Factwise | Comment

A tale of two demands

While most of the 1971 refugees returned to Bangladesh after the end of the hostilities, a few thousands did not. File   | Photo Credit: AFP

During the debate on the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2019, BJP Rajya Sabha MP, J.P. Nadda, alluded to comments by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2003 asking for grant of citizenship to minorities who have faced persecution in Bangladesh. He said the government was only implementing this demand. Is the government’s assertion that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is only in line with what Dr. Singh had asked for, valid?

In 2003, during a debate over the CAB 2003, Dr. Singh addressed Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani: “After the partition of our country, the minorities in countries like Bangladesh have faced persecution, and it is our moral obligation that if circumstances force... unfortunate people to seek refuge in our country, our approach to granting citizenship to [them] should be more liberal. I... hope that the Hon. Deputy Prime Minister will bear this in mind in charting out the future course of action with regard to the Citizenship Act.”

A similar demand was registered by the CPI (M) in a resolution in its 2012 Party Congress to “sympathetically consider the legitimate demand of the large number of Bengali refugees to recognise them as citizens of India. They had fled their country, erstwhile East Pakistan and then Bangladesh… At the time of the Parliament discussion on the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003, all political parties from across the spectrum had supported an amendment to protect these citizens who are victims of historical circumstances. Yet even after so many years the law considers them illegal migrants….[the CPI(M)] demands a suitable amendment in Clause 2 (i)(b) of the said Citizenship Act in relation to the Bangladesh minority community refugees. This must be done while protecting the Assam Accord...”.

As economist Prasenjit Bose wrote in The Hindu online edition (http://bit.ly/prasenCAA), “Over 5.21 million persons [from East Pakistan] had registered themselves in Indian check posts as “refugees” by 1970... Another 9.89 million had crossed over in 1971, according to figures provided by the Indian government to the United Nations... While most of the 1971 refugees returned to Bangladesh after the end of the hostilities, a few thousands did not... Although a large majority of the Bengali refugees are Hindus, the post-Partition refugees also include a section of Bengali Muslims, given the specific nature of the 1971 conflict in Bangladesh, which was fought over language and not religion... Since none of these refugees had entered India with valid passports or travel documents, they have become ‘illegal migrants’... after the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003. Moreover, the 2003 amendment has made it impossible for children born in refugee families to become Indian citizens by birth, if either of their parents is deemed to be an ‘illegal migrant’.”

Qualitatively different

Both Dr. Singh and the CPI(M) demanded exemption for Bangladeshi refugees already in India from being declared as illegal migrants, and to be granted citizenship, not on the grounds of religion, but because they faced persecution. This is qualitatively different from what the CAA 2019 argues for. It chooses to provide citizenship only to non-Muslims from three Muslim-majority nations — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It avoids the term “persecuted” but its statement of objects says “many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religions” in these three countries and renders only these communities to be eligible for beneficial effects of the Act. This classification could fail the test of constitutionality because of the exclusion of some countries and communities on the basis of religion. The provisions of the Act omit persecuted Muslim sects from the three Muslim-majority nations. Besides, it does not consider other neighbours — Myanmar, Sri Lanka, for e.g., — which have a record of minority persecution.

srinivasan.vr@thehindu.co.in

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 13, 2021 3:28:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-tale-of-two-demands/article30351525.ece

Next Story