Saturday, 14 December 2019 | Markandey Katju
Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims are also persecuted in Pakistan and may come to India to avoid oppression. The Bill should allow that
The Citizens Amendment Bill (CAB) has been passed by both Houses of Parliament and has got the assent of the President. Since a lot of controversy has been raised over it, the Bill needs a dispassionate analysis. Assam has seen an influx of a large number of Bangladeshi immigrants who came after the Partition of 1947. Some (Hindus, Buddhists and so on) came due to religious persecution by the Muslim majority. Many poor Muslims also came in search of a “better life.” Such “economic refugees”, i.e. those who migrate not due to religious persecution but to seek a better life, are not strictly speaking refugees as defined in the UN Refugee Convention, 1951. But the fact is, that worldwide there are a large number of “economic refugees.”
For example, the USA has about 11 million illegal immigrants from Mexico who migrated to America for a better life. Many of them have been living there for decades and now have little roots left in Mexico. What is to be done with them? As we all know, US President Donald Trump wants them deported to Mexico. However, that is easier said than done. In India, under the Assam Accord, only those Bangladeshis who came to the State before March 1971 would be granted citizenship under the Citizenship Act. But CAB will make people of six religions, namely Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists and Jains, who came from three countries, viz Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, Indian citizens, provided they have lived in India for five years. CAB omits the mention of Muslims and this is where the controversy lies.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government justifies this discrimination by saying that Muslims did not come into India due to persecution, whereas people of other religions did. But this is only a pretext. The real reason is that the BJP knows that Muslims will vote against them in elections and so wishes to deny them citizenship (which carries voting rights).
Also, what has been overlooked is that many Muslims in Pakistan, for example Shias, Ahmadiyyas and so on, are also persecuted there, and may come to India to avoid persecution. Whereas by a constitutional amendment, Pakistan has declared Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims, the Kerala High Court has declared them Muslims and Ahmadiyyas regard themselves as such. However they are treated barbarically in Pakistan.
Many Assamese are protesting because they do not want any immigrants in Assam, whether Muslim or non-Muslim and object to citizenship being given to any settler. Others are objecting to CAB for other reasons. The whole of Assam is up in flames and in many places the Army has been called out.
The truth is that many Bangladeshi Muslims have been living in Assam for decades, though they may not have come here legally. Many were even born in Assam. They have no roots now in Bangladesh. Where are they to go if they get deported? Bangladesh has said it will not accept them. So should they be dumped into the Bay of Bengal? It is a humanitarian problem, not just a legal one.