Home Minister Amit Shah has come up with one more bill that has invited misguided protests, misplaced apprehensions and mischievous propaganda. It is called the citizenship amendment bill (CAB) that amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 and seeks to provide Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists who were forced to flee Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and have since sought asylum in India on or before December 31, 2014. These refugees had been victims of continuous persecution, forcible religious conversion and discrimination. More importantly, they had no country where they could escape to for safety of their life and faith.
Ordinarily, this benevolence should have been applauded but political parties who see only votes in appeasing Muslims are crying hoarse why Muslims who suffered similar misfortunes have been excluded from the CAB. The reason is laid bare by simple statistics.
After Partition, Hindus constituted 15 per cent of Pakistan’s population, were 7 per cent in 1950 and 1.5 per cent in 2018, despite 3.5 per cent annual growth in their birth rate. Similarly, they were 30 per cent of East Pakistan’s population in 1947, 23 per cent in 1971 when Bangladesh became independent and are now about 7 per cent. The 90 per cent decline in their population over a period of 70 years is due to their unrelenting persecution. The fate of Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists has been even worse. CAB will ensure that approximately 35 lakhs of them do not perish as unwanted, deprived and dispensable commodity. India alone is their final resting place where they can seamlessly relate with the religious, cultural, psychological and social ethos of their promised land despite its million problems.
However, to treat 2.35 lakh odd Pakistani Muslims who are staying illegally in India as a religiously persecuted lot would be self-deceiving. They are here, thanks to a lax surveillance regime, to enjoy benefits of a thriving economy. This is also true of over 15 million Bangladeshis who have illegally migrated purely for economic reasons. In any case, Muslims facing political persecution would rather be happy emigrating to 45 Islamic countries to live in a shared religious relationship.
The allegation that CAB violates Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution is bizarre. It does not differentiate between citizens on the basis of faith but between illegal immigrants of different faiths where Constitution has no jurisdiction.
The concerns of Asom Gana Parishad, All Assam Students’ Union, North East Students’ Organisation, Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura etc that CAB will adversely impact their language, culture, custom and ownership of land, are wholly imaginary. The bill grants Indian citizenship to only a small group of hapless immigrants and like rest of Indians, they will also be subject to local restrictions like inner line permit and to laws that protect the cultural, political and economic rights of indigenous people. Once legitimised, these migrants may not even like to live in the Northeastern states and move to other parts of India, looking for better opportunities and greater acceptability. Let crass electoral interests, for once, take a back seat to accept those non-Muslim communities who were worst victims of India’s partition in 1947 and thereafter.
( Amar Bhushan is a Former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )