We have nowhere else to go: Gorkha settlers of Vijaynagar

[ Taba Ajum ]

ITANAGAR, 19 Dec: The recent burning down of government properties, followed by the All Yobin Students’ Union (AYSU) issuing threats to vacate the area or face consequences have scared the Gorkha community living in Vijaynagar in Changlang district.

Since then, the members of the community, a majority of whom are family members of former soldiers of the Assam Rifles (AR) who were forcibly settled in the area by the government of India, are having sleepless nights.

“The AYSU has issued threats of violence, and due to it, our people are living in fear,” said Bhagat Chetry, a resident of Vijaynagar.

The non-APST population of Vijaynagar, who are popularly known as settlers, are today feeling abandoned by everyone.

“When we approach the central government to address our issues, it directs us to take it up with the government of Arunachal. The state government is reluctant to help us as it fears antagonizing the APST communities. We are caught in between,” said Chetry.

The former AR soldiers were settled in the area by the government of India, in consultation with the then NEFA administration, from 1967 onwards.

“In the first batch, 23 families were settled. In the second batch 25, in the third batch 52, and finally 100 families were settled in 1971 in the last batch. Our parents were forcibly settled with the promise of free land and several other facilities,” said Chetry.

He also claimed that, at the time of settlement, it was never told to the settlers that the land was being given for 30 years.

“If our parents knew that the land was being leased for 30 years, they would have never agreed to settle down in Vijaynagar. Many of them had lands in their ancestral villages, but once they settled down in Vijaynagar, they had no contact with the outside world and lost touch with their families too. Now we have nowhere to go. What mistake did we commit to deserve such kind of treatment in our country? Where will we go now?” he questioned.

Chetry said that many of the families who were forcibly settled were general duty soldiers and were not properly educated.

“Being soldiers, they obeyed the order of the officers. Many had no proper education. Our parents always thought that, as the government had settled them, the government would take care of everything, including land rights, and therefore no one was worried,” added Chetry.

He also said that the settlers have lived peacefully with the Yobins for many years.

“Both the communities have suffered immensely. We shared many tragedies together. Let me make it very clear that we want to live peacefully and want to avoid any kind of confrontation,” he said.

The Gorkha community also said that they have not ventured out of the land demarcated for them. Also, due to lack of PRC, the members of the community are finding it hard to get admission in government colleges and are not able to apply for government jobs.

“People have no choice but to take admission in private colleges and schools. In the past, one student passed the entrance examination for sainik school but could not get admission due to lack of PRC. Our situation is so bad that sometimes we ask ourselves what mistake we made to deserve this kind of pathetic life,” said Chetry.

In 1982, under the banner of the Assam Rifles Multipurpose Cooperative Society, a writ petition had been filed in the Supreme Court, seeking the government’s intervention to improve the living standard of the settlers. The SC had issued directives, and later, the then chief secretary, Matin Dai on 20 February, 1987 submitted an action taken report to the apex court regarding the steps taken for the settlers.

“As additional land cannot be allotted, the ex-AR personnel should be provided with agricultural input facilities, including animal husbandry support, under the normal schemes run by the state government. Since the ‘patta’ system is not prevalent anywhere in Arunachal Pradesh, it has been decided that a specific letter in this respect to each family of the ex-AR personnel settled in Vijaynagar is to be issued,” the report read.

With regard to the free air-lift demand, it was decided that air-lift charge at a subsidized rate for a trip from Vijaynagar to Mohanbari and vice versa is to be paid by the settlers of Vijaynagar, and no charges would be levied for abortive air sorties.

Regarding employment opportunities, the government of Arunachal made it clear that, since the descendents of the settlers, by virtue of their being born in India, are Indian citizens, they do not require domicile certificates.

“Many other such assurances were made, but they were never implemented. Today we are being asked to leave Vijaynagar. I am a second-generation settler, and besides Vijaynagar I don’t know any other place. Tell us where we should go?” said Chetry.