It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.
- Benjamin Franklin
Normalcy slowly yet steadily has returned to Itanagar and Naharlagun – the twin capital cities of Arunachal Pradesh. What had happened recently in these two cities during anti-permanent residential certificate (PRC) agitation was beyond any imagination. The senseless violence, unleashed by a section of people, however, has reminded everyone from politicians to student leaders that there is a need to reflect on why matters concerning identity have become increasingly combustible. The violence in Arunachal Pradesh of the last week of February that wasted three lives and property does not have the same causes behind it as the recent protests in Assam over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. Yet there is an underlying link – problem of identity of indigenous people. The fear of shrinking opportunities and loss of control over resources seems to have fanned the mob violence in Arunachal Pradesh. The recommendation of a committee to grant permanent residency certificates (PRC) to six communities that are not part of the Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes list at the moment has not gone well with the indigenous population. The violence, which was highly deplorable and was condemned in the strongest of words, forced the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government not to act on the recommendations of a Joint High Power Committee (JHPC) granting permanent resident certificates (PRCs) to non-Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes of Namsai and Changlang districts. The government’s step finally led to de-escalation of tension and violence.
The state government of Pema Khandu has committed two serious mistakes. The first of course is the bid to table the JHPC’s recommendations on PRC in the assembly without taking into consideration the views of the indigenous people. The second one is the announcement about scrapping of the PRC issue without taking into consideration its effect in the areas where the non-APSTs are demanding the same. Many of these communities are recognised as STs in Assam, while Morans and Adivasis come under the Other Backward Classes category in Assam. They say that they should have the same rights in Arunachal Pradesh; the APST communities are opposed to this. The non-APSTs include the Deoris, Sonowal Kacharis, Morans, Misings, Adivasis and ex-servicemen belonging to the Gorkha community, who have a sizeable number of votes that have a direct bearing on the election to the Assembly constituencies in Namsai and Changlang districts.
Amidst the volatile situation, the mother of one of the three killed in police firing, in a significant gesture, appealed for peace and urged people not to deteriorate the situation further by using her son’s unfortunate death. She won the hearts of millions by setting an example. Overcoming the pain she had gone through losing her 20-year-old son, she sent out a strong message that no one should ‘misuse’ death to fulfil their political aspirations.