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OPINION | In Light of Persecutions Faced by Minorities in Neighbouring Nations, We Should Execute Citizenship Bill

India cannot turn a blind eye to such atrocities committed in its neighbourhood and needs to provide shelter to such survivors and this is being done by bringing in certain key amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955.

Rachit Devgunn |

Updated:December 10, 2019, 11:37 PM IST
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OPINION | In Light of Persecutions Faced by Minorities in Neighbouring Nations, We Should Execute Citizenship Bill
Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaking in the Lok Sabha during the debate on Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on Monday.

India has a vast history of religious diversity and tolerance. However, the black spot of the British Empire has left a few stains which still prove thorny as much as the religious resistance in neighbouring countries.

The neighbouring countries, where a majority of the population practise Islam, have time and again produced anti-social elements in the form of Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammed and several others that have been provided continued back-door support from their respective governments to suppress and commit unspeakable crimes against people belonging to minority religions, including Hinduism, Christianity, Jainism and Sikhism.

This has resulted into a tsunami of influx of migrants from these countries, namely Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

However, India being a tolerant and secular country, cannot turn a blind eye to such atrocities committed in its neighbourhood and needs to provide shelter to such survivors and this is being done by bringing in certain key amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955.

Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

The most controversial amendment proposed in the Act – The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB), has created ripples through petty politics.

There are two major amendments which have drawn attention of global media. First, persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, shall not be treated as illegal migrants, and secondly, for these persons, the aggregate period of residence or service of a Government in India as required shall be minimum six years instead of the earlier clause of minimum 11 years.

This means that such illegal migrants belonging to either of these three religions shall be eligible for Indian citizenship if they have lived in India for a minimum of six years of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period.

Although both the amendments have not been disputed in their substance as such other than their religious angle, the same has been opposed by Opposition parties. Article 14 of the Constitution of India guarantees equal protection and treatment to all the persons in India, be it foreigners or Indian citizens.

At present, the Opposition parties have alleged that CAB goes against the very spirit of this article as it differentiates Muslims from Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists and Christians in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

However, the long-standing battle of these six communities of these three countries is not something which could be ignored due to petty politics. It all started with the creation of two countries – India and Pakistan in 1947 — that also subsequently led to the creation of Bangladesh.

In the words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, “We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good and ill fortune alike.”

Since the majority of the Muslim population went to Pakistan and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), very few people, including Hindus and Christians, were inclined on migrating to these countries.

As the history of India has seen horrific clashes between Hindus and Muslims, Pakistan and Bangladesh were not reluctant to avoid such clashes in the future. Muslim dominance in these countries led to persecution and commitment of atrocities against minorities and this resulted in the reduction of minority population.

The Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 resulted in one of the largest genocides in human history. It is estimated that about 2.4 million Bengali Hindus were killed during this war by the Pakistani Army.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have continued to commit crimes against minorities. Shockingly, Afghanistan has prohibited conversion to Christianity among its citizens. Whenever, such conversions happen, people are even subjected to death or imprisonment.

In Pakistan, Sikhs are on the verge of extinction as forced conversions to Islam and gross injustice have reduced the community’s population to about 8,000. Between 1947 and 1951, more than 50 lakh Hindus and between 1951 and 1970, more than 40 lakh Hindus crossed over to India due to severe oppression.

Other minority communities continue to suffer the same fate at the hands of these Muslim-dominated nation which further compels us to not question the morality, but legality of CAB.

Sitting idle when atrocities of that magnitude are taking place only a few miles across the border is similar to doing nothing while witnessing a murder or rape before your eyes. Although the most obvious question which arises is that why does CAB not extend protection to illegal migrant Muslims from those countries?

It allegedly violates Article 14 which guarantees equality for all. However, if such an argument holds any water, the concepts of reservation for minority castes and religion, reservation for women, special protection laws for women and children, will have to be done away with and none shall ever be equal in an already unequal society.

The whole concept of upliftment of the poor and minorities will demise and Article 14 would only become more unsophisticated. Counter to this, the burden on the state to protect all – its own citizens and foreigners — is much higher.

Article 21 of the Constitution goes against the deprivation of life and liberty of a person and guarantees protection of life, limb and liberty.

To advance further in such a fundamental right, it would be correct to assume that CAB draws its spirit from this very fundamental right enshrined under Article 21, where the Centre is trying to protect the life and liberty of such persons who have faced decades of oppression in their home countries.

The words “illegal migrant” holds much more importance than a mere migrant. An illegal migrant only crosses a border to escape something that threatens his/her very existence.

In Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the history of atrocities committed over minorities have forced these people to illegally migrate to India to save their lives and as Indian citizens, it becomes our duty and responsibility to provide them shelter as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution and let them become a part of us.

CAB has also drawn criticism from the media which has clubbed it with the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Although the issue of NRC has been there for long, people trying to correlate the two desn’t help its cause.

While NRC was targeted at identifying illegal migrants from India, especially Assam, CAB aims to welcome illegal migrants who have faced persecution in the neighbouring countries.

When Opposition parties club the two while debating on the issue in Parliament, it reveals their desperation. When the final NRC list came out on September 14, we came to know that more than 50% of the exclusions were Hindus which is contrary to the coloured opinions of many. CAB is independent of NRC and aims make India a safe haven for persecuted minorities.

In light of the above, it becomes imperative for us as citizens and our duly elected government to execute the Citizen Amendment Bill, 2016, so that the oppressed do not continue to face similar ordeal and they can become a part of India.

In June 2015, the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee sought citizenship for Bengali Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and people of other minority communities who arrived in Assam after being subjected to inhumane torture after Partition.

Many other organisations have sought citizenship for the oppressed minorities across various parts of India. In the words of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, “Those who are our flesh and blood, who fought by our side in the freedom struggle cannot suddenly become foreigners to us because they are on the other side of a line. There are people in South Africa, people of Indian origin but with African citizenship, whom we still try to help. If they have a claim on us, surely those in that part of Bengal too have a claim.”

(The author practises in the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court. Views expressed are personal.)

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