JAIPUR: The BJP government’s push for the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill has given hope to thousands of Pakistani Hindu migrants in Rajasthan.
There are around 50,000 Hindu migrants from Pakistan living in the border districts of Jodhpur, Bikaner, Barmer and Jaisalmer — with 17,000 of them in Jodhpur alone. At least 35,000 of these migrants are waiting to receive citizenship, according to Jodhpur-based NGO Seemant Lok Sangathan, which has been working to help the Hindus who fled Pakistan acquire Indian nationality.
Under the current law, a person is eligible for Indian citizenship through naturalisation if s/he has lived in the country for 12 years and through registration is s/he (a person of Indian origin) has lived in India for seven years.
However, thousands of migrants living in Rajasthan for more than 15 years have not been granted citizenship. Though a Central government notification in December 2016 had given several district collectors the right to grant citizenship in deserving cases, the migrants remain caught in bureaucratic hassles. Several directives issued by the Rajasthan High Court have also failed to spur the authorities to expedite the process of granting citizenship.
More than 5,000 applications for citizenship and over 17,000 cases of migrants seeking long-term visas (LTVs) are pending. Migrants from Pakistan cannot apply for citizenship without LTVs which, as per rules, should be issued within 120 days of the application being filed. That seldom happens, though. “Despite the 2016 notification, only 233 migrants have got citizenship in last 18 months. Collectors have been given power to grant citizenships but not LTVs. It’s illogical,” said Hindu Singh Sodha, president of the NGO.
For the lucky ones who manage to become Indian nationals, it’s a dream come true. On Friday, 101-year-old Jamna bai, who came from Pakistan 12 years ago with her younger son Aatam Ram, was granted citizenship. “If my legs had strength in them, I would have been dancing right now,” said an elated Jamna. Three of her children are still in Pakistan while eldest son Aadu Ram, who came to Jodhpur in 2001, is still awaiting citizenship.
Before the 2014 polls, the BJP had promised to provide citizenship to Hindu migrants from Pakistan. For these migrants, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a step in the right direction. However, sources said even if the Bill is passed, only 2,000-3,000 migrants will benefit. Though the proposed legislation brings down the eligibility period from 12 to six years, the cut-off date of December 31, 2014, means those who came after that will not benefit.