EXCLUSIVE National

Citizenship soon for those who fled religious persecution

A Pakistani Hindu boy protests in New Delhi against alleged rights violations in his country. File photo  

In a move that will have far-reaching implications in Assam and some parts of north-west India, the Union Home Ministry will amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant citizenship to undocumented migrants who fled religious persecution in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The migrants include not just Hindus but also Buddhists, Christians, Zoroastrians, Sikhs and Jains.

Top Home Ministry sources have confirmed that a Bill is in the works to amend the Act and make changes to some provisions in the Foreigners Act, 1946, the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, and the Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950. The Law Ministry has vetted the amendments.

“This is an idea floated right after the Modi government came to power, but it was found that many people who fled into India fearing religious persecution do not have valid documents, or have their visas expired. Therefore, these people are illegal migrants and ineligible for citizenship,” a top official said. Several high-level meetings were held by the Ministry with the Law Minister, the Law Secretary and the Home Secretary to remedy the situation.

“Basically, two changes need to be made to the Passport Act, 1920, and Passport Rules, 1950, to exempt people who fled religious persecution from Pakistan or Bangladesh from being termed illegal migrants and offer them long-term visas while their case for citizenship is being considered,” a source said.

Citizenship issue can affect relations with neighbours

The cut-off date proposed for victims of religious persecution from Pakistan and Bangladesh who can apply for citizenship is December 31, 2014. Citizenship by registration (a minimum stay of seven years) and naturalisation (a minimum of 12 years) will be the two routes.



The External Affairs Ministry has cautioned the Home Ministry that the move could hurt India’s relations with its neighbours. Nevertheless, the political call has been taken.



The Citizenship Act, 1955, would have to be amended to reflect the exemption from the status of illegal migrant. “Section 2, sub-section 1’s clause (b) will have a proviso which will reflect this exemption,” a source said.



The amendment to the Passports Act, 1920, and Passport Rules, 1950, will have to be notified and tabled in Parliament for two months to allow for objections, if any, before being deemed clear. The amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1950, will be cleared as a Bill after being debated in Parliament.



On Monday, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said in Silchar: “No person who came from Bangladesh because of persecution or harassment will have to leave Assam or India. The NDA government will soon bring in necessary amendments to the Citizenship Act.”



“At his first public rally in Assam during the 2014 election campaign, Narendra Modi had said Hindu Bangladeshis would be removed from camps and given citizenship,” a senior BJP leader said.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 7:12:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/citizenship-soon-for-those-who-fled-religious-persecution/article7500491.ece

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