Arunachalees as well as the State Government contradict this by alleging that during the time of the settlement they have not been consulted. Further, they opined that a law enacted during the British times called as Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873 restricts the permanent settlement of any outsiders. The Chakmas and Hajongs have been struggling and demanding for citizenship since the last two decades. After years of struggle, the Supreme Court of India in 1996, in its ruling directed the Central Governemnt, State government and Election Commission of India to accept and process applications of the Chakmas and Hajongs for grant of citizenship to them. It was decided that it would be done in a phase manner. In the first phase, a total of 1497 people were granted citizenship. Ironically, further processing of applications has stopped and there have been no addition of eligible voters anymore. Therefore, as of today only 1399 Chakmas and 181 Hajongs have been listed in the voters’ list out of the estimated 40, 000 eligible voters. Thus majority of the Chakmas are in a state of ‘statelessness’ or ‘peoples with lost identity’. Singh (2010) correctly interpret this situation by terming them as “Stateless in South Asia” since neither they are getting citizenship in India nor can they return back to the place they have come from. To add to the complexity, both the places of their origin and destination have got new names because of which the contextual reality also changed. East Pakistan, the place of their origin has now become independent and is named Bangaldesh, whereas the place of their destination, NEFA has now become a state by the name of Arunachal Pradesh. Few questions to think about are who is responsible for the gradual transformation of the Chakmas into such statelessness? Are they themselves to be blamed? Or are they the subjects of victimization of the macro level politics played by the Indian leaders during the time of Partition?

It was clearly known to the leaders of both the to-be-formed nations that the CHTs is an autonomously ruled indigenous or tribals area. And it was quite likely that due to many similar characteristics it would be annexed with India. But it happened otherwise. The CHTs was being annexed with Pakistan and not with India the way the indigenous or tribal leaders have struggle for and thought of. Ali (1993) mentioned that the CHTs was exchanged with Pakistan for some parts of Punjab province to be annexed to India. So CHTs or in other words the indigenous tribal people of CHTs were sacrificed at the behest of the Indian leaders of that time. Was such an exchange necessary, logical and justifiable and on what grounds did such exchange took place in contrary to the Partition logic?

The condition of the Chakmas across the world is relatively same in terms of condition of marginalization, exclusions and victimization by the dominant communities. In Tripura, as per the Census 2001, the total population of the Chakmas is 64,293 which is just 6.5% of the total Scheduled Tribe population of the state (31.3%). Thus being a minority even among the other Scheduled Tribe groups, it makes them vulnerable and marginalized. Majority of the population are dependent on Jhum cultivation and agriculture. The literacy rate is 47.6% which is below the state average literacy rate of STs (56.5%).

In Mizoram, the Chakmas constitutes only 8.5% of the state total Scheduled Tribe population. The literacy rate of the Chakma is just 45.3% in such a state which has 89.3% of literacy rate. Here as well, the Chakmas are primarily dependent on Jhum cultivation and other forest produce. After years of struggle and to escape from the discrimination and marginalization by the dominant groups, the Chakmas have been granted an Autonomous District Council (ADC) in 1972. But the irony is that only 30% of the total Chakmas of Mizoram have been included under the ADC. Therefore, it did not help much to the Chakmas outside of ADC. Moreover, they are facing imminent threats now that threatens their livelihood and land due to ongoing International Border Fencing and declaration of tiger reserves and sanctuaries in the Chakma areas by the government of Mizoram. Already hundreds of families have been displaced due to these problems and are awaiting proper compensation and rehabilitation.

In Bangladesh, as per recent projections, there are around 4 and half lakhs Chakma population. The political and religious persecution of the Chakmas that has started after partition continues till today in the form of massacres, burning of homes and property. To escape from such kinds of persecution and to preserve their culture, the Chakmas of Bangladesh have long been demanding for the status of ‘indigenous people’ as defined by International Labour Organization (ILO) through Convention No. 169 and the UN. But the government of Bangladesh strongly oppose such a move by the indigenous tribal peoples of Bangladesh even though the definitions of ILO and UN correspond to the demand for granting of ‘indigenous people’ status to the tribal people of Bangladesh especially in the CHTs region.

There are few Chakmas in the Indian States of Meghalaya, West Bengal and Assam respectively where they enjoy Scheduled Tribe status alongwith other tribes. There are 126, 2478 and 642 Chakmas in Meghalaya, Assam and West Bengal respectively. The Chakmas in Assam face continuous assault by the local communities because of which many of the Chakmas have fled mainly to Tripura. The condition of the Chakmas in West Bengal and Meghalaya are comparatively better since they do not have to face the brutality that other Chakmas in other regions do have to face.

Recently, few Chakmas from India have visited Burma to assess the situation of the Chakmas there. It has been found that their situation is not good either. They stay in thatched houses and are primarily dependent on agriculture and wage labour. The exact total population of the Chakmas in Burma is not known but it is estimated by those who visited it to be around 30,000. In Burma, they are known by other names such as Daingnet. They exactly cannot speak the Chakma language that other Chakmas across the world speak although they can understand it when the other person speaks. It is so because of the absence of contact for centuries.

Thus the Chakmas who at once used to live autonomously with self-determination are now fragmented by the process of dual onslaught of colonialism and partition. To be more precise, the Chakmas mainly got fragmented due to the unjustifiable and inhumane decision taken by the Indian leaders during the time of Partition by exchanging the Chakmas homeland, the CHTs with Pakistan in total contradiction to the logic of the Partition- division on the basis of religion. The fragmentation has left the Chakmas in a state of fear, poverty, uncertainty subjected to the continuous process of marginalization, vulnerability, persecution and victims of atrocities wherever they are today.

Majority of the Chakmas are marginal farmers or landless agricultural wage labourers. Rice is the staple food crop grown on plain agricultural lands as well as on hills. Other vegetables such as brinjal, potatoes, ladies fingers, cabbage, gourds, pumpkins, and spices like chillies, ginger, garlic and other leafy vegetables are also grown. Production is just enough for self-consumption since the land available for cultivation is very limited.

During the time of settlement way back in 1964 each and every family of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh was given 2 acres of land for sustaining themselves. The land given was not cultivable during those days. The Chakmas had to clear off the debris and level it to make it fit for agriculture. The areas that were thus made cultivable continued to be sustainable for about two decades as long as it is meant for sustaining a family (average of 6 members) only. But it soon became unsustainable when the land got fragmented/divided among the offspring and each offspring raises a subsequent family of the previous size dependent on the acquired piece of land. There is an ever increasing pressure on decreasing size of landholdings. Added to this, the productivity from agriculture also decreased considerably. This was partly due to the decrease in fertility of the soils and less and uncertain nature of rainfall. The Chakmas practises traditional and organic farming. The method of farming is traditional in nature as the modern technology is still inaccessible and unaffordable to them.

Another major problem for agriculture getting transformed into an unsustainable occupation is due to the large scale erosion of agricultural land by the different rivers that passes through many of the Chakma villages. Some of these major rivers are the Noa-Dihing, Darang and Hollongi. Since the beginning of settlement, every year many families lose valuable agricultural lands and other valuable trees that are assets for extra income. Yet somehow, such families managed to survive either by engaging in some other alternative income generating activities or by doing wage labour in the fields of other farmers. That kind of a scenario has changed or is being forced to change. Now, in addition to the tremendous scale of soil erosion with yearly increase in the volume of water flowing, the villages on both sides of the rivers are also getting flooded almost every year and crops, homes and other valuable property is getting destroyed. As a result of this, hundreds of families are becoming homeless, landless and extremely vulnerable. In other words, the Chakmas of AP are facing another round of displacement induced by natural calamities in the absence of active support from the government. So far not even a single such family have received any compensation or rehabilitation from the government (Central and State Level). The other Chakmas, who are yet to face the wrath of the rivers, could not come to the rescue of the displaced and homeless since they themselves are reeling under acute poverty. So, the displaced Chakmas are let to fend for themselves with no aid from any corner. Therefore, the rivers mentioned are thus emerging as the one of the biggest threat to the livelihoods and survival of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh.

When they are let to fend for themselves in times of survival crisis, naturally, as any human being would do, the displaced, landless and homeless Chakmas have started to seek shelter in and around their surroundings. And they found such shelter on small hills, nearby forests that the nature has bestowed abundantly in Arunachal Pradesh. They once again rebuild their hopes and dreams in their newly found homes. But such renewed hopes and dreams are at stake again since the State government as well the other Arunachalees see it from the dimension of encroachment. They are demanding that the Chakmas must vacate from the resettled areas without considering their hapless and critical situation. At this juncture, the most pertinent question one can ponder about is, where then the displaced, landless and homeless Chakmas would go. The State government and other Arunachalees can and should look at it from the dimension of survival instead of encroachment. The Chakmas have settled in such new places out of survival and necessity and not for greed for more lands or wealth. If they are given proper compensation and rehabilitation, this kind of conflicting situations would never arise.

Besides agriculture, many of the Chakmas have now started alternative livelihood activities like goat rearing, piggery, poultry (desi breed), and fishery on a small scale. It is small in scale because of lack of technical skills and poor infrastructure. The Chakmas lack in technical skills as they have not received or are given any kind of training from any sources. They work based on their indigenous knowledge acquired through trial and error method since centuries. They have very little knowledge of the different diseases that the goats, pigs, hens and fishes suffer from every year; different vaccines for its treatment, and the ways to scale up business. Sometimes, they go for heavy losses and their small business collapses when goats, pigs, hens and fishes die of preventable diseases. Poor infrastructure is another hurdle. There are no markets nearby except the village haats where customers are few and demand is less. Absence of cemented roads prevents smooth and timely transportation and connectivity with the larger markets outside. So, even these alternative livelihood opportunities seem risky and irrelevant in the absence of technical skills, good roads and huge markets.

The extremely vulnerable situation in which the Chakmas are in naturally prompts them especially the youths to migrate to cities in search of livelihood for survival and with a hope of building a new future devoid of poverty, violence and atrocities.

Migration And Migration Patterns Among Chakmas

Migration can be defined as a spontaneous effort to achieve better balance between population and resources (NCERT). People move out of their place of origin if they find better opportunities somewhere outside which is called as place of destination. In other words, migration takes place from a less resources/opportunities area to an area abundant with resources/opportunities. Throughout the history of the world, there have been remarkable stories of migration in every era. Now with the advancement in the modern technology with regards to communication, transportation and so on, the process of migration has become quite smooth, fast and convenient than the earlier days.

Various theories have been formulated for explaining the process of migration. The oldest of them is the neoclassical economic theory that explains that migration occurs due to the wage differences between regions. Migration takes place from regions with low wage rate to regions with high wage rate. Second, the dual market labour theory holds the view that migration is mainly caused by pull factors in the developed migrant-receiving countries. In these countries there is a huge demand of low-skilled labour for the labour-intensive segment of modern industries. Third, the new economics of labour migration argue that wider social entities like household, community etc. must also be considered for explaining migration in totality since the decision to become a labour migrant is not solely taken by the individual migrant. Fourth, the relative deprivation theory explains that the awareness of the income differences among other family members or households in the migrant-sending community is an important factor in the process of migration. If a migrant is earning more and could send more remittances, then more people from that area get encouraged to migrate as well after observing that the migrant family is improving its financial condition. Fifth, the world systems theory explains migration from a global perspective. It says that interaction between different societies is an important factor for bringing about social change. For instance, in trade different societies gets into an exchange process in which one may benefit more than the other. In such a situation, migration may takes place from a less developed area to more developed and advanced area.

Apart from these, the process of migration has also been explained through Ravenstein’s laws of migration and Everett Lee’s push-pull model. Ravenstein’s laws of migration try to explain migration with some specific laws and characteristics that govern the process of migration. And Lee’s push-pull factors determine the different push and pull factors behind migration.

In order to understand migration in the context of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh all the theories discussed above can be applied. The Chakma youths are migrating to the cities not out of choice but out of sheer compulsion due to the livelihood crisis faced by them at home. They do migrate to the cities knowing the fact that there is a wage difference between their place of origin and place of destination. Wages in the cities are higher than in the rural areas. There is also huge demand of low-skilled labour for the labour-intensive industries in the cities where majority of the Chakmas get employed after their arrival. The decision to migrate is taken by individuals in consultation with the family members and with the other migrants’ networks. Further, the pattern of migration taking place among the Chakmas is more of permanent in nature.

The main causes for migration are economic and social in nature. The economic dimension explains that people migrate in search of better opportunities of income and livelihood while the social dimension explains it in terms of escaping from the process of marginalization by the dominant communities of Arunachal Pradesh. Here marginalization means harassment and violence by the dominant communities that leads to loss of land, property, even lives.

Unemployment is the main reason behind such large scale migration of youths. 90 percent of the respondents cited it as the main reason. By getting sustainable employment, they hope to raise their living standard and come out of acute poverty. Only 10 percent have cited education as the main reason. Another 62 percent have also responded that both unemployment and education are the reasons for the cause of their migration. These youths come to the cities for education first and seek employment later. Also, 33 percent have chosen to migrate for escaping from the process of marginalization by the dominant communities. Many of the youths migrate to the cities out of frustration that they are hapless and are not in control of their lives since the other communities directly or indirectly control their lives through violence and restrictions.

I. Level Of Education Of The Migrant Youths

The literacy rate of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh in general is very low. Hence, the level of education among the migrant youths is also low. Majority of them have completed their secondary education only. 65 percent of the youths have been compelled to drop out either after their secondary education or higher secondary education and thus get unskilled jobs in factories when they migrate to the cities. The students do get dropout because of the absence of proper and quality teachers in schools. There are no proper blackboards or benches in schools. Due to all these, the students do not get positive motivation to strongly pursue education. Moreover their critical economic situation always put them into dilemma whether to start working or continue further education. 33 percent of the youths could able to enrol and pursue graduation while simultaneously working as well. Majority of them enrol themselves in open universities like IGNOU. Only a meagre 2 percent of the migrant youths reach to the level of post-graduation.

Fig 2. Educational level of migrants

II. Age Group And Gender Composition

Majority of the migrant population is of the age group of 17-25 years. Migration favours mostly the males in the context of the Chakmas of AP as a result of which it is mostly the male members who migrate to the cities. Females are discouraged due to the aspects of safety and security. As much as 80 percent of the migrant population are males. Females do migrate to cities as well but they do mostly as wives of the male migrants.

III. Places Of Migration

The place of destination for migration is chosen on the basis of availability of livelihood opportunities and income; interaction or networking with other migrants for learning and sharing their experiences. The preferred destinations are the big metropolitan cities since it provides lots of opportunities of different kinds followed by emerging cities. The metropolitan cities are New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and the emerging cities are Noida, Gurgaon, Surat, Nagpur, Pune, Mysore, and so on. 60 percent of the migrant population is residing in the metropolitan cities and the remaining in the emerging cities.

IV. Duration Of Migration

Duration plays a major role in the stability of the lives of the migrants. It is important because with time the migrants get accustomed to the ways of the cities and thus learn the different ways to adjust with it. During the initial years of their migration, they go through a lot of psychological and physical stress. Sometimes, the stress is so extreme that many of the migrants return back home within few months of their migration. It becomes quite difficult for the youths to handle such stress by themselves since they are quite young for it. The average age of the migrants is 18 years which make them highly susceptible to stress. For others as time passes by they get used to the new ways of life and thus become stable within a couple of years. 60 percent of the migrants have been residing in their place of destination for more than five years, 30 percent have completed three years of their migration and the remaining 10 percent have either completed their first year or yet to complete it.

So, from here, it can be deduced that the phenomenon of migration to the cities is not that new to the Chakma youths. Many of the youths who have migrated at young age have got married and settled at their place of destination. From this trajectory, it can also be said that the livelihood crisis of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh have long been in existence.

V. Kinds Of Jobs

Bulk of the migrant population gets employment in the unorganised sector of economy as daily wage worker. It is so since the educational level of the migrant population is low. Thus 70 percent of them earn their livelihood as daily wage worker in factories and plants. They work in the assembly line of factories producing bottles, sanitary napkins, mobiles, chips, eateries and stone cutting and so on. Another 20 percent who can speak good English and Hindi get employed mainly in BPOs and shopping malls. The BPO industry demands good spoken English especially for its international dealings while the shopping malls demand good presentation and customer service skills. The remaining 10 percent are employed in regular jobs mainly in private organisations. Some of these jobs include banking, consultancy firms, software developers, hardware maintenance and so on.

Fig. 3 Different kinds of jobs migrants are employed

VI. Work Duration And Wage Rate

The migrants working in factories and plants work in shifts. Each shift is of 8 hours. The wage rate is low because of which the workers are compelled to work extra hours in the hope of earning extra income for savings or sending back home. The wage rates vary according to the kind of work and efficiency. For instance, in factories, a wage worker earns 150-200 rupees per day. The new migrant gets 150 rupees since they are new and have to be trained and the trained workers get 200 rupees. For every extra hour of work, a wage worker could be able to earn only 20-25 rupees. This rate is much higher in BPOs centres.

For being attendants at hospitals and eateries or in shopping malls, one can expect a higher pay relatively. Their salary ranges from 8000-10,000 on an average. On the other hand those who are engaged as employees in BPOs centres receive much higher salary. They are paid as much as 12000-30000 per month. For newcomers and doing the work of data entry or back up, their salary range is 12000-15000 per month. And for those who are experienced and become team leaders, they get a salary of 30,000 per month on an average.

Since majority of the migrants are employed in unorganised sector, they do not get any kind of work related services like medical leave, Provident Fund, etc. If they take leave, their wage or salary gets deducted.


The impacts of migration can be many and can be studied from different dimensions such as psychological, economic, and social and so on taking into account of both the positive as well as the negative aspects of migration. Here, the impact has been studied at two levels- the individual migrant and their respective families at home in AP. From the study it has been found that the impact of migration is more negative in nature on the individual migrants and relatively positive on their respective families at home.

I. Impact On The Individual Migrants

The impact of migration on the migrants is relatively negative in nature. Nevertheless, they enjoy certain positive aspects of it as well. With migration, they get opportunities for earning a livelihood. Also, the livelihood opportunities are many of various natures such as wage labour, attendants, and manager and so on. As a result of this, they have more choices for work. They can choose whatever activity or jobs is best suited for their respective abilities and accordingly can start working. Second, they feel a sense of satisfaction for being able to help their respective families financially. It gives them a sigh of relief as majority of the migrants’ families are living in abject poverty. Therefore, being able to shoulder the responsibility of helping the family meet its requirements certainly ease their mental stress. Third, they get filled with confidence and self-esteem since back at home they are seen with respect and dignity by the fellow villagers. They are respected because they are earning their livelihood with dignity. Moreover, they have become independent and could support their respective families financially. This make them feel energized with high self-esteem and full of confidence. Fourth, they get an opportunity to enhance their skills and knowledge about the different kinds of jobs and coping with the city life as well. Quite often, they change their line of profession provided the next job pays more or the present job is not satisfactory. The present job can be unsatisfactory due to stagnant wage rate, oppressive environment, lack of growth opportunities. In the process of trying different kinds of jobs, they get knowledge about such jobs and also acquire the necessary skills.

The negative impacts of migration on the individuals are many and affects in many ways. First, the individuals go through a lot of psychological crisis due to sudden loss of social and communal life. Being a migrant for the first time, they are not accustomed to the ways of living life individually far away from social and communal relations back at home. Hence, they suffer from lack of mental support. Second, their health condition deteriorates tremendously due to the psychological stress they go through. With the hope of escaping from abject poverty, many of the migrants work for extra hours even after their stipulated time of work gets over for earning extra income. As a result of this they do not get enough time for cooking healthy food or get the required amount of sleep. This impacts on their health condition negatively. Unfortunately, when they fall ill, they do not have anybody to rely upon for continuous support as their fellow workers are forced to work for earning their livelihood. And when the illness is serious, they run into huge debts by borrowing it from others or eventually have to return back home. Third, due to the compulsion of having to work for providing financial support to the family, there is an opportunity cost involved. Instead of their parents supporting them for pursuing studies, they are forced to quit their studies and start earning. It is because of this that most of the migrants’ educational level is low. Because of financial constraints, they have to forego the opportunity cost of education. Fourth, when the situation turns worse due to ill-health or running into debts or extreme level of psychological stress, the migrants lose their self-confidence. During such crisis, they are forced to return back home for overcoming such trauma under the love and care of the family members. It takes months for the people to regain their confidence and get back to work in cities.

II. Impact Upon The Migrant Families In AP

One of the strongest positive impacts of migration upon the migrants’ families is getting a source of regular income. Besides the family existing source of income, they get an additional source of income. The additional source of income supplements the primary sources of income for the family. As a result of this extra income, there is an increase in the overall purchasing power of the family. Increased purchasing power means better chances of getting the required necessities like food, clothing, shelter, education and health and hence rises in the standard of living.

On the contrary, sometimes it makes them feel a sense of guilt for not being able to fulfil the wish of their children by sending to schools and colleges for pursuing higher education. If their economic condition would have been good, they surely would have sent their children to school and pursue higher education for a better future.


Looking at the issue of migration of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh from a livelihood perspective, many things and models can be initiated for directly addressing it. Migration has become a problem to the Chakmas of AP because it is leading to a number of negative consequences with cascading effects. Fragmentation of the Chakma society and breakdown of social ties is one of such major consequences. In the context of the Chakmas of AP, migration is thus undesirable. In order to reduce the rate of migration in a gradual process, one must have to work on addressing the livelihood crisis that is the root cause of migration. Any such attempt will be temporary and ineffective unless it addresses the livelihood crisis in a permanent manner.

The complex issue of migration with politico-historical underlying can effectively be addressed through the provision of the Chakmas of AP a legal identity, in other words, granting them citizenship as well as Scheduled Tribe status in the state of Arunachal Pradesh itself. Given the existing provisions of the Indian State with respect to citizenship, the Chakmas and Hajongs are fully eligible and entitled to become citizens of the country. Even though the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873 that restricts the permanent settlement of any outsiders in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) acts as a constraint to such a move, that law passed during colonial times with vested interests like many other laws can be relaxed for rehabilitating or re-accommodating the fragmented communities of India’s North-East. This will give the fragmented communities of Northeast India a chance to re-live a life of dignity with peace and harmony. The fragmented communities especially the small and marginalized communities have been suffering from historical injustice as a result of the larger macro level politics played by the dominant communities. Many of the fragmented communities like the Chakmas are still suffering and are awaiting justice.

In contrast, looking at the issue of migration from a theoretical perspective, the already established theories could act as the guiding framework for conceptualizing migration in general. But such a framework can be inadequate in studying the process of migration contextually among the fragmented communities. There exists a unique contextualized reality among the fragmented communities. Firstly, the fragmented communities experience migration not at individual level but at community level. A whole particular community is being forced to migrate. Since it is being forced, the migrants do not have any say in the whole process. Therefore, the capability to take conscious decisions is inaccessible to the migrants. Secondly, studying the process of migration among the fragmented communities can be incomplete if it is studied solely on the basis of present conditions. They have been subjects of various forms of discrimination and atrocities because of which they are compelled to migrate. Such a reality can be captured if migration among the fragmented communities is studied from a politico-historical perspective.


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